30 December 2018
Getting lost and losing
children at holiday time
Sunday 30 December 2018,
The First Sunday of Christmas.
11 a.m.: United Group Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)
Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.
Readings: I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 41-52.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
I wonder whether you were expecting this morning’s Gospel story (Luke 2: 41-52) as our Gospel reading on this, the First Sunday of Christmas?
Perhaps you were expecting another traditional Christmas story, such as:
● the visit of the Shepherds and the naming of Jesus (Luke 2: 15-21)
● the Presentation in the Temple and the encounter with Simeon and Anna (Luke 2: 22-40)
● the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12), which we are going to hear next Sunday (6 January 2019)
● or, perhaps the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23).
You may even be wondering: Why are we jumping from the story of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem on Christmas Day to the story of the teenage Christ who is lost in the Temple on this first Sunday after Christmas?
What happened to the intervening years between the story of the stable and Jesus at the age of 12?
But this story completes the early identification of who Jesus is in Saint Luke’s Gospel. The Angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that her child will be ‘holy’ and will be called the ‘Son of God’ (Luke 1: 35). At the presentation, he is identified as ‘holy’ (Luke 2: 23). Now, in this story, he identifies himself as God’s Son.
In the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading, parents living in provincial towns go to the Temple to worship and there they find their young sons ministering in the Temple.
But this morning we might ask ourselves where do we find Christ?
Where do we seek him?
Where is God’s Temple, the place where we are found to be truly in communion with God?
And who got lost … the child or the parents?
I still remember with dread how we once lost sight of one of our children on an evening out in Crete over 25 years ago. He was about three or four at the time and was missing only for a few moments. It may have been for only three or four minutes, but the fear and panic that struck us made it feel not like three or four minutes as we searched and shouted out his name, but like an eternity.
Temporary fears seemed to have everlasting consequences that we could not even bear to contemplate in our furtive search. I still remember the horror of that moment, it was so vivid and so real. When we found him, he knew where he was all the time, and could not grasp the enormity of our fears.
What was he doing that he lost sight of us?
What were we doing that we lost sight of him?
Who did we blame?
Did we ever thank those who helped our search?
Did that experience inhibit us in his later years when we should have let our sons have the freedom to grow and to mature?
Christ is no longer a child in this reading. But Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary do not yet see him as an adult. I can fully identify with them in their panic and in their fear in this reading.
It was our pattern to go on holiday in Greece each summer, and we had felt safe, perhaps naively safe, wherever we were. Perhaps, because they went to Jerusalem for the Passover each year, Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary felt comfortable and relaxed as they moved through the courts and the arcades of the Temple, and through the side streets and the market stalls of Jerusalem.
On the way home, if Jesus was regarded still as a child, he might have travelled with the women in the caravan; if he was now seen as a man, he might have been expected to travel with the men in the caravan. Any family travelling through a modern airport on holidays today, with the father taking some children through and the mother taking others, understands completely what may have happened at that Passover.
If it is an experience you have forgotten, gone without or have yet to go through, you can catch some of the flavour of the setting for this story by watching one of the all-time favourite Christmas movies, Home Alone (1990).
In the opening chapters of his Gospel, Saint Luke portrays Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary as a devout and righteous couple. They observe the religious rites and practices of Judaism, they have Jesus circumcised (Luke 2: 21), and they are then said to have acted ‘according to the law’ three times (verses 22, 24, 39).
In this reading, we are told that they go to the Passover festival in Jerusalem ‘every year’ and they observe the ‘custom of the feast’ (see KJV, NIV).
With this emphasis on the family’s religious devotion, Saint Luke is saying the Jewish boy Jesus grew up in a thoroughly Jewish world. It is a story that challenges anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it finds its ugly expressions today.
The setting for this story is the festival of the Passover, celebrating the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Every year, Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to Jerusalem for this festival (verse 41), and they are still doing this in the year he is a 12-year-old (verse 42).
When the eight-day festival ends, the people they have travelled with begin the long journey back home to Nazareth. The entourage in this caravan includes both ‘relatives and friends’ (verse 42), which makes it a safe group but also a large crowd. They have gone a full day when Joseph and Mary realise Jesus is missing. Perhaps they were about to have a meal together, perhaps they had the tents up or had arrived at a hostel or inn to stay the night.
They search for him there first of all before returning to Jerusalem. After three days, they find Jesus in the Temple, ‘sitting among the teachers’ (verse 46), the experts in Jewish law or rabbis. He not only listens and asks questions, but he also answers their questions.
This was the rabbinical style of teaching at the time.
When Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary find him, they are distraught as Mary asks, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’ (verse 48).
In their eyes, Jesus is still a child.
But the words in verse 49 mark a turning point in this Gospel. These are the first words Christ speaks in the Gospels. And Jesus speaks of his bounden duty to do the work of God, the work of God the Father.
The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph do not understand what Jesus says to them (verse 50). Now they have found Jesus, they probably have to travel back north to Nazareth by themselves, which was much more dangerous than traveling with the caravan they had had to leave. This danger is understood by everyone who first heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Perhaps this too is a literary hint at the later dangers in the journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem.
When the family returns to Nazareth, Jesus is obedient to his parents in everyday life. In spite of not understanding what has happened and what has been said, Mary ‘treasured all these things in her heart’ (verse 51) – just as she ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ after she heard the shepherds’ report of what the angels proclaimed (Luke 2: 19).
Saint Luke says that after this story, Jesus spent his years in Nazareth growing ‘in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’ (verse 52). But, in the meantime, something has changed. Jesus is now on the way, on the path.
Did you notice how Joseph and Mary search for Jesus for three days?
When early Christians heard this story in the context of the Passover (verses 41-42) and the phrase ‘after three days’ (verse 46), they would have thought immediately of the Passover when Christ was raised from the dead after three days. So, we should also read this story in the light of the Resurrection.
In the Resurrection, the new family of God supersedes our earthly family, the Temple becomes the place where Christ is at the centre. He is in dialogue with the tradition, yet with a new understanding.
There can be no true meaning in Christmas unless it looks forward to Easter.
When we next meet Jesus in this Gospel, he is at the Jordan, about to be baptised by Saint John the Baptist, which is the Gospel reading (Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22) for Sunday week, the First Sunday after the Epiphany (13 January 2019).
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Luke 2: 41-52 (NRSVA):
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 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.’ 49 He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.
Liturgical colour: White or Gold.
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Introduction to the Peace:
Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9: 6)
You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:
Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 10)
162, Infant holy, infant lowly (CD 9)
152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org