Time really flies, doesn’t it?
On Tuesday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, here we are five days later and he’s 12 and missing. How many of you have ever lost something really important?
Men, did you ever lose your wallet? Ladies, how about your purse? You thought, my life is in that purse, what am I going to do?
Thoughts race through your head like I have to cancel my credit cards and I’ll need a new driver’s license. What if what you lost was a child? Our anxiety would be through the roof. Years ago, my Mom and I were shopping with my niece, Jennafer, when she was 5 or 6 years old. We were in Hess’s (which was the predecessor to Bon Ton) when we looked around and could not find Jennafer. I went one direction, Mom went another. In vain, we called her name over and over. Searched all the rows and aisles. I will never forget the feeling of panic that overcame me as my stomach rose and caught in my throat and I fought down nausea. Just as I approached a store employee intending to ask for a lockdown, we heard a giggle coming from inside a rack of aprons. Jennafer had hidden there on purpose and was quiet the whole time we called. Our search lasted about 10 minutes, but I remember my feeling of relief to this day.
Luke’s story of Jesus in the temple at age 12 is the only incident in the gospels about the life of Jesus between infancy and the beginning of his ministry. Theoretically, Jewish men were required to go to three feasts in Jerusalem each year – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, though only Passover was strictly observed. Those at some distance, especially the poor, could not attend all the feasts. But women, and sometimes children, might attend too. Passover celebrated God delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and pilgrims to the feast would stay a minimum of two days, sometimes longer. On this occasion of Passover, Jesus’ parents, along with many other faithful Jews, took the journey to the city of Jerusalem. They traveled in a large party or caravan since a person traveling by himself was in danger from bandits who could swoop down on lone travelers. At some point on the return trip back to their home, they noticed Jesus was missing. No doubt when they camped for the night and Jesus was nowhere to be seen, they became alarmed. By this time they were probably 20 to 25 miles north of Jerusalem. Verses 44-46 of our scripture tell us “…They began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers…” To their surprise, they found Jesus in the temple in the middle of a conversation with religious leaders.
Poor Mary and Joseph! What they must have experienced when Jesus was missing and it took THREE days for them to find him. And then when they find him, he answers with something like, “Well, where did you think I would be?” I believe Mary’s relief at finding him safe overshadowed her urge to punish him on the spot. I wonder just how Jesus said it. Was he surprised or scolding? But this text serves to enhance Jesus’ humanity to us. While Mary and Joseph search for Jesus, Jesus is on a search for answers. In the temple, he is both listening to the teachers and asking them questions. He had a grasp of faith and tradition as “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Our scripture affirms Jesus’ experience as common to all other human beings. The tension Jesus is facing is whether he should obey his heavenly Father or his earthly father. We find him learning the ropes of his faith and perhaps deepening his understanding of who he is and what he is called to do as the Messiah. Even at age 12, Jesus is feeling compelled to do the Father’s will. Jesus must be in His father’s house. He must be learning so that he might teach. He must wait, learn, grow and prepare himself for that time when he will enter into ministry. Jesus’ journey is not unlike our own as God calls us to search for our own understanding. For now Jesus returns to Nazareth and is obedient to his parents. But it is clear that his priorities have changed. Jesus’ primary concern is not the will of his parents but the will of God and the mission that God’s will entails. He disappears back into the fabric of his hometown. For perhaps two more decades Jesus is in an out-of-the way place, far removed from the centers of religion and politics, in the company of ordinary people, just like us.
Here Jesus continues to grow “in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” This description of Jesus is the description of every child of God, no matter what our age.In Genesis Chapter 1, we read the account of God’s creative acts: light and land, living creatures both small and great, plants of seeming endless variety. And in the midst of it all He placed mankind at the pinnacle of creation. Created by God in His image, we have characteristics distinct from other living creatures. The greatest of these is that we are created with a spirit. This spirit element of our makeup makes possible the greatest privilege of all human existence: actual fellowship and relationship with the awesome, infinite God of the universe. We were created to walk with God. But as we know, those first humans were drawn into a dialogue with the serpent that soon resulted in death. The perfect relationship which had been their highest privilege and deepest joy, was now no longer possible. But God, who is love and had created them in love, was not finished. God so loved them (and us) that He was willing to pay a terrible price that they might return to Him and their original purpose. He was willing to pay any price to make perfect fellowship again a reality – even the highest and most terrible price, the giving of His own beloved Son. God put in motion all we need for reconciliation. We are all on a search for our own personal reconciliation. We search for our own personal relationship with God. Lucky for us, God has done the hard work for us. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, talked of prevenient grace, grace as God’s active presence in our lives. It doesn’t depend on us or anything we may or may not do. It is a gift that is always available. I’ve always thought of prevenient grace as that little niggling in your mind and heart that tells you there is more, that encourages us to search for more. It stirs up a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with Him. It enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good. And the great news is that God is actively seeking us just as we are seeking him.
