Luke 2:41-52 – We Lost God

The Boy Jesus in the Temple by He Qi

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (New International Version)

It’s a terrible sinking feeling to lose a kid. Unfortunately, I’ve done it with all three of mine – and multiple times with the youngest. I’ve even lost other people’s kids. Oy. Yet, I can say that I’ve never had the dubious distinction of losing God.

We have come through the season of Advent and anticipated the birth of Christ. We have celebrated Jesus on Christmas Day. Now, we’re looking to perhaps settle back into a more normal routine of life. Joseph and Mary were trying to do the same, too.

One year, when Jesus was young, they were traveling back to Nazareth – only to discover Jesus was not with them! They lost God.

They aren’t the only ones to search for Jesus. A lot of other people are searching for him, too. They’ve traveled throughout their lives thinking Jesus was with them – only to find he isn’t with them. They lost God. 

Too many people go about their daily lives without realizing Jesus is even missing. They simply assume he’s here. But he isn’t. So, let’s search for him. And in finding him, may we see Jesus as we have never saw him before, so that our faith in God might be strengthened and we do not end up losing him yet again.

Joseph and his family traveled in a large caravan, which was common for that day. They were on their camels an entire day before they discovered Jesus was missing. Mary likely assumed Jesus was riding on the other camel with Uncle Zechariah. 

But he was neither with him nor with cousin John or Aunt Elizabeth. So, the second day Joseph and Mary traveled back, hoping and praying they wouldn’t find Jesus in the ditch, like in the story of the Good Samaritan. Having not found him along the road, they spent the third day scouring Jerusalem in search of Jesus. 

Young Jesus in the Temple by Haitian artist Jean-Baptiste Bottex

Turns out, this whole time, Jesus was at the temple. A parent myself, I’m not a bit surprised that a twelve-year-old stayed behind and thought nothing of it. 

Jesus was curious and inquisitive with the rabbis at the temple. Those ancient teachers taught in a different way than we do today. They gave instruction more like a modern day counselor or therapist. The rabbis didn’t just impart information; they asked questions to help people discover truth for themselves. And the rabbis were amazed at Jesus’ ability to discover truth.

Keep in mind that Jesus was not a thirty-year-old adult in a twelve-year-old body. Christ was sinless but still immature. The human experience involves growth and maturation. Jesus shared fully in our humanity, not partially. When Christ was born, he was not a fully aware adult looking through baby eyes.

Because Jesus is fully human, he had to grow up just like us and learn in every way, just like us. Staying in Jerusalem was not a rebellious act by Jesus. It was typical. Twelve-year-old’s do all kinds of things without saying anything to their parents. There’s a world of difference between being rebellious and plain old garden variety immaturity. It’s unwise for adults to expect adult behavior from adolescent kids.

Jesus felt a deep need to stay and talk with the rabbis. As a human boy, he had to go through the process of self-discovery… of discovering he was the Son of God… of reading the scriptures for himself and learning… and finding he was reading about himself! 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became truly human.

Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.

To say that Jesus simply knew everything because he was God is to fall into a heresy the early church condemned at the Council of Nicaea called Docetism. It is the belief that Jesus is fully God and only appeared to be human. No, the Council said, Jesus was really a human being and didn’t just appear to be one. He is like us, in every way, except sin.

Well, of course, Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus. It seems Jesus got the third degree from his mother: “What do you mean putting your father and I through this? I gave you birth, and you treat us like this?  What were you thinking?  What part of meeting at the two-humped camel at 9:00 don’t you understand?”

Since Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and others, how much more do we need to put ourselves in a position to grow and learn and develop and mature? 

There is no spiritual zap machine in which God miraculously imparts into our brains all the wisdom and knowledge we need. Rather, emulating our Lord, we must learn, grow, read, pray, ask questions, struggle, and dialogue about the good news of Jesus Christ with each other. In short, we must discover the truth of God.

Perhaps Jesus is asking us, as he did to Mary and Joseph, “Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

One person tells the following story: 

“Back when my wife and I were dating, she worked as a temp at a bank. In the first two weeks of that job, she noticed some very unprofessional behavior among the team and their supervisor. The supervisor took long coffee breaks with the employees, sitting and gossiping with them.”

“A new employee, a woman in her thirties who came on staff a week before my wife, was shunned. If she walked up and tried to join the conversation during a coffee break, the conversation ended. The group, including the supervisor, made jokes about her behind her back and laughed at the way she dressed. They rolled their eyes and winked at each other when she was present. It was obvious this newbie worker was perceived as an unnecessary intrusion.”

“Two weeks into the temp job, my wife walked into the office on a Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. No gossiping, no kidding around, no long coffee breaks. All the employees were diligently working. The previous supervisor had been replaced. The cliquish team addressed the new supervisor with formal, businesslike respect. The new supervisor was not a stranger. It was the 30-something woman who had been shunned and mocked.”

