January 2, 2022
One of the traditions we have every year during Christmas time is to watch Home Alone. If you haven’t seen it—where have you been the past few decades? Y’all know the story. Kevin, the bratty and dependent youngest son of the McCallister family, is accidentally left behind at their ridiculous mansion of a home when the whole family takes a vacation to France for Christmas. He gets into some wild hijinks with the would-be robbers Harry and Marv, but meanwhile we get snippets of his mother’s frantic journey to get home as soon as she realizes he’s missing. She is absolutely tireless, trading her valuables for a sooner ticket back home. Immediately trying to book another flight once hers is cancelled. Riding in the back of a Budget rental truck with a very moderately successful polka band. All to get home to find her son.
Well this morning we hear a story of a time when something similar happened to the Holy Family. Every year, we hear, they would go up from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the high holy days, including Passover. There was probably a big caravan of people travelling together, including extended family and lots of Jesus’ cousins and friends. So when the festival ended and they all headed back to Nazareth, it’s only reasonable that Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was among the gaggle of preteens somewhere in the crowd that they were travelling with.
Now, I have not had the experience of losing track of my child and the million awful scenarios that immediately begin to flood a parent’s mind when that kind of oversight is realized, but I can imagine the visceral panic Mary and Joseph would have felt upon realizing that Jesus was not in the camp when they finished a day’s journey. I can entirely understand them not even waiting until sunrise before rushing back to Jerusalem, retracing their steps to see if Jesus had been left somewhere along the road. I imagine them pointedly checking every distant relative’s home, every shopkeeper whose wares they looked at, every old tomb and garden and plaza to find him. And I can feel the release of bodily relief and the immediate swelling of confounded anger when they saw him, so relaxed, yammering back and forth with the rabbis in the Temple.
A lot of the time, I’ve read how Jesus reacted to his mother’s question the same way we’ve probably all heard it—like Jesus is the all-knowing and fully-formed Son of God. Like he’s gently chastising his parents for their foolishness: “didn’t you know to look for me here?” But my friend Pastor Phil Ruge-Jones pointed out recently that he reads Jesus’ words not with condescension, but with surprise that only an absentminded adolescent realizing he’s messed up can have: “You mean you didn’t think I’d be here?!”
Because it’s so obvious to him where he would be. Of course he would be in the Temple. And his parents are smart people. Of course they would think to look there first when they couldn’t find him. Because where else would he be? What else would he be doing? And, in a way, his innocent surprise is for us, too. Because sometimes, maybe, we lose track of Jesus too.
It might be that we haven’t been able to feel Jesus’ presence in the places we’ve always found him before—when we come together to worship, to receive communion, to hear the scriptures or to share in singing hymns together. It might be that the words of the Bible that once jumped directly into our hearts just haven’t done it lately. Sometimes, just about all of us will go through a dry spell of our faith where Jesus’ presence is dulled and other things seem to loom larger in our lives. But we don’t want to lose Jesus. So we go looking for him—maybe frantically.
And maybe we think that means we need to read our Bibles harder, or more frequently. Or maybe we throw ourselves behind more emotionally engaging Christian music that thumps in our chest and we can lift up our hands to. Or maybe we commit to more prayer time. We try to do things that get us back to that place of really feeling the presence of Jesus by replicating something that one time seemed to work.
The whole Church does it too, though. When we start seeing fewer people in the pews, or when coffee hour seems to thin out, or the classroom sizes in Sunday school are getting smaller, we start looking for ways to get everyone to feel and notice Jesus in their midst. Maybe with the right kind of music or more relaxed worship there would be more people to join us in knowing and loving Jesus. Maybe with just the right curriculum and engaging songs and lessons, we could get more kids to be part of Sunday school. We look, and look, and look.
But I want to come back to what Jesus said when he was so surprised that his parents couldn’t find him. Our translation says “didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” Here, I like the King James Version better. “Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?” Jesus is telling us that when we think we’ve lost track of him, the first place to look for him isn’t in those feelings we once had, or in the right curriculum, or in more deep-diving Bible studies, or some specific worship style. We can find him when we look for him going about his Father’s business—when we start doing what Jesus does.
The quickest way to find Jesus is to serve others. Share hope with others. Tell the good news of the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of all things to others. Sit down at a meal and talk about all the ways God is bringing wholeness and healing into the world with others. Give away bread and bring healing to others. We find Jesus when we look for him going about his Father’s business—the business of healing the world and bringing the kingdom.
Because the faith that we have, the trust we have in Jesus, isn’t about feelings. It’s not about knowing more. It’s not about being swept up in an emotional high. It’s about doing. It’s about doing the things that Jesus did. It’s about acting out our faith with our bodies, because Jesus is found in the act of his Father’s business. Any time you’re afraid you’ve lost track of Jesus, whether in your own life or in the life of the congregation, remember to look for him by doing what he does. You’ll find him there, every time.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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