Preached this morning at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Medicine Hat, where I am stepping in this morning for the rector, the good Canon Gene Packwood.
A local family has decided to go into Calgary for the weekend. It’s a large group – parents, aunts and uncles, kids and friends of kids. It’s such a large group that they take several mini vans, and on the way home they stop in Strathmore for gas and Timmies. Pretty soon they discover that one of the kids is missing. Wasn’t he in your van? No, we thought he was with you? If you can imagine the fear and anxiety that would set in at this point, then you’re well on your way to understanding today’s gospel relaxing from Luke.
It’s easy to empathize with Mary and Joseph, Parents haven’t really changed across the centuries, children still get lost, and the same emotions still arise. When Mary finally finds her son, after three days of what must have been increasingly frantic searching, and says to to her son that he has caused his parents “great anxiety”, who could blame her for being at least a little bit cross with her son? Perhaps some of us would say things that, if Luke were telling our story, he would choose to edit to make fit for family consumption?
So we can understand the situation of the story and the feelings of the anguished and then relieved parents. Got it. But then we might ask ourselves, is this really the point of the story, to tell us that parents are parents, across the centuries? If the point of the story was to show us a scene from the childhood of Jesus, why then did Luke only choose this one? Why is it that this is the only story about the childhood of Jesus in any of the gospels? And why does this story take us in such a different direction from the Nativity story, so we go straight from the peace and mystery of Silent Night and candles and Christmas Eve to our next time back in church and this story of fear and anxiety in the crowded streets of Jerusalem?
Jerusalem. Perhaps the key to understanding this story is its setting. Why here? Why does Luke take us so quickly from peaceful and little Bethlehem to great Jerusalem, the home of the kings of Israel and the home of its God, who was thought to reside in the Temple? The first answer is Passover, when Jesus’ family make the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But if we know the whole gospel story, we hear the words Jesus and Jerusalem and Passover and we can’t help but think of the Passion story. There are other elements here which also foreshadow the Passion, such as the fact that His parents look for Jesus for “three days” and their son’s presence in the Temple, the final place he will visit before the Last Supper, debating with the teachers, the same group that will judge him at the end. I think it’s fair to say that Luke tells us this story to show us what Jesus has been born to do.
We began our worship this morning looking backwards to the peace of Christmas Eve as we sang the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Amid the lovely Victorian language of Phillips Brooks we sang these words in verse 4:
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.”
Here, amid one of the sweetest and gentlest of all the Christmas carols, is language that points us, firmly and unavoidably, to Jerusalem and to the cross, the places that Jesus must go for our sake if we are to be set free of our sin. To borrow from another Victorian carol, (“Good Christian Men Rejoice”), “Christ was born for this”. Jesus must go to Jerusalem for our sakes, and I think Luke uses this story of the young Jesus to tell us this hard truth, as much as we might wish not to think of it.
As Luke finishes his story, he tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). As I understand this verse, Luke is saying that Mary now has a clearer understanding of who her unusual son is and what he is meant to do. To say more on that matter would be the work of a novelist rather than of a preacher. I can’t help though but to draw a connection between this passage, with Mary treasuring this mystery in her heart, and with what Paul tells us in Colossians, how we are to “Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col 3:16). Both verses seem to point to the importance of making room for Christ in our lives, thoughts, and deeds. It is an easy thing to overlook Jesus, as Mary and Joseph found on their way home. Ad a harder thing to seek him out if we are busy and frantic, as they were. If you are looking for a spiritual new year’s resolution, you might trying harder to keep your eyes on Jesus, to not lose sight of him, and to keep his words and
Presence treasured in your heart.
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