“It turned out the bank had hired her to be the new supervisor from the first day she came on the job three weeks before, but the bank had concealed her true identity so she could observe the work style of the team.”

In some ways, this resembles the coming of Christ to earth. In his first coming, Jesus Christ revealed his true identity and glory to his true followers, but to those who did not believe, his glory was largely hidden by his humanity. Following his resurrection, Christ ascended to the right hand of God, where he rules all things. One day he is coming again to the earth to establish his glorious kingdom over everything. At that time there will be no mistaking who is in charge. 

Let us not lose our way and lose God in our every-day life.  Let us be with Jesus and with him grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others. 

Christmas Day

Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of the Nativity

Merry Christmas! Christ is born! Joy to the world!

On this glorious day for Christians everywhere, the following are the lectionary readings for today. I suggest reading them aloud – with flavor – alongside your family and friends. May you find in the Christ child newfound hope and enduring encouragement.

Old Testament lesson: Isaiah 62:6-12

Upon your walls, Jerusalem,
    I have appointed sentinels.
Continually, all day and all night,
    they won’t keep silent.
You who call on the Lord, don’t rest,
    and don’t allow God to rest
    until he establishes Jerusalem,
    and makes it the praise of the earth.
The Lord has promised
    with raised hand and strong arm:
    I will never again give your grain
    as food for your enemies.
    Foreigners won’t drink your wine
    for which you labored.
Those who harvest will eat it
    and will praise the Lord;
    those who gather will drink it
    in my holy courtyards.

Pass through, pass through the gates;
    prepare the way for the people!
Build, build the road;
    clear away the stones!
    Raise up a signal for the peoples.
This is what the Lord announced
    to the earth’s distant regions:
Say to Daughter Zion, “Look! Your deliverer arrives,
    bringing reward and payment!”
They will be called The Holy People,
    Redeemed By the Lord.
And you will be called Sought After—
    A City That Is Not Abandoned. (Common English Bible)

Psalm lesson: Psalm 97

The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let all the islands celebrate!
Clouds and thick darkness surround God.
    His throne is built on righteousness and justice.
Fire proceeds before him,
    burning up his enemies on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees it and trembles!
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of the whole world!

Heaven has proclaimed God’s righteousness,
    and all nations have seen his glory.
All those who worship images,
    those who are proud of idols,
    are put to shame.
    All gods bow down to the Lord!
Zion has heard and celebrates,
    the towns of Judah rejoice,
    because of your acts of justice, Lord,
    because you, Lord, are the Most High
        over all the earth,
    because you are so superior to all other gods.

Those of you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    God guards the lives of his faithful ones,
    delivering them from the power of the wicked.
Light is planted like seed for the righteous person;
    joy too for those whose heart is right.
Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones!
    Give thanks to his holy name! (Common English Bible)

Nativity by Chinese artist He Qi, 1998

New Testament lesson: Titus 3:4-7

God our Savior showed us
    how good and kind he is.
He saved us because
    of his mercy,
and not because
of any good things
    that we have done.

God washed us by the power
    of the Holy Spirit.
He gave us new birth
    and a fresh beginning.
God sent Jesus Christ
our Savior
    to give us his Spirit.

Jesus treated us much better
    than we deserve.
He made us acceptable to God
and gave us the hope
    of eternal life. (Contemporary English Version)

Gospel lesson: Luke 2:8-20

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (New King James Version)

May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas. And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Micah 4:6-8 – Belonging

“In that day,” declares the Lord,

“I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
I will make the lame my remnant,
    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion
    from that day and forever.
As for you, watchtower of the flock,
    stronghold of Daughter Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
    kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.” (New International Version)

One of the great tragedies of our world, as well as one of the worst feelings of humanity, is the sense that one does not belong.

Since people are hard-wired by God for community, belonging is essential, not optional. The image of the rugged individualist who gets things done on their own terms and marches to the beat of a different drum might be an appealing picture to many Westerners – but it falls woefully short of real lived human experience.

Since the fall of humanity, people have tended to group themselves into insiders and outsiders. In other words, discrimination is the enemy of true belonging. And, what’s more, there always seems to be people who are ready to create such division for their own purpose and profit. Indeed, it’s an age old tale, perhaps best told by Dr. Seuss in his classis book, Sneetches and Other Stories (1961).

In the story, Sneetches with stars on their bellies discriminate against and shun those without. A slick entrepreneur, Sylvester McMonkey McBean, offers the Sneetches without stars on their bellies the chance to get them with his Star-On machine, for three dollars, of course.

The application of stars upon thars is instantly and wildly popular. However, this abjectly upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches. They are in danger of losing their special status! So, McBean then tells them about his Star-Off machine, costing ten dollars, of course, and the Sneetches who originally had stars happily pay the money to have them removed.

