December 27, 2015 Luke 2: 41-52
Rev. Catherine Purves
There is a gap, a gaping hole, in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. We know virtually nothing about Jesus as a child. Nothing! Matthew records the story of his family’s escape to Egypt right after Jesus was born. That was when Herod went on a rampage and tried to kill all children under two in and around Bethlehem. And he briefly tells of their return to Galilee after Herod’s death. Mark and John both begin their Gospels with the baptism of Jesus at age 30. We have absolutely no knowledge of Jesus as a young adult. What was he like at 18 or 20 or 25? We don’t know. Only Luke tries to fill this huge gap with a single story about Jesus, aged 12. Young Jesus had accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover, but there was a mix-up, and when they left to return to Nazareth, Jesus was left behind. He was lost, and then he was found. That’s it. But why should this have been such a significant story for Luke? And why did he use it to bridge the gap between the infancy and the ministry of Jesus?
It is, after all, an odd story. Given the culture in which they lived, it was not surprising that Mary and Joseph would have assumed that Jesus was with the relatives and friends who had made the journey with them. What was odd was that a 12 year old would have purposefully stayed behind in the city by himself. What was odd was that a young boy would have been seated among the teachers in the temple asking questions and speaking freely. What was odd was the response that Jesus gave when his parents finally found him there and scolded him for not realized the agony he had put them through. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked them. “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?” And what was odd was the fact that after this amazing adventure he returned with them to Nazareth resuming his quiet life as their obedient son until, after another gap of 18 years, he was baptized by John in the Jordan and then began his brief three year ministry. That’s odd.
Luke actually gives us two clues about the missing years of Jesus, two brief verses that appear on either side of this significant little story. Not long after Jesus was born, Luke tells us that the family went back to Nazareth to live. He doesn’t mention the detour to Egypt. Instead, he inserts this summary verse: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” That pretty much covers his earliest lost years. Then, after 12 year old Jesus was lost and found in Jerusalem, Luke practically repeats himself in verse 52 where he writes, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” So these weren’t exactly lost years. Luke acknowledges them as growing years, as years of learning when Jesus drew closer to God, years of preparation, years when Jesus was finding and being found by his Father.
And just in case we missed that point, Luke gives us the telling remark of Jesus when his frantic parents finally found him in the temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This is the centerpiece of the story. It is the bridge between the infancy narratives and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry 30 years later. This event marked the turning point for Jesus, a kind of coming of age when childhood was abruptly left behind. He was now finding his place in a grown-up world of scholars and rabbis, of temple worship and faithful living. And, in a unique way, Jesus was discovering what it meant to know God as his Father and he was beginning to accept his role as the Father’s only Son. All this was revealed in Luke’s simple lost and found story.
Lost…and found. That is a pretty good summary of all of our lives. Can you think of a time when you were lost? Can you think of a time when you were found? And in between you probably experienced years of searching, hoping, discovering, as well as years characterized by mistakes, doubt, and confusion. I suppose that there are gaps in all of our lives, missing years that we can hardly account for. What was going on during those years?
You find love, you lose love. You find a job, you lose a job. You have a sense of who you are, and then you lose that self-awareness. You think you know how the world works, and then you realize that you don’t really understand the world at all. You find your way, but then you lose your way again. You find faith, you lose faith. Lost…and then found. Found…and then lost. We all know what it’s like to be lost, and we all know what it’s like to be found.
Later in his Gospel, Luke puts together a trio of Jesus’ parables about being lost and being found. This is a theme that is important to Luke. In chapter 15 he writes first about a lost sheep that was found, then about a lost coin that was found, and finally about a lost son who was found. Lost and found. And the message or moral of all of these little stories is that God will not let lost things stay lost. Your lost years are not really lost. They are years when God was seeking and finding you. And perhaps they were years in which you were seeking and gradually finding God. It seems that Luke was trying to tell us that the lost years of Jesus’ childhood were like that and that the lost years of his early adulthood were like that too.
Sometimes our lost years are years that are dominated by sin or years when we just feel cut off from God. They may simply be busy years when we are intentionally trying to find other things – looking for relationships, preparing for a career, getting ourselves ‘established’, saving money, accumulating things, raising children, looking for happiness. If that is really all we are doing in those years then underneath the very busy activity that fills our days we may sense that something has been lost, something that we really need to find.
I’m always reminded of how easy it is to become lost when two or three of us get together once a month to pray for the members of Narcotics Anonymous who are meeting in the Chapel. From my office we can hear clapping and cheering each time someone announces that they have been free of drugs or alcohol for a few days or months or years. They admit to one another that they were really and truly lost, but somehow they found a way back to sobriety through repentance and reliance on God and one another. Each day is still a challenge, and some of them are laboring under the burden of a lot of lost years, broken relationships, lingering guilt, and deep disappointments. But when they get together here at their N.A. meetings they celebrate what they’ve found and they are thankful that God found them when they were so very lost.
Sitting here today, we probably don’t feel lost like that. But part of why we don’t is because we are sitting here today. Like Jesus, we’ve come to realize that we need to be in our Father’s house in order to find and to be found by God. This is where our lost years can be redeemed. Here we can find forgiveness and hope. This is the place where we learn and grow, ask questions and pray, where we wait patiently and sing joyfully and serve willingly, because this is where we encounter the God we know as Father. Of course this is where we must be if we are going to be found.
But then, after we sing our last hymn, and we receive a final blessing, and the last chord of the postlude is played, we all have to put on our coats and go back to our homes and our jobs and our families. We must leave our Father’s house for another week. In the story Luke told about young Jesus in the temple, we see that he was reluctant to leave. In a surprising act of independence, he chose to stay behind when his family left the city. He sat among the teachers and they were amazed at his questions and his understanding. But then, when his parents eventually found him, he did go back to Nazareth where we assume he helped Joseph in his carpentry shop and where he was obedient to his mother Mary. Still, what he learned in his Father’s house and the relationship that was forged there shaped his life in Nazareth and eventually his ministry. So too, when we leave this place we take what we have found with us, just as we take with us the knowledge that we have been found by God our Father.
In this little story of young Jesus in the temple, Luke reassures us that the lost years of Jesus were not really lost. In those unrecorded years of childhood and young adulthood, his relationship with his Father was deepening, his wisdom was growing, his calling was clarified, and his preparation was completed. As we get ready to celebrate the beginning of a new year later this week, it’s a good time for you to ask yourself: How am I using my years? And how will I use this next year? Will it be a lost year or a year of growth in faith and commitment to Jesus Christ? Will this be a year when you spend time in your Father’s house, a year when you find God and a year when God finds and blesses you? I pray that for all of us it will be a year of finding and of being found.