Sermon from December 26, 2021
On Christmas Eve, we read the beginning of Luke Chapter 2 – the birth of Jesus. Today’s lectionary reading takes us to the end of Luke Chapter 2. Luke was the only gospel writer to include a story of Jesus’ childhood…and it’s less of a story than it is a parent’s worst nightmare…
Listen for God’s Word from Luke 2:41-52.
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.
Those of you who are parents, how many of you have ever had that terrifying experience of having your child wander off in the grocery store, or of losing sight of your child in a shopping mall or in the middle of a crowd on the street? Whether you look for your child for 30-40 seconds or for 3-4 minutes, it feels like an eternity. And whether you’re exasperated at your child for wandering off or exasperated at yourself for losing sight of your child, the struggle is real. The fear and anxiety are real.
James and I don’t have any children, but as a former Young Life staff person and youth director for many years, I feel like I have a lot of “adopted” children. I led those “adopted” children on many camp trips and mission trips, usually with 20-40 students on each trip. That fear and anxiety always crept in on that last leg of the trip home.
I’m an educated person. I know how to count to 20. I even know how to count to 40. But when it came to making sure 20 or 40 kids were on that final bus or on that final plane on the way home, I always second guessed my count and tripled counted to make sure all 20-40 were on that final bus or plane – that no child was left behind.
In the case of today’s text, it wasn’t a case of diligent parents’ momentarily losing sight of a child or losing count of children. This was a case of parents’ not knowing a child was missing.
It reminds me of the movie Home Alone. I realize I may be dating myself here, but when that movie came out at Christmas, I was in high school. When I was in high school and college, at Christmas my family always gathered at my aunt and uncle’s house in Augusta. After opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner, our tradition in the late afternoon was to go to a movie together. There were always one or two hold-outs who didn’t join us for the movie. The year that Home Alone came out, we all went to the movie…because no one wanted to be left home alone.
If you’ve seen the movie, you may recall the plotline: Much like Mary in our text today, the parents go off on a trip, forgetting to make sure all the kids are in the car. Much like Mary in our text today, after noticing a kid was missing, the mother takes action to locate her lost child.
But unlike the movie, this isn’t just any forgotten or lost child. These parents have lost Jesus. And unlike any movie, this passage asks: What did Mary and Joseph do when they lost Jesus?
And unlike any movie, this passage also asks us: What do we do when we lose Jesus?
To answer those questions, let’s take a look at the text and the conversation between Mary and Jesus. In our text today, Jesus spoke his first words as recorded in the gospels. A child’s first words are always important to parents. At age 12, these weren’t Jesus’ first words to his parents.
But they were his first words to us, and, therefore, they are important.
Before we get to those words, let’s consider Mary’s words. Mary and Joseph had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Every year they went up as usual to the festival. By age 12, Jesus should be used to this tradition. Yet this time when the festival ended, and Mary and Joseph started to return home, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem
But his parents did not know it.
Assuming he was with the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him. After three days, they found him in the temple.
So let’s recap…they’d been a day’s journey, and then they began to look for Jesus, and after three days they found him. That meant it’d been 3-4 days since they’d seen their child. When his parents saw him after looking for him for 3-4 days, 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.”
Here’s one of those times when I wonder if the gospel writers maybe took a bit of editorial license, like “Let’s just give readers the Cliff notes version.” I’m not a parent, but if my child had wandered off or if I’d lost sight of my child in a crowd for 3-4 minutes, let alone 3-4 days, I promise you I would have more words to say than Mary.
On one of those youth mission trips I mentioned earlier, we took a trip to the Dominican Republic. As it was our first trip out of the country, I told students we weren’t just going with the two-buddy system; we were going with the four-buddy system – everyone needed to be in groups of four at all times.
On our tourist afternoon at the market, when one group of four buddies only returned with three buddies, I immediately asked “Where’s Jeff?” The three said they last saw him 30-40 minutes ago near an ice cream parlor, when a small child approached them and asked for an ice cream.
I was well aware of all the risks of violence and child sex trafficking going on in the world at the time. So you can bet that, while I’m not a fast runner, I can promise you the fastest half mile I’ve ever run was when I ran the half mile from that meet up spot to that ice cream spot, with every worst case scenario flashing through my mind with every step I ran.
And when I got there and found Jeff and this child enjoying ice cream together, I can promise you I had more words to say than just, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Your youth leaders and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Mary may have had more words to say also. This wasn’t a mother who’d lost just any child. This was a woman who’d lost Jesus.
Mary and Joseph weren’t the only people in history to lose Jesus. As we shared in our children’s message on Christmas Eve, in the midst of all of the presents on Christmas Day, we can lose sight of the fact that the greatest present of all is Jesus. In the midst of all of the busyness of Christmas, we can lose Jesus. In the midst of the highs of Christmas and the sometimes lows or letdown of the days after the holidays, we can lose Jesus. In the midst of all that is going on in our lives, in our nation, in the world, we can lose Jesus. In the midst of the everyday ho-hum routine, we can lose Jesus.
What do we do when we lose Jesus?
We’ve looked at Mary’s question. Now let’s look at Jesus’ response.
Jesus said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
The phrase “in my Father’s house” can be translated in two different ways. The New Revised Standard Version that we read translates it as “in my Father’s house.” Other versions translate the phrase “involved in my Father’s affairs.” So to restate what Jesus said to them,: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Or, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be involved in my Father’s affairs?”
Or to put it more simply, Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in worship and in mission?”
