Luke 2:41-52 New International Version (NIV)
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 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.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Let’s just get the obvious out of the way right up front. Mary and Joseph forgot Jesus. They ran no risk of winning a “parents of the year” award. They started traveling back home from Jerusalem and they traveled for a full day before they realized that they didn’t have Jesus with them. I spent the night at my in-laws on Christmas and when I was packing, I went through a mental list. Toothbrush…check. Pajamas…check. Both children…oops! I forgot one!
Now there are two ways that we can look at this. We can say that they not only forgot their 12-year-old son, but they also forgot the son of the living God! It’s like, You had one job, don’t lose the messiah. One job! Or the other way to see this is to say, he was the son of God. He probably was going to be okay.
In all actuality, we must remember that this story took place in a different time and place. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably only 13 when she had Jesus. And twelve is the age when a Jewish boy has his mar-mitzvah, so by Jewish standards, Jesus was considered an adult. And we know that Mary and Joseph had other children as well, so they were likely distracted by little children and maybe even an infant child.
So let’s cut Mary and Joseph a little slack. At least on this one, because we are going to get a little critical here in just a minute about something else altogether.
The thing that I want us to notice here in chapter 2 is that Luke is introducing a repeating theme that we will find throughout his gospel: the theme of lost and found, more specifically, the joy in finding what was once lost.
If we jump ahead to chapter 15, we find three well-known parables as told by the grownup Jesus. He tells the story about a man who loses one sheep out of his entire flock, and he leaves the 99 sheep behind to search the hills and the caves until he finds the one lost sheep. He tells the story of a woman who has ten coins, but she loses one. So she turns her house upside down until she finds the lost coin. And then finally, Jesus tells the story of a lost son, who leaves his father’s side to go out into the world, insulting his father and his family. Yet when the son returns, the father throws a great feast to celebrate the son’s return.
What I want us to do today is to put ourselves in the position of the ones who have lost something that is of value to us. Imagine the emotions that you experience both in realizing that you have lost something and in finding it. Because from Mary and Joseph’s perspective, in today’s lesson, Jesus is the lost son.
Let’s pick up with verse 46, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Let’s break that one down a bit. Mary and Joseph took three days to find Jesus. This may be one day of travel back to Jerusalem and two days of looking around, or three days of looking around once they got back to town. The text isn’t exactly clear, but either way, it took a while to find Jesus.
I’ve never lost a child for three days, but I have lost sight of them for a minute or two. And it is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. We were picking up a few last-minute Christmas gifts the other day at Target, and I had Paxton with me. We were talking, looking for some pajamas for my grandfather, and all at once, he was gone. I start calling out for him, and I don’t hear anything in response. I start looking behind each clothes rack because he is just short enough to blend in, and still I don’t see him. Finally, he jumps out from behind a post and yells “boo!” He scared me more than he could have known, and I only “lost” him for about 30 seconds.
So I can’t begin to imagine what Mary and Joseph were experiencing. Yes, Jesus was considered an adult in their culture, and yes, they knew that he was the messiah. But they also loved him. For twelve years they fed him, clothed him, and raised him. He was flesh of Mary’s own flesh, blood of her own blood. And I assume that Joseph cared deeply about the boy as well. And on top of all of this, Mary and Joseph knew that God had chosen them, entrusted them with this special role of caring for the messiah. And now they may have let down God. That’s nothing new. We let God down all of the time and God does forgive us. But not only have they let God down, if anything has happened to the messiah, they may have let down the entire Jewish people.
Jesus was the one that their people had been waiting on. He was the one that God had promised through the prophets to bring salvation to their people. And Mary and Joseph had no idea where Jesus was.
Mary and Joseph were looking for Jesus with a sense of urgency. They were looking for Jesus with a sense of despair. They were looking for Jesus in a state of fear. And they were searching for Jesus in a spirit of repentance.
I think that we can use this story as a metaphor for our own search for Jesus. We all search for Jesus for different reasons, but often they overlap. This is probably the most obvious around this time of year when we gather together with friends, coworkers, and family members who are vastly different than we are. The holidays force us to come together with people that we normally wouldn’t sit down with for a meal. And I think that is a good thing.
