Were You Looking

Sunday, December 26, 2021
First Sunday after Christmas

Focus Theme:
Were You Looking

Focus Prayer:
Unfathomable God, we search for you. We wonder where you might be in the midst of our lives. Help us to find you, learn from you, and treasure these things in our heart. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 2:41–52
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 travelers, 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 favor.

All readings for this Sunday
1 Samuel 2:18–20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12–17
Luke 2:41–52

Focus Questions:

  1. How does our life manifest as a journey?
  2. What journeys have you taken where the unexpected impacted your experience?
  3. What journeys do you hope to take?
  4. What drives your hope?
  5. How do you see God at work today…in your life, your community, or the world?

By Cheryl Lindsay
Adolescence is a special time if not an easy one. It’s a time of discovery and exploration, pulling away and reaching for some measure of independence, and learning responsibility and new roles in relationships. I love this age and have often been drawn to young people in this age group. I know educators who teach middle school who will tell you that is a particular calling itself. Typically, the process of confirmation in churches occurs during the ‘Tween and early teen years in the same way that age for bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah arrives for our siblings in the Jewish faith. Other secular rituals that denote coming of age may also be held during this time period in the development of a child becoming an adult member of the community.

In one of the few stories told of his life before launching into full-fledged ministry, we meet an adolescent Jesus who doesn’t seem to be any easier to relate to than a normal adolescent. (The other one found in Luke’s account is also a story of a journey when Jesus was presented in the temple.) The family embarked on a trip to observe the festival of Passover, it’s time to head home, and Jesus has disappeared without asking or even informing his parents of his plans. It’s a jarring leap forward for the first Sunday after Christmas in a year in which we encountered Jesus as a baby just yesterday.

Luke presents the birth narrative and formative years of Jesus as a series of journeys–for Jesus, his parents, and those who encounter him like Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. Even the angel Gabriel has been “sent by God.” No one just shows up, they set out and arrive in the various places touched by this story of the child Jesus entering the world. These instances aren’t generated by chance; there is a divine order at work here, often connected to the holy places of the people found in feasts and festivals, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple.

The first two chapters also contain numerous prophetic utterances. The characters involved narrate the action of which they are apart. Not only does the angel speak for God, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna proclaim the coming of Jesus. In this week’s passage, we finally get to hear from Jesus. It’s a very human exchange between mother and child.

Imagine their fear for their young son. They thought he was safe only to discover that he was missing. They must have been panicking, praying, and desperately hoping they would find him well. It’s a scenario many families have experienced, but this one is distinct because of who Jesus is and what this moment is about:

On the threshold of Jesus’ transition to adulthood, however, the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover gives a brief preview of what lies ahead. For the first time in the narrative, Jesus speaks, revealing his awareness of his unique relation to God. Jesus’ presence among teachers in the temple and the confrontation there between the youth and his parents exhibit his remarkable wisdom but, above all, his recognition that he is God’s Son—and that this family affiliation overrides all other family connections. (John T. Carroll)

This does not launch Jesus into public ministry. Presumably, this story gets told by Mary to the disciples long after Jesus’ earthly ministry concludes. It’s a story told from the perspective of one who understands its significance. It’s told from Mary’s point of view, and so the elements described would have been cemented in her memory of these events.

Memories, of course, never match the original events. They become distorted by time and other experiences. Memories that some of us hold closely get forgotten by others because of the impact in the moment or in subsequent encounters. This episode in the private life of Jesus and his parents betrays that Jesus, his power, his ministry, and the revelation of his being appeared in stages. It was a process that Luke details in meticulous steps unlike Mark who is so urgent that none of the life of Jesus before he goes public gets recounted.

The famed radio and television host Monty Hall once said, “Actually, I am an overnight success. It just took twenty years.”