What do we do when we lose Jesus? In his first words to us, Jesus told us the answer: “Why are you searching for me? Do you not know that you must find me in worship and in mission?”
In terms of how we respond to that question, I want to share a story from our Advent Bible study followed by a couple of stories from our Christmas Eve worship services. In our Advent Bible study series, we looked at the prophesies about Jesus – how he would be a prophet, a priest, and a servant king. Each week I asked what came to mind when we heard (the first week) that Jesus was to be a prophet, (the second week) that he was to be a priest, and (the third week) that he was to be a servant king.
When we got to that third week, and I asked what came to mind when we heard that Jesus was to be a servant king, one person said, “This may sound trite, but I always think of Micah 6:8, which says, ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?'” I responded that those words aren’t trite; they are the heart of who we are as the Church – and who, I pray, we will always be as the Church.
That leads to a couple of stories from our Christmas Eve worship services. I’ll start with some stories from our 11 pm service and conclude with a story from our 5 pm service. A question I’ve asked our Session and congregation on a regular basis has been: What’s an unmet need in our community, and how can we at Clairmont meet that need? We asked that same question when it came to scheduling the times for our Christmas Eve services. When no congregation in our immediate area was offering an 11 pm service, Clairmont said, “Let’s do it.” So we offered an 11 pm service. We had roughly 30 people in attendance. I’d venture that roughly half of those were not frequent attenders or members. Clearly, we at Clairmont met an unmet need in our community.
That 11 pm service for me provided a good snapshot of the days in which we live as a community. We had arranged for two police officers to provide security at our office and sanctuary entrances. What probably comes as no surprise to any of us given the spread of the Omicron variant, we learned at 10 pm that one officer tested positive, and since the police department didn’t allow officers to work solo, that meant we were without officers at our doors. Like we’ve done throughout the past year and a half plus, our leadership pivoted to find ways to keep our doors open and to allow people to worship safely.
Then when it came to the lighting of the Advent candles, the hope candle wouldn’t light: the wick of the candle had turned inside itself, making it impossible to light, despite our candle lighters Jim and Andrea trying their best to light the candle. So we skipped over hope, and went on to light the candles of peace, joy, love, and ultimately the Christ candle. Still, the hope candle wouldn’t light. As Jim and Andrea lit the Christ candle, they read John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” I thought, “What a great metaphor for this season in which we find ourselves – when many struggle to find hope, when for many hope just won’t light. And what a great reminder that, even when hope seems dim, the light still shines in the darkness.”
Toward the end of the 11 pm service, I saw a woman walk into the sanctuary through the side entrance. She came up to me after worship and introduced herself. She said she had been running late to worship and then was even later because she couldn’t get in the door. (We had locked the doors at 11:15 once it seemed everyone had arrived in order to allow volunteers at the doors to join in worship.) I apologized and explained that we had intended to have security, but one officer, unfortunately, got COVID. She said she had heard and understood. She told me she hadn’t been to worship in a really long time, but she decided to come that night. She arrived just before we started singing our closing hymn, “Joy To The World.” She said, while she had only been able to hear one song in worship, that was exactly what she needed to hear – a word of joy.
She then asked if we had communion during the service. When I said yes, she lowered her head and said, “I’m sorry I missed communion. That was the only other part of worship I really felt like I needed tonight.” We happened to be standing in front of the communion table when we were talking. I told her, if she’d like, I could offer her the elements right now. She looked up wide-eyed, smiled, and said, “Really? You can do that?” Standing at the table with this sister at midnight on Christmas Day and being able to say to her, “This is the body of Christ given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you,” will forever be one of my most treasured moments in ministry.
Jesus said, “Why are you searching for me? Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Do you not know that you must find me in worship/”
What do we do when we lose Jesus? Jesus told us where to find him. We find him in worship – by remembering his life given for us, and by proclaiming the promise that, while hope may feel dim, there is joy to the world.
And one of my most treasured – and certainly most humbling – moments in ministry came right before our 5 pm service. Just before worship I was told there was a homeless man at the office entrance looking for coffee. Before I could get to the office door to greet him, he met me at the sanctuary door. He said his name, that he was homeless, and that he often slept on the corner by our church. Assuming he wanted help, I immediately went into autopilot: I told him we normally refer people to Toco Hills Community Alliance, but they are closed; how, unfortunately, we don’t have any grocery gift cards available to give him, and our financial office is also closed, but if he came back on Tuesday when the office was fully open, we’d be happy to find ways to offer assistance. He smiled and said, “I’m not here to ask for help. I just wanted to introduce myself and worship with you.” And he took a seat in one of the front pews.
Later during the sermon, when I said, “How is God calling you to be a voice to a stranger tonight, and how might God be speaking to you through a stranger?” I looked at this brother and thought, “Yes, God, I hear you.”
Jesus said, “Why are you searching for me? Do you not know that I must be involved in my Father’s affairs? Do you not know that you must find me in mission?”
What do we do when we lose Jesus? Jesus told us where to find him. We find him in mission.
Sometimes that mission may be welcoming the stranger. Sometimes that mission may be letting the stranger welcome us.
And sometimes that mission may be simply offering ice cream to a child.
It’s not just Jesus’ first words that always speak to me in this passage. It’s the last words in this passage that also speak to me: ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” It can be tricky to compare ourselves to Jesus in any text, yet at the same time we are called to become more like Jesus…
So may you and I increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor, by the way we worship Jesus and by the way we join in his mission. May it be so. Thanks be to God.