During the Abundance Advent Study Pastor Chris shared at The Gathering in the last month, he mentioned that a week before Christmas, he attended an Interfaith Coffee Hour in State College. As expected, people from all faiths, including an atheist, were in attendance. There were Christians, Jews, Muslims and Unitarian Universalists (believe in moral authority, but not divinity of Christ) coming together in their personal search for peace. I find it ironic that what the atheist rejects is the very thing he seeks, For God is peace. God is love. God is grace. God is at work in our lives before we know it, starting our journey toward a personal relationship with Him.In 1998, when film director James Cameron stood on stage at the Academy Awards holding the Best Picture Oscar for his film, Titanic, he declared that he was king of the world, a line borrowed from Jack, a young lead character. Cameron based his statement on box office numbers that indicated that his film was the number one, most-watched film in all of history. Cameron was wrong on both counts. While Titanic faded from public view, the real number one movie, the Jesus film continued to gather speed. By the end of the twentieth century, the all-time most viewed movie had been translated into more than five hundred languages and seen by more than three billion people. According to the New York Times, the Jesus film is sometimes described as the most watched film of all times. In more ways than one, the real number one movie? The Jesus film.Cameron’s story of the Titanic also missed what was a great human story of the tragedy.
Fortunately it was not lost to history. On board the Titanic was a widowed Scottish minister named John Harper and his six-year old daughter. When the ship began to sink, Harper, traveling in second class, handed his daughter to an officer on an upper deck who put her in a lifeboat. He then began helping those on his deck. Others were doing this as well, but Harper’s assistance was unique because of his instructions, heard over and over during the chaos. “Women and children and the unsaved into the life boats first. Women and children and the unsaved into the life boats first.” John Harper recognized the moment as the threshold of eternity.
He was ready to face God, but he knew many on board were not. As a minister, Harper’s lips had often declared God’s love for the lost. Now his life declared it in an ultimate act. When he came upon a man without a life jacket, John Harper took off his own and put it on the man. Later, floating in the emptiness of the dark chilling waters, a survivor came within sight of a man struggling to stay afloat. It was John Harper. Rather than asking for help, Harper called out to the man, “Are you saved?” No, came the answer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”The man’s reply was one of silence and they drifted out of sight of one another. A little later, the man spied Harper again and again Harper called out to him.“Are you saved now?” Again the answer, “No, I can’t honestly say that I am.”And again the refrain, weaker, but still clear. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Then there was silence as John Harper slipped below the surface – and into the arms of God. Later in a meeting in Ontario, Canada, the survivor stood, telling this story and closing with these words: “Shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, with two miles of water under me, I believed.” I doubt any of us has had a “come to God moment” like this man. Maybe his search started that very night the Titanic sank. John Harper was trying to buy time for people to start or continue their search that God calls all of us to.Everyone’s search or journey to get back into relationship with God is different.
Some of us were raised and confirmed in the church and can’t remember a time when Jesus was not part of our life. Now we search for ways to serve Him. I can’t know what your search has been like up to now because I’m not you. But I can tell you that scripture reading, prayer, worship and small-group Bible studies can help you continue your search and help you develop your personal theology. God has already given us the gift. It came on Christmas Day. But it can’t end there, we must search for our own answers and search for ways to live a transformed life. Did you open the gift? My husband, Larry, collects books. Mind you, I said he collects them; he doesn’t read them. He wants to, but he never gets time to pull them off the shelf and read them. The information, the viewpoints, the entertainment contained in these books are wasted because they sit on a shelf and are never opened. These books can never help him or transform him if they remain unused. Don’t let the gift of the Christ child be unused. God’s done all the work and now it is up to us to find the answers that will transform us. God’s gift comes with a responsibility that we open it, use it, search for all it can do in our lives and in the lives of others. Don’t waste the GIFT.Let us pray:Heavenly Father, we give you all thanks, praise and glory for the gift of your Son. You sent Him to earth as a small baby that we might understand His humanness. By example, He showed us how to learn our faith. He offers eternal salvation for all who obey Him. Lord, we ask for your guidance as we build a relationship with you. Help us walk beside you, confide in you and restore fellowship with you. In Jesus’ name we pray.Amen.