I attended a couple of Christmas services this year where people came together from very different lifestyles. The rednecks, hippies, blue-collar, white-collar. A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Whether we are coming together as family or a community, we come together because there is something, someone who unites us. We come together at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And it is clear that we don’t all agree on who Jesus is or who Jesus calls us to be. Some are drawn to the Jesus of grace and forgiveness. Others are drawn to the Jesus of healing or comfort. Still more come to Jesus for his ethical teachings or his liberating actions. And Jesus is all of the above, but I bet that when we first started looking for Jesus, we didn’t come to Jesus because he was all of these things. We came looking for something in particular.
Those who come to know Jesus in their adulthood will often do so in response to something in their life like the diagnosis of sickness, the loss of a loved one, a national tragedy, a growing sense of remorse. When we search for Jesus, we search for different reasons. And as far as I can tell, Jesus is okay with that.
Jesus said “Come to me all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “Come and follow me.” I don’t think that Jesus cares why you search for him. I think he just wants you to find him.
So Mary and Joseph look all over Jerusalem for 12-year-old Jesus. They look high and they look low. When they find him, Mary says to Jesus in verse 48, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus’ response in verse 49 is great: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
People lose things all of the time. I’m in the habit of putting my car keys and wallet in the same place every time I walk in the door, but I still manage to lose plenty of things. Matching socks can be a problem. Favorite pens tend to disappear, though I’m pretty sure I get help in misplacing those.
When people lose things and then find them, they often say something that is perhaps so common that we really don’t think about what we are saying. Have you ever heard someone say, “It was in the last place that I looked.” I lost my wallet, but I found it! It was in the last place that I looked. I lost my favorite ring, but it finally turned up. It was in the last place that I looked. Of course it was in the last place that you looked. You wouldn’t find it and then say, “Hey, even though I found this thing, I’m going to go ahead and look a few more places.” Or, “Let’s continue the search, this is too much fun!” Obviously it was in the last place you looked. When you find what you are looking for, you stop looking.
I think that is a problem in Christianity. When we think that we have found what we are looking for, we stop looking.
It is good to find Jesus, and to find the Jesus that you are looking for. It is good to have a need met or fulfilled by Jesus. And it is natural to stop searching for Jesus when you find him. When you are in a stressful situation, and you find Jesus as one who takes your burdens away, it is understandable to stop looking there. Or when you are looking for forgiveness and you find grace through Jesus, or when you are looking for a moral guide and you find that in Jesus, it makes sense that you stop looking. When you find something, it is in the last place that you looked. But there is more to Jesus than that one dimension. Jesus is more, and we need to keep looking, to keep searching for him.
You found Jesus in the last place that you looked. But there is a last place, and there needs to be a place after that.
We need to continue to search for Jesus, not to find him again as if for the first time. But to find him at a different level, to go deeper, and to know more.
Looking again at our story for this morning, Mary and Joseph finally did find Jesus in a very real way. They found the boy sitting in the Temple, teaching the teachers. Let’s look again at verses 49-50, “‘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.”
Mary and Joseph found Jesus, and I’m sure that took a huge burden from their shoulders. But Luke explains to us that even though they found Jesus in one sense, they still did not understand him.
This is that last we hear from Joseph, but it is clear that Mary continues to struggle to fully find Jesus. John’s gospel tells us that when Jesus performs his first miracle, it is because Mary is pushing him to do something about an embarrassing situation. And Jesus replies, “Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” This isn’t the time or place. Later in his ministry, when Jesus is doing a number of amazing things and preaching some harsh teachings, Mary and Jesus’ siblings come to him and try to tell him to quiet things down a bit. It is clear that though they have found Jesus, they still have not found all of him.
I want to challenge us all today. You say that you have found Jesus? That’s good. Believe me when I say that I am happy for you. But if you found Jesus in the last place that you looked, keep looking. This isn’t to say that you didn’t find the true Jesus, it is to say that there is always more to Jesus. You found Jesus in the last place that you looked for him, now look for him in the place after that.
There is an old saying that goes a little something like this. If you never look for Jesus, you will never find him. But when you learn to look for Jesus everywhere, you will see him in everything.
In 2016, let us find Jesus when we need healing. Let us find Jesus when our world seems broken. Let us find Jesus when we need forgiveness. Let us find Jesus when we need ethical guidance. And let us find Jesus when we need a Lord over not only our lives, but over our entire world as well.