Since McBean only cares about profit, he allows the recently starred Sneetches through this machine, as well. Ultimately, the entire affair escalates, with all the Sneetches running from one machine to the next…

“…until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew

whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…

or which one was what one… or what one was who.”

The Sneetches end up penniless. McBean leaves a rich man. The Sneetches learn from the experience that neither plain-belly nor star-belly Sneetches are superior. They finally become friends. Dr. Suess intended his story to be a satire of discrimination between races and cultures.

The kingdom of God is an egalitarian realm. There are no walls and barriers dividing people into opposing groups. And there isn’t such a thing as marginal, excluded, insignificant, forbidden, or discounted people.

Micah’s prophecy tells not of the privileged and powerful coming together for renewal but the lame. God’s care in maintaining a remnant and gathering them for restoration will be made up of the wounded, the ones who have no ability to bring themselves to the center.

The upside-down kingdom of God makes the last first, and the first, last. The Lord’s rule and reign champions the disabled and the misfits – those without an ability to come. They may be forgotten by others but never by God.

Like Santa coming to the island of misfit toys, rescuing and airlifting forgotten toys so that they can become treasured gifts for boys and girls – so God creates belonging where there seems none to be had. And leading the effort is a tossed aside reindeer named Rudolph, using his unique “deformity” to cut through the tough winter storm.

Perhaps you feel a bit, or maybe a lot, like the square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It could be that you wonder whether there is a place for you. You have experienced life as something of an oddity, as if the normal world around you is not aware of your very personhood.

The good news is that a prominent place is given to the humble, for those attempting to make a difference in the world that gives them no place to belong. God sees. God hears. God knows. God cares.

The Lord sends a Savior, a Deliverer, who will himself be a peculiar individual on this earth. It will seem as if he is from another place… which he is. But, then again, aren’t we all? Each of us was crafted with divine care and attention.

You are the one who created my innermost parts;
    you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.
I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart.
    Your works are wonderful—I know that very well.
My bones weren’t hidden from you
    when I was being put together in a secret place,
    when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my embryo,
    and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me,
    before any one of them had yet happened. (Psalm 139:13-16, CEB)

The Lord has good plans for you and me. It might seem as if there are times God is placing a heavy hand upon us, even punishing. Yet, restoration is in the future. In this season of the year, we celebrate that Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

May Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one, things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace. Amen.

Psalm 113 – There Is a Deliverer

Shout praises to the Lord!
Everyone who serves him,
    come and praise his name.

Let the name of the Lord
    be praised now and forever.
From dawn until sunset
    the name of the Lord
    deserves to be praised.
The Lord is far above
    all of the nations;
    he is more glorious
    than the heavens.

No one can compare
    with the Lord our God.
His throne is high above,
    and he looks down to see
    the heavens and the earth.
God lifts the poor and needy
    from dust and ashes,
    and he lets them take part
    in ruling his people.
When a wife has no children,
    he blesses her with some,
and she is happy.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (Contemporary English Version)

It is appropriate, as we approach the Nativity of our Lord in just a few days, that we acknowledge and celebrate Christ’s incarnation by using today’s psalm.

Believers everywhere serve a God who is attentive to humanity. Although high and transcendent above all creation, the Lord carefully observes the plight of people. And God determines to do something about it. God breaks into the human experience by becoming human.

In the New Testament, the Apostle John frames this movement from heaven to earth in this way:

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

This grand descending to earth plumbed the very depths and despair of humanity.

In the largest cities of the world, like Mexico City, Mexico and Manilla, Philippines, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live hundreds of families who have made this their home. 

Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive.  Few others tread where these families are.  Yet, there are Christian believers who make the journey and try to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to such a place.

As incredible and sad a situation that this is, it doesn’t compare to the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made. God became flesh, Christ descended to earth and came to the sin-soaked dump of this world – to us who were living on a heap of garbage – and entered our lives to save us from our wretched and pitiable condition.

God’s generosity in sending the Son was a gracious and cataclysmic entry to this earth on our behalf. It’s as if Jesus moved into the garbage dump and was born on the heap of waste so that God might be present with us.

Jesus did not just appear to be human, but actually became like us and lived with all the same things we face from day to day. He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites.  God is with us!

Jesus interacted with the families in the dump. God was coming to save the people.  he way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation – both through testifying to what God has done in Christ, and through being sent, we ourselves, as little incarnations of entering into people’s lives. 

We are like the moon, not producing light ourselves, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun so that the earth may know that Jesus is coming.

The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus became human and lived among us. 

May we believe.

May we know there is a Deliverer.

May we rejoice and be glad in this reality, and may it move us to be used of God to save those on the sin heap of this world.

May the poor and needy be lifted up.

May you have a blessed Christmas and enjoy peace with God and others in this next year.

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.