December 30, 2012
“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they (Mary and Joseph) went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.46After three days they found him in the temple…”
how many of you are hearing this story and thinking, “bad parents!”?
They didn’t notice he wasn’t there?
It’s not like they had 6 or 7 kids to keep track of …!
Well, before we let our imaginations go too far…
It’s likely that it was a large crowd traveling after the festival.
(It’s said that Jerusalem attracted crowds of 300,000 people at Passover.)
Travelling as a large group was common to deter robbers along the way.
Boys would often walk with the women.
Men would walk together in back.
At 12, Jesus was in an in-between age – he was a ‘tween’ – so he could have been either with the children or with the male adults.
It was a time and place where people cared for strangers,
watched out for each other,
and children were given responsibility at a young age.
So it probably shouldn’t surprise us too much that Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus along the way.
What is surprising though, is that Jesus didn’t leave with them at all!
He stayed behind in the temple.
When Mary and Joseph figure out he isn’t with the group at all –
then they start to panic.
And how many of us can feel the sick feeling in our stomachs when we hear of a missing child?
Probably because it’s happened to so many of us ourselves….
The toddler who wanders away in the grocery store.
The daughter who is meeting us at a certain place at a certain time at the amusement park and isn’t there.
The teenager in New Orleans at the National Gathering who isn’t in the lobby on time.
The elderly parent who is supposed to be home and doesn’t answer the phone.
We get worried.
We get anxious.
Our heads know that everything is probably fine.
But our hearts panic.
And in our day and age our thoughts and fears immediately move to the worst possible scenarios.
Someone must have taken him;
There must have been an accident;
She must have gotten lost and is out there alone somewhere in the city;
She probably fell and is on the ground at the bottom of the stairs and can’t get up.
Mary and Joseph probably had similar worries.
And when they finally find Jesus –
and realize that he is rather calm about the whole thing,
“Did you think we might be worrying about you?” they ask.
And 12 year old Jesus answers, “No – why would you be worried about me?”
“I am where I belong.”
But Mary and Joseph – Luke says, “they did not understand what he said to them.”
Mary and Joseph do not understand why Jesus would have remained behind.
His parents do not understand why he would be listening to the rabbis.
They do not understand why he would asking them questions.
They do not understand him because up until this point,
they thought that they had all the answers he would need.
Until this point, when Jesus had a question he asked them…
Now suddenly at the age of 12, Jesus is asking other people questions.
He is searching for himself.
He is looking for his own answers, not for answers given to him by his parents.
And how many of us have been there too?
How many of us have looked on with a mixture of pride and also sadness
as our children sought answers from people other than us?
They’ve come home for Christmas break with thoughts and ideas that they did not learn at home?!
It can be a time of conflict.
But it can also be a time of growth – both for us and for them.
The last verse of our text says that from this point,
Jesus grew in wisdom and favor.
All of Jesus’ listening and questioning
led to growth.
As we close the year 2012 and look to a new year,
we know that this is a new time – even a new era — in the church.
Do you know what the fastest growing religious group in the United States is?
It’s not Mormonism, it’s not Roman Catholicism…
According to a Pew Research Center poll released in October,
The fastest growing religious group in the United States is the ‘Nones’ –
those who say they have no religious affiliation.[i]
One fifth of American adults,
and one third of those under the age of 30,
are not affiliated with a religious body.
What’s interesting though with this study,
is that a good many of those who say they are unaffiliated,
are like Jesus in the temple –
they may have turned away from the religious practices of their parents,
but they are still listening and questioning.
They aren’t looking for answers in a church,
but they are still asking spiritual questions,
and listening in prayer.
I don’t know the questions that Jesus was asking…
but I do know some of the questions our young people who say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’ are asking.
They’re asking things like…
Why have religious institutions been involved in so many of the world’s problems?
Why do some religious bodies seem so stuck on issues like sexuality or the role of women in the church rather than issues such as hunger and poverty?
Why do many faith organizations seem to ignore the sacredness of creation ?
And how does the church relate to everyday things like science, politics, economics, and my job?
I don’t know the questions that Jesus was asking…
but I doubt he was asking which version of the Lord’s prayer to use….
I imagine he was asking questions of substance such as these.
And how did his mother respond to his questions?
After she got over her initial astonishment, our text says that Mary treasured this time in her heart.
She actually treasured the time that Jesus stayed back in the temple to listen and ask questions.
She treasured the time that she discovered that Jesus no longer went to her for answers.
She knew that the roots of faith had been planted within him, and she treasured the time that she could release her son to God’s care.
Roots have been planted here at this baptismal font for countless children over the years.
May we like Mary learn to treasure their questions;
May we trust the roots which have been planted;
And may we be as open to listening for the answers as they are.