Searching In All the Wrong Places

Luke 2:41-52 (New Revised Standard Version)

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

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The chaotic and joyous events of Christmas are beginning to wind down. The shepherds with their flocks had left, the boisterous choir of angels had ascended back into heaven, and what we are now left with is Mary and Joseph who are finally given some time to spend with their newborn child. Our reading this morning from the Gospel According to Luke attempts to fill in some of the gaps of what happened after the birth of Jesus. To add a little more, before our reading this morning, we find Mary and Joseph taking their son to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to God per the Law of Moses. Imagine that, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the temple seeking God in a sacred moment.

Together they as a family was seeking God… We've seen how Mary sought out God and leaned hard into the promises of God and told a counter-cultural story… We've seen how Joseph sought out God as someone who didn't have to believe Mary but did, just as we are to think stories like hers today… And after all, is said and done, after all that seeking, they are ready to make their way back home after doing everything that new parents of their time were expected to do. But like ourselves in the here, and now, Mary and Joseph also had to deal with the struggles and chaos of life… And after trying to pack and find other family members, they just assumed that Jesus was where he needed to be… But even at a young age, we find that Jesus often turns the tables on our expectations.

We are people who like to move from one thing to the next… We set goals, we set expectations for ourselves, we make checklists that help keep us on track, and at the end of the day, we take stock as to how much or how little progress we have made. I don't think Mary and Joseph were keeping such a detailed list of the things they needed to do, but I think it would be fair to say that they, especially Mary, we're looking forward to finally being able to settle down back home with their son who came about by miraculous means after checking everything off their list. Leaning into God's promises takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of energy. However, that doesn't mean our work is done… The magnitude might have changed, but if we aren't careful, we will find that Christ, the little Christ child, will keep us on our toes and surprise us when we least expect it.

I don't know what it's to have a child, but I know what it is like to hold onto something precious… But even then, I can't begin to imagine the sense of fear, dread, and panic that Mary must have felt when she looked around and couldn't her little child. I believe her heart felt like it was on the verge of breaking, just there are many other mothers, father, parents, whose hearts are on the edge of breaking from being separated from their precious children. Again, I'll say I don't know what it's like to have a child, but I have to assume that we have a responsibility to help reunite them, to speak up for them… I have to think that as others helped Mary and Joseph find Jesus that we too are tasked with helping to reconnect and bind up the brokenhearted who have suffered physical, emotional, and spiritual pain at wrong hands.

Our searching for Jesus can be painful. It can be a painful moment when we realize that we can't find Jesus… It can be a heartbreaking moment when we know that Jesus who we thought was there walking alongside us was isn't in the place we remember, and so we begin to look and try to find where Jesus went. For some of this means we look in our time of grief… I've mentioned my father before who passed away, and I can say that I must have caught a glimpse of the pain of Mary when I looked and saw my father and felt as though God wasn't there to do what needed to be done. I looked… I spent a lot of time looking, I asked questions, and through the seeking, I did for Jesus I found that Jesus was still there, but not in a place where I thought Jesus would be… It took a lot of time, it took some anger, some tears, some explorations of who I was, but I imagine that for those of us who look for Jesus in times of grief, or pain, or loss we experience something similar.

It can also be a crossroads moment that comes when we discover that we don't find the same joy from work, from relationships, from hobbies… We often go and look for Jesus when the things that once filled our hearts no longer seem to grant the same satisfaction we thought they would. Where do we go to find comfort in those times in our lives? We know the damage, the pain, that comes when we look in the wrong places around us… We know what happens when people try to find fulfillment in things that are centered on themselves. So what are going to do? Again, like the relatives and family members who must have helped Mary and Joseph look for Jesus, are we going to stand idly by? Or are we going to be active participants in God's redemptive history? We have a once in a lifetime, literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something that asks us to focus on something other than ourselves, to trust in something much more significant than ourselves with our whole body and soul… So let's rise up and meet the challenge as we search for that purpose, that meaning, that love, that Christ's offers by journeying along the path of life and faith with a multitude of others.

And it can be a moment of humility that comes when we feel as though we aren't worthy of looking for Jesus in the first place… Who am I? Who am I to go and look for and be in the presence of someone holier than I am? Who am I? I think that our current search for Jesus has often been plagued by this question that challenges our humility and authenticity. Are we looking for Jesus because we believe we are worthy? Or are we looking for Jesus because we know we need that grace and compassion in our lives? Or even yet are we looking for Jesus because we are wrestling with all of the above, because life can be a messy, complex, and chaotic place to be? I'll be honest and say that there are moments in my life when I still don't feel worthy of looking for Jesus, of participating in the work that I have been called to do… But that is part of the Christmas miracle, that Christ, that God, asks those who don't feel worthy to take on the calling that will shape not only ourselves but those around us as well.

Our search for Jesus might at points be heartbreaking, at other times it may be stressful, and at other times, frustrating. Frustrating is one word that might encapsulate Mary and Joseph's initial feeling after they found Jesus in the temple. I mean, Jesus had wandered off without telling his parents. Mary and Joseph probably assumed that Jesus would have been well behaved enough to stay with other family members or relatives. And after searching all over for Jesus, they found him in the temple with religious scholars and teachers of the law. And having spent all that time and energy looking for their son all Jesus has to offer is mostly a, "Duh, mom and dad! Of course, you should have known that I would be here at the temple." I'd like to think that Mary and Joseph then had a good laugh because when you think about it, it makes sense, and of course Jesus, God incarnate, as a child would say something like that.

Looking for Jesus in our modern era can feel like a daunting task, but sometimes in our attempts to find Jesus, we neglect the prominent places in our lives where Jesus can be. While the temple might have been a physical place, the temple of today can be or in anything… Jesus can be in the mundane parts of life, Jesus can be in the place where the poor and the weary lay their head, Jesus can be in the challenging situations that ask us to trust, to have faith, to have courage that sometimes we have to look outside our bubble in order to see the place where God is calling us. Perhaps our search for Jesus means that we have to get in touch with our childlike sense of wonderment and awe… Not childlike in the sense of being ignorant, but childlike in the sense that there is excitement to be found even in something as familiar as a blade of grass… We may find ourselves feeling like we have looked in all the wrong places, but that's okay, and to be honest I think that's the point of this thing we call faith. That there is no one concrete end, and our searching for Jesus is meant to take us from one place to another.  

Here in this place today, can you find Jesus? Can you see Jesus? The Christmas story that tells of Mary and Joseph looking for their son is one that still continues this day and every day. Can we use this Christmas time to cultivate a level of belief that takes us outside our fears, our distrust, and our own biases? Are we willing to search for Jesus in the places we don't really want to go? Are we ready then to let Jesus, the one who shall be and is called Emmanuel, enter our hearts? It takes faith… It takes courage… We can look around and turn to friends and neighbors to help us look, but if we aren't willing to indeed look for Jesus in our lives and in this community then are we really answering God's call? Because we don't have any excuse not to believe that this calling from God is something that asks us to give of ourselves in order to gain something that transcends anything we could imagine as we search for Christ, because Christ himself came into the world to open our hearts, to open our ears, to open our eyes, for those who look for him… Christ looks for us to take on this great responsibility, and to go out into the world believing and seeking true justice, love, faith, and Christian fellowship. Amen.