December 26, 2021
“Forever Young”
Rev. Brent Gundlah

         If you’ve ever wondered what Jesus was like as a child, then today’s reading from the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel is the passage for you; and by that I mean the passage – as in the only passage. I say this because these twelve lines constitute the one place in the entire Bible where we actually catch a glimpse of Jesus between infancy and adulthood.

         It seems like only yesterday that we celebrated Jesus’s birth (because it was, in fact, only yesterday that we celebrated Jesus’s birth), an event that takes place earlier in this same chapter of Luke. And as the next chapter begins, we are abruptly transported into the wilderness, where John is in the Jordan River baptizing people — including Jesus, who is all grown up at that point.

         As today’s reading gets underway, twelve year-old Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, are making their annual trek to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When the celebration concludes, Jesus and his entourage head back home to Nazareth, but Jesus’s parents don’t notice for a full day that their young son isn’t with them. This had to be an unsettling realization, to say the least; anyone who’s ever lost a kid at the mall for even a few minutes understands how this feels.

         It’s worth noting that this wasn’t exactly the kind of family road trip that we tend to take today — parents and children piling into the SUV to go spend a few days at the Grand Canyon, for example. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were traveling on foot, likely accompanied by a large group of friends and extended family. Because pilgrimage routes were highly susceptible to robbers, there was safety to be found in numbers.

         I tell you all this because it might sound strange to us that Jesus’s absence didn’t register with Mary and Joseph for such a long time. They probably assumed that he was somewhere else in the caravan — you know, with his aunts and uncles and cousins, or with the other kids from their neighborhood back in Nazareth. Mary and Joseph weren’t bad parents; that’s just how these things worked back then.

         But after a day of not seeing Jesus, Mary and Joseph start to get worried. They search for him amongst their traveling companions and come up empty; they then work their way backwards towards Jerusalem. After three stressful days of looking around the city, they find Jesus in the temple conversing with the teachers there — probably about God and religion and stuff like that.

         An exasperated and relieved Mary cries out, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

         Jesus replies rather matter-of-factly, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

         Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph “did not understand what he said to them.” And, I have to tell you, I kind of get that — as someone who’s been a parent to two twelve-year olds, I can tell you that this is how it goes sometimes.

         Now, on the surface, it might sound like young Jesus is being snarky and bratty to his Mom and Dad here — and maybe he is — but there’s probably more to it than that.

         Just last Sunday, Pastor Chelsea reflected on the passage from Luke’s Gospel known as the Magnificat; it’s the song of praise that Mary sings to God as she begins to understand that this child inside her is, well, really special.

         And right before Mary sings that song, she gets a visit from the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she has found favor with God, that she will bear a son and name him Jesus, that Jesus “will be called Son of the Most High,” that the Lord God will give to Jesus the throne of the house of his ancestor David, that Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and that of his kingdom there will be no end. This is, of course, really big news.

         And then, on Christmas Eve, we heard about what happened out there in that manger, when the shepherds were told to go to see the savior who was born to them that day in the City of David, the Messiah, the Lord. When they arrived, these shepherds shared with Mary “what had been told them about this child.” And Luke tells us that, when Mary heard all this, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

          Now, if Mary knew all these things about Jesus — that he was the heir to David’s throne, the Messiah, God’s chosen one — wouldn’t you think that the Temple — the very center of the Jewish faith — would have been the first place that she and Joseph would have gone to find him? And yet, they spend three days wandering around Jerusalem before looking for Jesus there.

         So you can’t really blame Jesus for reacting to her the way he does here: “Come on Mom, where else would I be?” He seems to understand and appreciate, at least at some level, who he is and is called to be, but Mary acts as though she has forgotten all of the things that she heard about Jesus when he was an infant. Then again, maybe you really can’t blame her for that.

         There’s a story in Luke’s Gospel that comes between the shepherds’ visit to the Holy Family, on the one hand, and today’s passage about preteen Jesus in the Temple, on the other. In it Mary and Joseph take Jesus, who was just eight days old, to the Temple to present him to the Lord.                    

         When they arrive there they meet an old, devout and righteous man named Simeon. Now, Simeon seems to have had some sort of connection with the Holy Spirit, who told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.

         When Simeon sees Jesus, he realizes that the Messiah is right there in front of him, and he declares that he can now die in peace. Mary and Joseph are amazed by all the things that Simeon says about Jesus, though it’s not anything they haven’t heard already.

         But then Simeon blesses the young family and says this to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce you own soul too.” And after going back and reading this passage, Mary’s reaction when she finds the runaway Jesus in the Temple makes far more sense.

         Since before Jesus was born, Mary’s been hearing all sorts of great things  — about how blessed she is among women, and how blessed is the fruit of her womb; about how her son is a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

         But when Simeon speaks, Mary realizes that there’s a dark side to all of this too. Jesus’s life won’t be easy; and what he endures here on earth will be a sword that will pierce her own soul too. Having heard Jesus’s whole story already, we know that this is true.

         I wonder what the trip back to Nazareth was like that day — when Mary began to understand more fully what being blessed by God might actually mean for Jesus and for her.

         And I wonder what the next twelve years were like, as Mary watched Jesus learn and grow, as she heard him ask questions, as she saw him play outside with the other kids in the neighborhood.

         Was there ever a point at which Mary forgot about what Simeon had said back there in the Temple. Did she ever think that he might have been wrong? Was there ever a time when she thought that Jesus was going to end up being just like all of the other kids?

         Did Mary’s blood run a little cold that day, all those years later, when she noticed that Jesus was missing — not because she didn’t know where he was, but because she suddenly realized, deep down inside, exactly where he was? And did she hope against hope that she would find Jesus somewhere else — anywhere else— but the Temple?

         Was Jesus arrival here on earth good news of great joy for all the people — including Mary? Most definitely. Was Mary blessed among women — and was her child Jesus blessed too? Absolutely.

         But in this life, in this world, as we all know, joys are often accompanied by some measure of sorrow, and blessings, as wonderful as they may be, are often complicated. Anyone who’s ever cared for or about a child knows that.

         Kids drive us crazy when they’re around, and yet we never get all of the time with them that we wished for. We pray that they’ll go forth and share their light with the world, and we hope that they’ll never actually leave us. We want them to grow up and fulfill their God-given potential, and we wince when we realize that this will not always be a safe or easy thing for them to do.  

         And yet, like Mary, maybe all we can do is try to find a way to treasure all these things in our hearts, these bittersweet joys and complicated blessings, these lives that don’t necessarily turn out as we thought they should or hoped they would.

         And who better to remind us of that than a child?