Luke shows Jesus through Mary’s eyes as the one who was closest to him and had moment after moment of discovery with him. Here we eavesdrop on a pivotal conversation:

In biographies of great men, it was customary to portray them already as children displaying the character they manifest as adult heroes (e.g., Philo, Mos. 1.5.20–24; Plutarch, Alex. 5; Plutarch, Cic. 2; Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 1.7; cf. Josephus, Ant. 2.9.6–7; Jub. 11.16; Herodotus, Hist. 1.114–16; see de Jonge, “Sonship” 340–42). Luke alone among the canonical Gospels follows this practice, relating a scene from Jesus’ youth that builds a bridge to his life as an adult and shows him ratifying the claims made for him earlier in the narrative, with a sharp focus on his identity and vocation as the Son of God. This awareness brings Jesus into conflict with his parents, and the resulting confrontation culminates in his first words in the Gospel. Compared to extracanonical accounts of Jesus’ childhood (e.g., Infancy Gospel of Thomas; Protevangelium of James), Luke’s narrative shows great restraint, concentrating on one theme: Jesus’ precocious understanding of himself as Son not of Joseph and Mary but of God. This is the family to which he ultimately belongs, the one that defines his identity and vocation and claims his allegiance. (John T. Carroll)

Mary chastises Jesus for his lack of concern for his parents. His response may seem impertinent to our ears and perhaps they did to Mary and Joseph at the time, but could they also have been words of assurance? Could Jesus have been revealing himself to them in a deeper way…in this private moment? Knowing that Mary would have an especially journey with her child once his life becomes public, would Jesus have wanted to give his mother an inside view of what his life was about and ultimately would become?

The text explains that Joseph and Mary don’t get it. They don’t understand the fullness of this message–at least not in that moment. Nevertheless, this conversation is essential to the events that precipitate it:

The heart of the passage is, of course, Jesus’ response to Mary’s question. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The father-son claim is first made by the angel at the annunciation, and here by Jesus himself; it will come again in the voice of God at baptism in the next chapter. Although Jesus willingly obeys his earthly parents, his obligation is established: his vocation is as God’s Son….What this story gets at is the continuity and discontinuity of Jesus’ being who he was. He was always the Son of God; and of course people did not understand…. “By stressing Mary’s retention of the things that happened, puzzling to understand their meaning, Luke is giving us a perceptive theological insight into history: there was a continuity from the infant Jesus to the boy Jesus to the Jesus of the ministry to the risen Jesus; and when Christian disciples like Mary believed in Jesus as God’s son after the resurrection, they were finding adequate expression for intuitions that had begun long before” (Brown, 494). (Karen Chakoian)

The notation that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph isn’t in contrast to the dialogue expressed in this passage. It reinforces the character of Jesus. It counters our natural inclination to suspect that Jesus was being disrespectful or confrontational towards his mother. Jesus was being true to self and living out the mission he was called to fulfill with awareness and sharing that awareness as an act of respect to his earthly parents.

There is a song that gets played often during this time of year, “Mary Did You Know?” It speculates whether Mary understood the significance of her baby boy or knew what was to come from his life. Part of the challenge of this passage is that it seems clear from the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) that Mary prophesied about Jesus. She points to his entrance into the world as a disruptive and transformative force that will bring about the rule and reign of the Holy One over the oppressive powers of this world. But, in the routine of living a life of caring for a child, from changing dirty diapers to a family trip observing a religious festival, the wonder of the Sovereign One’s promise loses prominence to the mundane requirements and responsibilities of daily living.

Many of us will consider this text the day after Christmas Day. It’s a quirk of the calendar that few pastors or regular church attenders appreciate. There’s no break, even if your faith community worships on Christmas Eve. It feels like we just left worship only to have to turn right back around to enter the sacred space, just as Mary and Joseph had to turn around and return to the temple to find Jesus.

Sometimes, we don’t find Jesus in the big celebrations of the festival. Sometimes, we don’t locate Jesus within the companionship of family gatherings. Sometimes, we have to search for an encounter after the big day has ended and we’re supposed to return to our routine and normal lives. Sometimes, we don’t get it the first time. There’s so much we don’t understand.

And, at the same time, when we reconnect with Jesus, we find that Jesus was right there in the holy space that we carry.

And, there’s so much to treasure in our hearts.

Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study. For the season of Advent 2021, these passages/pericopes were curated by Rev. Mark Koyama and Harriet Ward:

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.
Langston Hughes

For further reflection:
“I did things I did not understand for reasons I could not begin to explain just to be in motion, to be trying to do something, change something in a world I wanted desperately to make over but could not imagine for myself.” ― Dorothy Allison
“If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” ― Vincent van Gogh
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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