Grace, mercy, and peace
to you from God our Father, and from His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus
You take your family to a
big event or venue. Maybe it was out to see the Christmas displays at the
Trail of Lights. Maybe to a concert or a sporting event. Perhaps to a museum
or a zoo. For good measure, you take a few of the neighbors’ kids along too.
You arrive safely. You look at many of the things there are to see; you
experience many of the things there are to do. Then you set off for home at
the conclusion of the activity. You pull into your driveway, and—lo and
behold—you still have all the kids with which you started. You didn’t
lose a single one. That’s a very good thing. Because losing a kid in
the crowded place—that would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?
So Joseph and Mary went
and they lost Jesus in the Passover crowd. Except Jesus wasn’t exactly a
kid any more. At the age of twelve, He was considered a man by the standards
of the day. For all the worldliness of our kids today, that still sounds awfully
young to us. But that was a different world, a different time and place, with
different challenges and different expectations. And kids didn’t have
the luxury of staying kids for long. Not that they really do today, either.
So Jesus was now considered
a man. Which made this Passover celebration a particularly significant one for
Him and His earthly family. Joseph and Mary had been taking Him up to Jerusalem every year. But
this Passover, when they went to the temple for the sacrifice of the lamb,
Jesus, for the first time, was able to accompany His guardian father, Joseph,
around the temple. He wasn’t relegated to the court of the women and
children. Now He could go into the court of Israel, where only men could go.
Perhaps Jesus Himself—whom
John the Baptist would later identify as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin
of the world—perhaps it is He who carried in His arms on behalf of His
family the lamb for the Passover sacrifice. Who presented it to the priest;
who took it away to the altar to slaughter it; who then returned with the meat
for His family’s Passover meal.
If so, it would be a
delicious irony, wouldn’t it? Some twenty-one years later, less than a
week before He was crucified, Jesus would enter the temple precincts again.
This time, instead of carrying a lamb, He would fashion a whip out of cords and
use it to drive out the animals be stored and sold there for the sacrifices. “No more of this,” He was
coming, once-and-for-all sacrifice would take the place
of all that.
On the other hand, maybe
Jesus would have as little to do with the animal sacrifices at the age of
twelve as He did at the age of thirty-three. We simply don’t know for
sure. But what we do know is
important. What we do know
is that Jesus, the twelve year old, connected with those who were teaching in the temple. When it was
time to go back home to Nazareth, He decided to
stay in Jerusalem
instead, to spend more time with these teachers. St. Luke tells us He listened
to them and asked them questions.
Jesus was very good at
asking questions. Take for instance the time in adulthood, right before the
Passover when He was crucified, when Jesus asked the teachers in the temple a
good one. “What
do you think of the Messiah, the Christ? Whose son is He?”
The teachers gave Jesus the standard answer. “The son of David,” they said. “Well then,” said Jesus, “how is it that David,
inspired by the Spirit, calls Him Lord?”
At that point, Jesus
quoted Psalm 110, a psalm of David, which says: “The Lord (that is, God the Father)
said to my Lord
(that would be the Messiah, the Christ, the Son): sit at my right hand till I put your enemies under
your feet.” And then Jesus asked another
question to drive the point home: “if David thus calls Him Lord, how is He His son?”
That one stumped the
temple teachers. But Jesus’ point was clear – that He (the Messiah, the Christ) had to be
more than the son of David. Indeed that He was the Son of God.
But back to the story at
hand—the one about the twelve–year-old Jesus. Once Joseph
and Mary figured out He wasn’t where He was supposed to be (at least not
where they thought He was
supposed to be), they looked for Him frantically for three whole days. Finally,
we are told, “they
found Him in the temple, sitting amongst the teachers. And when His parents
saw Him, they were astonished.”
Mary in her distress said
to Him: “Son,
what are you doing here?”
And Jesus said: “didn’t
you know I must be in my Father’s house?”
And there you have it
again. Jesus calls the temple, which is God’s
house, His Father’s
house. Which would make God His Father and Him, Jesus, God’s Son. Which,
of course, is exactly who He is. If you’ve been following the Christmas
story from the very start, that will come as no surprise to you.
But still there is a surprise here. The surprise of the
story is that Joseph and Mary didn’t get it. As Luke puts it, they did
not understand what
He said to them.
Now here’s a
question for you. Who could have possibly been in a better position to
understand this than Joseph and Mary? For one thing, they knew the
extraordinary circumstances of Jesus’ birth, not the least of which was
that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
They’d also heard
the messages of angels, shepherds, wise men, and prophets about who Jesus
really was: That He was the Son of God.
But you know what? It’s
easy to lose perspective on things like this after you’ve changed a
couple hundred diapers and watched your baby crawl, then take His first
faltering steps. After you’ve schooled Him in His alephs, bets, and gimels,
and chuckled over His first feeble attempts to make something with hammer and
saw in the carpenter’s shop, and helped Him out with the memory verses
the rabbi assigned, who else could Jesus be but your son? With nothing really
spectacular having occurred since His infancy, it might be easy to start
thinking that Jesus was just your son
– not God’s. Twelve
years had gone by since Jesus was born. And things weren’t as crystal
clear as once they might have been. Maybe they thought they’d imagined
it all. Maybe there isn’t anything happening.
We know how it feels.
The eyes of faith can grow dim sometimes. The vision of faith can get
blurred. As time goes by, our faith is tested and tried. Life gets the better
of us. And it can be easy—so, very, very easy—to lose your grip on
God. We look around us and can’t help but notice that there’s not
a whole lot of that peace on earth and good will toward men the Christmas
angels sang about. Families fall apart. People we love get sick. Accidents
happen. People die. We forget whose peace and what sort of peace was
promised. Whose goodwill, and toward whom, by whom, it is given. And so things
don’t seem as crystal clear as once they were.
And what do you do when
it happens to you? What do you do?
Well, like Joseph and
Mary, you can find Jesus when you’ve lost Him. And where is that? Where
is He? He’s in the same place Joseph and Mary found Him: He is in His
For us, His Father’s
house is here; this place. Not because this building is special, even though
it ought to be for us. Not even because the people who come here are special,
even though they are. No, we can find Jesus here because of His promise to be
here for us.
We find Him here by
listening to His Word, by paying attention to what He has to say to us through
the Holy Scriptures, through the Word proclaimed to you, and through the Holy
Sacraments. We should learn this lesson well! When we’re losing our
grip on Jesus and on our Christian faith—or at least when it seems that
God has lost His grip on us—this is the place to come.
When Jesus was twelve
years old, He astonished the teachers in the temple. We should be no less
astonished with what He says and teach us today.
Does it not absolutely
astonish you that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, for you? Is it not even more
astonishing that this same Jesus—who lived a life without
fault—died a miserable death for someone who has lived a life like yours?
And is not the most astonishing thing of all that He is risen from the dead
and lives—not just for you,
but awaiting you? This is what
is true. This is wisdom from above. And by the grace of God and the power of
His Holy Spirit, you can believe it and cling to this promise: That Jesus is
God’s Son, and that He is your Savior and your Lord.
In the holy (X) name of