Sermon: Looking for Jesus in all the Wrong Places (Luke 2:41-52)

Text: Luke 2:41-52
Second Sunday After Christmas
Listen to the sermon here.

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

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of the movie: Home Alone. The movie Home Alone takes place when a frantic family jets off to Paris for Christmas only to discover too late that they had left their youngest child behind. The plot is a bit farfetched don’t you think? How could a family leave a house, ride all the way to the airport, board a plane, and only THEN, midway over the Atlantic Ocean, realise a child has gone missing? “How in the world could something like this ever happen?” you may want to ask. Of course, if I asked that question in the presence of Joseph and Mary, they’d soon start looking down at their feet and shifting their weight side to side in discomfort. They did, after all, take off from Jerusalem, and it took them an entire day to realise they had left their son behind. Worse, they took off without God’s son. The left the Son of God in a city that was a large and potentially dangerous place, full of dark alleys and strange people. This was not a place where one would be happy to leave one’s son for a few days. Does it get any worse than to be entrusted with the Son of God and then you lose him? 

The agony of Mary and Joseph, searching for three days, contrasts sharply with the calm response of Jesus when they found him. Jesus asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” These same questions face us this Second Sunday after Christmas, as peace and goodwill fade and Christmas leaves so many of us wanting. The text invites us to wonder why Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus in all the wrong places.

The text presents us with the situation: Passover was finished. Mary and Joseph packed up their things and headed home with their travelling companions. When night came after the first day’s journey home, Mary and Joseph went to look for Jesus, but he was no where to be found. Mary and Joseph took the only course open for responsible parents. They returned to Jerusalem to look for the boy, Jesus. 

They retraced their steps. They asked questions of people. They returned to all the places they’d been during the festival. Can you hear them? “Where can he be? Are we not searching hard enough? Are we looking in the right places?” When they find Jesus in the Temple after three days, Mary blurts out an accusation, perhaps tinged with that mixture of guilt and relief that most parents will recognise. She says, ‘How could you do this to us?’ But, Jesus issues a gentle rebuke, “Why were you searching for me?” He expected more from his mother and father. Mary and Joseph searched everywhere, except the Temple.  They searched for three days that is until they finally came to the Temple, the place where the Word of God was taught and the place where the Son of God would obviously be. 

Had things become so ordinary for such a long time that they forgot about who Jesus was? Long gone are the choirs of angels, adoring shepherds, and magi. Maybe 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. One thing is for certain, they have not yet truly grasped who their Son is. The boy Jesus says that his relationship with the God of heaven is the relationship between a Father and a Son. Again and again in his ministry, Jesus had to keep repeating this same idea. He is the Son, and God is his Father. In the temple at 12 years old, Jesus asserts his unique relationship with his heavenly Father and he must be about God’s business.

That’s the point which Mary and Joseph failed to grasp. Where do you find the Son of God? Doing the things of God, about his Father’s business.  Mary and Joseph searched three days for Jesus. But they didn’t find him in the expected places — the safe confines of his extended family or the familiar pilgrim spots. After three days, Mary and Joseph found Jesus alive and well in the Temple, around the scholars. Jesus answers them, “Why were you searching for me?” Why did it take them three days to figure out that Jesus must be about his Father’s business?

More importantly, have we been looking for Jesus in all the wrong places? Why does it take us so long to find Jesus? Like Mary and Joseph we can spend not only three days but our entire lives trying to find Jesus in all the wrong places.  If we fail to understand who Jesus is and what His mission was, we can end up like Mary and Joseph searching in all the wrong places.  We can attempt to find Jesus trying to earn enough brownie points to go to heaven. We can attempt to find Jesus in the mystical caverns of our sinful heart. We can attempt to find Jesus in other religions. We can attempt to find Jesus in the popular spiritual fads of the day. We can attempt to find Jesus on a lake while fishing. We can attempt to find Jesus without the Church. The list can most certainly go on and on and on. But if Jesus has not promised to be there, why are we looking for him where he has not promised to be?

The good news for us in this Second Sunday after Christmas is that, like Mary and Joseph, our search has ended. We know where Jesus is. The scary part, perhaps, is that our search doesn’t end where we might expect. We should know that Jesus must be about his Father’s business. This is his life’s mission: he must be doing and concerned about the things of God his Father. The Temple was the place where the Divine Service of his Father was supposed to be most perfect, where the Word God was taught. The Temple was called God’s sanctuary and even God’s House, since there he, through his Word, showed his presence and was heard. So, Christ is about His Father’s business when he comes among us, when he speaks to us through His Word. Through his Word, Christ comes among us, and through it brings us to the Father. Jesus is right where we should expect to find Him. This Jesus, who brings Deity and humanity together in one person, can be found wherever we find God’s Word. Jesus can be found wherever two or three are gathered to worship in his name. He is in the waters of your baptism. Your Lord can be found whispering to you through the pages of Holy Scripture. He can be found addressing you through the preached sermon. He can be found truly present with 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. He can be found in your neighbour for you to love and serve. This pandemic and lockdown challenge us to not get too comfortable in our isolation from the Church. Remain steadfast dear Saints.  Do not embark on a wild goose chase seeking for Jesus where He has not promised to be.

Although 2020 was a hard year, the Lord Jesus was with us the entire time. Our Lord’s Word and Sacraments have been a constant source of hope, sustenance, and strength over the past year. These gifts from God will also be present for you and for me in 2021.  The reason why?  The Lord has promised to neither leave us nor forsake us; He will be with us to the end of the world, as we gather as the church, in our baptisms, with the bread and wine in the Supper, and in the Word. Rejoice. Today, you’ve found Jesus. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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