Sermon: Finding the Jesus you thought you’d lost

Text: Luke 2:41-52
Gospel for the Second Sunday After Christmas, Series A

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Have you ever misplaced something? We’ve all been there: frantically searching the house for some item we lost. Of course, we never lose an item which we don’t need right this very second! You don’t realise you’ve misplaced something until you need it. No, it seems that sometimes the more needed the item is, the harder it’s going to be to find it: be that a passport, a credit card, your car keys, that form you were supposed to fill out last November which is due tomorrow,. We’ve all been there. Some of us know those feelings of panic and dread better than others. What do you do? You begin to retrace your steps so you can find what you have misplaced. It happens to the best of us. Even it seems, Mary and Joseph!

Assuming that Jesus is with you 

Here is the story of a visit by the holy family to a festival in Jerusalem. It was customary for every Israelite family to go up to Jerusalem four times a year for the major feasts. One of them was the Passover. Kids could stay at home until they were twelve. Then the boys were obligated to appear before the teachers of the Torah in the temple for instruction. This incident then was what we might call in our terms, Jesus’ ‘confirmation.’

But, their visit itself is not the most important thing. What is most important is that when they were returning, Jesus stayed behind. When the feast was over, they began to travel back home. They had traveled a whole days journey and made camp that evening before they realised that they had misplaced Jesus. Before you write them off as terrible parents and not keeping track of their kid, remember those times you lost your kid in the grocery store. They were traveling in a large group. The women and children would begin the journey ahead of the men, since they traveled a bit slower. By the evening when they would make camp the men had caught up with the women and children. I am sure Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph. And  Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary. So it wasn’t until that evening they discovered Jesus had been lost. Mary and Joseph have misplaced Jesus. They simply assumed that Jesus had gone with them. 

How far would you have traveled before you realised that you had lost Jesus? Or should I ask are you sure Jesus is still with you in your travels? Are you sure you have not lost him? When is the last time you felt that you really needed him? When was the last time you had to call on him? Maybe you really don’t feel like you need Jesus. Maybe you feel like you are smart enough on your on or strong enough on your on. You’ll save Jesus for the BIG stuff. But, if all you have is a shallow relationship, a mere acquaintance with Jesus, where you assume that Jesus is with you, you might not recoginise when you really have misplaced him. Maybe you think the needs in your life are not so bad that you need to get Jesus involved. Joseph and Mary lost a whole day of fellowship with Jesus because they assumed that he was with them. They took for granted something of which they should have made sure. Hebrews (2:1) tells us, “Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

The challenge before you today is this: If Mary and Joseph can take Jesus for granted, there is every reason to suppose that we can too. It is odd then that some Christians will ask “Have you found Jesus?” It isn’t like Jesus is an item we can misplace and which we have to go hunting for. Is it? Can you misplace Jesus? Have you misplaced Jesus? We can drift away from him. Just because Jesus is with you today, doesn’t mean he has to be with you tomorrow. We must not think that Jesus is always accompanying us as we go off on our own business. Just because you’re baptised and go to church does not mean that Jesus is always with you. How can you lose Jesus? Ask yourself: “Do I give Jesus Christ my Lord even the briefest thought throughout the week? Or am I so consumed with the hustle and bustle of life that I ignore him? Do I pray to him? Or is the only time I pray before I eat? Am I harbouring sin which I refuse to repent of? Have doubts crept into my faith? Do I think more like the world then like a Christian? Is Jesus just an appendage to my already perfect life?” Brothers and sisters, have you lost Jesus?

Finding Jesus in the unexpected

Mary and Joseph find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of having lost Jesus. It’s understandable that Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus. After all, Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims, the temple was crowded. They searched the streets of Jerusalem anxiously looking for Him. After those three anxious days (why does it always take three days?) they found Jesus in the most logical place to look for Him. The temple. Where else would you look for the Son of God but the dwelling place of God with men? 

This was the second temple appearance of Jesus, the first being when He was forty days old at His redemption. He was in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s business, a fact that at least momentarily escaped His mother Mary. Mary and Joseph find Jesus where they least expected him to be, doing the unexpected. Jesus looks just like any other twelve year old boy. But when the rabbis question this ordinary looking kid named Jesus, they are amazed. He asked questions they hadn’t thought of asking. He connected dots they didn’t know existed. The whole scenario is unexpected. Like Mary and Joseph, we can easily forget who Jesus really is and trip over the seeming weakness of His humanity.

The mystery of the Incarnation, the reason for the season of Christmas, truly does fill the mind with wonder. How can the Creator God become a creature? How can the God become Man? How can the infinite and holy become the finite and the lowly? And whether we ponder the baby in the manger, the 40 day old child in the arms of Simeon, the 12 year old in the temple among the teachers of Israel, or the man on the cross bearing the sin of the world, we are confronted with this same wondrous mystery – the eternal Son of God has come into our human flesh to save us.

Jesus had to be in His Father’s house. This was His place. The building was the old temple, the place where God himself dwelt with Man, and heaven and earth were joined in the Holy of Holies.  Jesus is the new temple, His own flesh is the ultimate dwelling place that brings God and humanity together. His place is to be the Head under which heaven and earth come together as one. His work was to reconcile the creation with the Creator, to bring all things together in His all-sufficient death on the cross. This was His eternal destiny, a plan established in the Godhead from before the foundations of the world, as the apostle Paul lays out in that grand first chapter of Ephesians.

When we realise, with Mary and Jospeh, that we have lost Jesus, when we sense the lack of his presence with us, it’s time we prepare to hunt and search for him. And where will we find Jesus? Not where many people are likely to expect. This Jesus, who brings heaven and earth together in his very person, can be found wherever God’s Word is. Jesus can be found whispering to you through the pages of Holy Scripture. He can be found in, with, and under the Bread and the Wine for you to eat and drink. He can be found in the voice of your pastor who says, “I forgive you all your sins.” He can be found in the love and fellowship you experience with your fellow Christians. And he can be found wherever two or three are gathered to worship in his name. 

In the late 1700s, there was a politician named William Wilberforce who was driven by his faith in Christ to commit his money and energy to abolishing the slave trade in England. On one occasion, Wilberforce’s butler found him praying. The butler asked, “You found God, Sir?” Wilberforce responded, “I think He found me.” The Bible pictures us as wayward and wandering sheep. That is why Jesus came. We would never seek Him, so He came seeking us. Jesus told us that was his mission, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). The message of Christmas is that when we thought we had lost God, God himself comes down and takes on the weakness of human flesh and finds us. God in Christ continues to use weakness, the weakness of Word and Sacrament, the weakness of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If you feel like you’ve lost Jesus, fear not! Today, Jesus has found you.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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