Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Searching For Jesus”
Luke 2: 41-52, December 27th, 2015
It is just two days after Christmas. Just where do we go from here? Most of us have barely finished getting acquainted with the gifts or the lack of gifts we have received; or we are wringing our hands because someone we gave a gift to… did not respond the way we expected. So now what? How do we move forward and get back in touch with our real day to day lives? Sure, most of us won’t take down any decorations till after the New Year’s Eve celebrations come and go. So, for now, we can focus on cleaning up after the big celebration. This is especially true if you are a young parent with a few children and or you hosted the Christmas Eve party or the Christmas Day Dinner with all the fixings. Yup, it’s two days after Christmas in the year 2015.
Being a parent in the Twenty-First Century is not easy! I must admit, my grey hair says I am past the age of having small children running around me all the time, but of course there are the grandchildren, and there may be a few great grandchildren on the way. OK, so even being a grandparent is not all that easy either! It is hard enough for us older folks to try to understand how we are to relate to the baby Jesus, the Jesus of our Christmas traditions. Have you considered just how the younger generations behind us are handling this? Certainly, on the Sunday after Christmas, just two days after Christmas it is not easy! Moving from the excitement and chaos of the whole gift giving ritual, just days after its event is not easy!
OK, so here we are! We are here together, on this beautiful Sunday morning, in the afterglow of Christmas, beginning to look toward the New Year; which is just waiting to blossom in front of us! This opens up a number of questions and countless concerns! It has been almost a decade since the Federal Reserve has charged interest on money they lend! Now the cost of borrowing money is going to start to rise! A national campaign for our Next President is in full swing. Terrorism is still a major concern. Theologians are still discussing, arguing even about the gender of God. Local pastors are still wrestling with how to refer to the God of our misunderstanding; is it to be with masculine phrases of power and might, or with loving tenderness that may bring us through a rough night? The answers to such semantics, of course, shall not and does not answer the bigger challenges of nations and individuals! Where do go from here!
We are all searching for the answers. Every one of us has something we need clarification on! We are here in this sanctuary this morning, believing, hoping and praying that God will indeed save us, at least from ourselves! As we turn to our Bibles we hear the words as recorded in the ancient writing, the Gospel according to Luke. Written to help a struggling people grapple with the question of who Jesus was and how was Jesus going to save them? Who is Jesus and how is Jesus going to save us? Yes, the same questions apply to us today.
Our scripture lesson takes us into the twelfth year of the young Jesus’ life. He is traveling with his parents, Joseph and Mary, and a caravan of people traveling together. They go into the big city of Jerusalem for a festival. And, after it is over they all leave in the fellowship of those they were traveling with; or so Jesus’ parents thought! But the worst nightmare of any young couple occurs. Jesus is not with them and to make the matter worse, it has been three days since they have seen him! One theologian, David Ewart, quickly reminds us that: “The return to Jerusalem by Jesus’ parents … would be risky as they would no longer be with the larger group. It would also be shameful as it would make public that Jesus had not been obedient to them.” Sound familiar?
My wife was out and I had gone outside to chat with a neighbor. While I did so our 12 year old toy poodle slipped out into the darkness. I had been back in the house for a while when I first heard the familiar barking, from outside the front door. When I opened the door she ran into my arms. It took me awhile to realize how long she had been outside in the dark. A dog is not a child, but there are parallels in the feelings a pet lover may understand. For you parents and grandparents, what is one of your big concerns when you take a child with you to a big department store? What happens when you lose track of a child in a large crowd? Did the child slip out of the store… into the darkness? That is the same feeling that Joseph and Mary must have felt.
Now, I do not want you to just ‘sit back’ this morning as onlookers or spectators of this situation that this lesson, this writing, puts our central characters in. Stop analyzing the story. Leave that up to the theologians that still are arguing about this passage. Rather, I want you to step into the picture and assume a role. Are you the distraught mother? Or perhaps the perplexed and even possibly the angry father. Or, better still, are you the lost child, misunderstood by your parents or guardian? Whatever role you take, stay in character. Try to feel your way through the story, not intellectualize it!
Where do these distraught parents find Jesus? We are reminded that “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.” When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” /Luke 2: 41-52/ As we hear the story unfold, at first we are frightened, as where his parents. Then we can feel their relief, then anger that the child had put them through this ordeal. But, clearly, Jesus was of a different mind about the matter.
We must ask ourselves why the writer of this accounting in Luke has shared this with us. What was the writer trying to tell the listen? What is it we can glean from this writing? Clearly, as we look to the story, we see that Jesus was considered a lost child by his parents. Yet, Jesus saw himself quite differently. He was at home in the Temple, and admonishes his parents for not realizing where he had gone. Did not Mary and Joseph realize that this was a special boy? Surely, if they only understood what we experienced at our Christmas Eve service, surely; they would have known he would be OK and logically be able to seek him out in the Temple. Can it be that Jesus was just a normal teenage boy?
A theologian named Peter Storey, a South African Methodist minister who is a former president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, opens up a thought provoking process for us to consider. “If we struggle with Jesus, being ‘fully human and fully God,’ it should not be surprising if the child Jesus wrestled with his identity too.” Many scholars believe that this accounting was written to help the small struggling community of believers that were following the teachings of Jesus, to deal with the identity of this man named Jesus. Just as the Gospel of Luke places Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, at his birth, to help us grasp his humanness; so also does this accounting of Jesus, as a young lad in the Temple, help us to see Jesus in a more human light.
When we set aside the lights, the decorations and the gifts of our modern Christmas celebration, we too must continue on our journeys. We too must come to realize our search for truth, justice and mercy, are all centered in the belief that God incarnate, in the flesh, came to live amongst us. God came to be with us in the form of this man we know as: Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son. If the baby Jesus didn’t grow and struggle through adolescence like all of us, then what meaning does his ministry, his teachings, hold for us? Surely, this is why the writer of Luke tells us this story.
So many ways to consider this writing. It helps us see that even Jesus caused his parents heartache as he found himself and began to express himself. Much like our own children, of this time period do. He was first a baby, born out of poverty as our birth narrative tells us. Jesus then grew causing his parents anxiety just as modern teenagers often do. Our theologian Kate Huey submits to us this reflection: “It seems to be part of the human condition, in navigating the difficult passage from childhood to adulthood, to experience a tension between family and ‘the world out there,’ between safe nurture and broader horizons, between a circle of care and a strong sense of self. When do parents think one way, and children begin to think another?” Parents, you know she is right, haven’t we all asked these questions? Yet, in the end, Jesus, like the average child, submitted to the authority of those whom were caring for him and teaching him the basics of life. Our scripture today is meant to reassure us, that the man Jesus, the carpenter’s son, understood the fullness of human struggle. He was first and foremost human.
Kate continues on saying to us: “Like Jesus, we have a choice to make: to grow into more spiritually mature adults, coming to terms not only with who we are and what we are called to do, but to deepen our relationship with God, to mature in our faith.” For me at least, and I pray for all of you, knowing that Jesus grappled with his parents reassures me that he understands human struggles. Yes, I want my Jesus to be Divine, and I believe he was. But, it is his humanness that inspires me and gives me hope! Thus I continue my search for Jesus, the authentic Jesus of my faith.
And yes, my heart still pounds with the excitement of the birth narrative, the Christmas Story that my parents and my grandparents presented to me through the scriptures! Where would we be without such a rich tradition such as this? Amen.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Luke, chapter:2, verses: 41-52”
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
“Allow God to touch our hearts and minds, as we seek out and look for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”