Christmas Reflection

Our ALM Carol reflected on Christmas on Sunday 30 December 2019.

We all remember the Film Home Alone I am sure – when the parents of a boy, probably about Jesus’ age, went on holiday only to discover at the airport that they had left him behind. The shock and horror of leaving your son behind must be enormous. We all know the feeling we get when we have lost something important to us, it may not even be valuable, but we search and search until we find it. Nothing else matters, it takes over our world for a short time. When my children were small, I never liked it when they were out of sight especially in crowded places.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus was left behind. Imagine that – losing Jesus, leaving the God of the universe behind – Jesus – this special child. Mind blowing isn’t it. I want to say, though, that leaving Jesus behind would probably have been a relatively easy thing to do, compared with the boy in Home Alone. As Jesus was now 12 years old and considered to be a man in the Jewish Religion, he did not have to travel beside his mother and father as he probably had done numerous times but could walk to Jerusalem that year with other boys of his age.

Just as Samuel’s mother and father made the pilgrimage each year to visit their son; we remember here that he was their true Son but was given back to the Father at a very early age, we know that Joseph and Mary made the 3-day hike from Nazareth to Jerusalem every Passover, in order to fulfil their duty, so Jesus would have been very familiar with the pilgrimage. 

On reading Luke’s gospel some may find Mary and Joseph totally irresponsible, neglecting of their parental duties. It is all too easy to blame the parents, isn’t it? Imagine – travelling for a whole day and not knowing that you’ve left Jesus behind. But, before you condemn them, consider that in ancient times, travelling was on foot, not in a comfortable family car; so, it was much safer to travel in a group and besides the time went faster. Sometimes, the women and younger children would set off before the men, as they were slower and meet up with the men ready for the night’s camp. It was only at the end of the day when they all came together that Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was missing.

In the reading you can sense the terror that gripped their minds as they frantically searched for Jesus. Each had assumed he was with the other group. They’d lost the saviour of the world, the Son of God. How could this be? For three days Mary and Joseph searched and searched, finally arriving back at the temple, where they had last seen their son. They were astonished to discover their precious twelve-year-old son sitting with the teachers of the temple. 

I wonder why Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus in all the wrong places. Why did it take them three days to figure out that Jesus must be in his Father’s house and about his Father’s business?

Had things been so blessedly ordinary for so long — no more angels, adoring shepherds, and Old Testament prophesies — that the mystery surrounding their son’s birth had begun to fade like a dream? Or maybe, Mary and Joseph were aware of what their son would do and become, but figured that was years away. Perhaps Jesus hadn’t shown any signs of theological curiosity and so his parents couldn’t imagine him hanging out in the temple. Maybe Mary and Joseph simply failed to see that their young son was growing up. 

Arriving in the temple, Mary saw only her boy. She couldn’t or wouldn’t see that Jesus had grown. Eager to be a good mother, always pondering the events that led up to and followed Jesus’ birth, Mary wasn’t ready to “lend” her Jesus to God. Perhaps she just wanted to keep her firstborn close to her. Maybe, she simply wanted to delay the symbolic sword that Simeon announced would pierce her own heart as it took the life of her son.

Seeing Jesus, Mary asks, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” What I really hear is, “Where have you been young man? Your father and I did not survive angel visits, birth in a manger, and living like refugees in Egypt only to have you get lost in Jerusalem.” But Jesus isn’t the one who is lost. He knows who he is and where he belongs. Mary and Joseph are the ones who are lost.

Today’s gospel is a story about loss but also about growing up; but it is not Jesus’ growing up. It is about Mary and Joseph growing up. It is about you and me growing up. Growing up is not about how old we are. It is about moving into deeper and more authentic relationships with God, our world, each other, and ourselves.

Jesus is the one who grows us up. He is the one who will grow up Mary and Joseph. Children have a way of doing that to their parents. They challenge us to look at our world, our lives, and ourselves in new, different, and sometimes painful ways. That is exactly what Jesus’ question to Mary does. She had put herself and Joseph at the centre of Jesus’ world. His question was about to undo that.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 

Jesus is telling Mary she should have known where he was. It is as if he is saying, “Remember, the angel told you I would be the Son of God. Remember that night in Bethlehem. Angels praising God, shepherds glorifying God. Remember the three men from the East, their gifts, and adoration. Remember Joseph’s dreams that guided us to Egypt and back. Where else could I be but here?” Jesus has put the Father at the centre of his world and asks Mary and us to do the same.

The tension between Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, and Jesus, Son of God, is heightened, 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. Jesus was born of Mary, but he is the Father’s Son. He is with her but does not belong to her. She can give him love but not her thoughts or ways. He is about the Father’s business. Ultimately, she must strive to be like him and not make him like her.

This is not a rejection of his earthly parents but a re-prioritizing of relationships. It is what he would ask of Simon and Andrew, James and John. “Follow me” would be the invitation for them to leave their homes, their nets, their fathers and move to a different place, live a different life, see with different eyes. It is today what he asks of you and me.

The good news for us in this week after Christmas is that, like Mary and Joseph, our search has ended. Jesus shows us the way to God. The scary part, perhaps, is that our search doesn’t end where we expect. Mary and Joseph searched three days for Jesus, and on the third day found him alive and well. But they didn’t find him in the expected places — the safe confines of his extended family or the familiar company of the pilgrims’ caravan but in the Temple at Jerusalem among the teachers of the law, the very company where it will all end as Jesus is tried, convicted, and handed over to be killed.

This sounds like Easter. Yes, Luke’s hint here is of resurrection. Jesus, dead and buried, is raised on the third day, and there is a new temple, Christ’s resurrected body. Our searching will come to an end in new life, meaningful life, the life God intends, but maybe not the life we expect. But that’s Easter. 

For now, Jesus returns to Nazareth. For two more decades Jesus is in an out-of-the way place, far removed from the centres 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 favour.” The good news is that this description of Jesus is the description of every child of God, no matter what our age. We all will grow as we respond to God’s love. In Christ we can expect nothing else.

I finish this reflection today with some words from the Christmas hymn, “Once in Royal David’s City,” 

  • Jesus is our childhood’s pattern,
  • Day by day like us he grew.
  • He was little, weak and helpless,
  • Tears and smiles like us he knew.
  • Thus he feels for all our sadness,
  • And he shares in all our gladness.

Amen

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