There are two things that stand out in this story for me.
The first is that parenting is hard….anybody with me here? It’s just hard. According to Elizabeth Stone – “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” You love, you worry, your heart breaks…and you have no control over it. That’s basically lesson #1 that you learn about parenting… you are not in control. These children of ours have their own souls, their own minds, their own paths….and we can guide and teach and encourage…but they will always choose their own actions. And I find that that is both a beautiful and terrifying reality. It is a wonder to discover who they are…it’s like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. But It’s also still our heart out there walking around outside our body…and it so often gets broken.
Mary and Joseph know that reality, to be sure. I love that this story is so relatable. They’re travelling home from Jerusalem with a group, and after they all pack up and hit the road, when they don’t see Jesus…they assume, just like I would…that he’s hanging out with friends, walking with all the rest of the kids in the back…until you stop for the night and realize he is not. And panic ensues. That was their heart, after all …out there…on its own its own somewhere. Every lost child story goes exactly like this. “We thought they were with their cousins…we thought they were at the game…we thought they were in the backyard.” Of course, the truth is that no parent, at least no healthy sane parent, can know where their child is every second of the day. I remember, before we had kids, reading an article in the Spokesman about a family that was unloading the car at their lake cabin…and their 2 year old made it down to the lake and drowned. Matt was horrified that the parents let it happen. I was just sick to my stomach..because I knew it could easily happen to me someday. I know because it was me. When I was two, I disappeared. We lived near a river, and Mom and dad had all the neighbors out looking for me. Luckily, I didn’t head towards the water, and a few hours later, they found me upstairs in the balcony of the church. But it could so easily have ended differently.
Mary and Joseph were as worried and upset as any parent would be. They knew that anything could have happened. It was Jerusalem, after all…the big city…and it was Passover. There were crowds of people, and, as is always true when there are crowds, there were all sorts of sketchy folks there as well to take advantage and prey on people…not to mention Roman soldiers. What if Jesus said the wrong thing…sometimes he was just too smart for his own good, after all. Just sit with that fear for a bit. We’ve all had a moment of it. They frantically searched for their child…for three days.
And then, they found him. It could have ended differently. But it didn’t…and there were tears of relief. Anger. Hurt. Frustration. Joy. Exhaustion. All the emotions. How could you do this to us? Didn’t you realize that you are our heart? That we were terrified?
Parenting is hard. Even for the parents of the Son of God. Now, I know, Mary and Joseph had all the amazing things happen around Jesus’ birth. The angels…the shepherds…the Magi…Simeon in the temple. But you know what? It’s been 12 years. 12 years. Maybe after all that time, it had kind of faded. Because for 12 years, you know, they’ve just been raising a boy. Just like all the other parents. And then this happens. And when they find Jesus, he simply looks at them and says, ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?’
12 is that age, you know…when most kids begin really finding their own path. When the conflicts often really set in. When kids discover their own passions, their own minds…and are annoyed by their parents’ expectations. When they really assert their independence. Did I mention parenting is hard? Jesus begins to come into his own. His own path. And his path, just as the prophet Simeon told her when Jesus was just eight days old, Jesus’ path will pierce Mary’s heart. As we know…she will be there, standing beneath him when he is crucified. Jesus’ loves and obeys his earthly mother and father…but he is also discovering that his heavenly father will be the one who will claim his love and obedience even more.
And so Jesus gets lost…at the temple. Among the teachers. And this is the other thing stands out for me in this story. Jesus, a 12 year old, is in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them all sorts of questions about God. Here we see Jesus learning and growing…and these teachers have welcomed him. They didn’t dismiss him…they took him seriously. They engaged him in conversation and dialogue for three days. I think this should be our model as teachers of faith. How important is it for us to have serious conversations with kids…to be open to their questions…and to allow ourselves to be amazed at their understanding and their answers. Later, it’s true that these same teachers will not be so excited about Jesus…his conflicts with the teachers of the faith are quite literally, the stuff of legend. But as a boy, they encouraged him and like his parents, they were part of his becoming who he was meant to be. For a long time in Jewish tradition, 13 has been the age when a child becomes responsible for themselves — for their choices and their action…and their faith. Jesus is almost there. He is on the cusp. And his parents, whom he obeys, mostly, like every other boy…and these teachers who he listens to and also questions…are all part of the process of getting him there. They are all a part of how he grows in wisdom and stature…in divine and human favor.
And that’s maybe what’s most meaningful about this whole story. God uses our relationships, our ordinary human relationships…as parents …as teachers..as friends and companions….to do holy, amazing and beautiful things. To bring Jesus into the world. To bring grace into the world. To bring hope into the world. Parenting is hard…no doubt, .but God is in the midst of it.. And that’s true for teachers…for pastors…for all of us who invest our lives in others. We are so imperfect…sometimes, like Mary and Joseph, we will panic and think we’ve completely failed. Sometimes, like the teachers in the temple, we will lose our way and reject Jesus and the love he teaches. But even so, God does holy and amazing and beautiful things through us.
Through the ongoing loving and learning we do that keeps the world moving forward…that raises generation after generation….God brings grace. Grace for weary, anxious and brokenhearted parents…and grace for us all. And God brings hope…hope in God who is in the midst of it all…who designs a world where butterflies emerge from the chrysalis of a caterpillar. Through our ordinary life together and our ordinary relationships, God brings Jesus…who has us and holds us and won’t let us go…whatever our age…whatever our path. Amen.