As I write this on Christmas Eve, the feelings evoked in Luke’s story of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus seem incongruous. In a few hours, congregations will gather – in person and online. Nostalgia will flood our hearts and minds, temporarily pushing aside grief, pain, and longing. We will imagine ourselves in Bethlehem watching as shepherds and magi arrive to honor the newborn king. We will remember Christmases past and long for the days when we can safely gather again with family and friends. Good tidings and bit of joy will fill us as we sing familiar carols.
Come Sunday, though, all that will be gone. If we make it to church, we might hear the story of how twelve-year-old Jesus gets left behind in Jerusalem. Some of us might question how such a thing could happen. However, if you’ve ever lost sight of your child, or worse someone else’s child, you’ll know how easily this can happen. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. They traveled with family and friends from their village. They met up with a larger group of pilgrims. Jesus split off from his parents to hang out with his cousins and friends away from adults – a typical pre-teen. Who knows how often Jesus was in his parent’s company over the days of their pilgrimage. It makes sense that they thought he was with the other children and not walking with them. They have a good reason for misplacing Jesus. Do we?
Tonight we will be all about the baby Jesus – lighting candles and singing carols. Some of us will do similar things in the morning. By Sunday, though, we, too, will likely have lost sight of him. We’ll be a little tired. Perhaps the nostalgia will be replaced with grief, sadness, longing that was temporarily put aside. Somehow, in the face of the “real world” Jesus will seem less important. We’ll have wandered off somewhere and we will say that Jesus is the one who wandered away. Worse, it might take us a while to notice that we are no longer kneeling at the manger and paying homage to the newborn Christ.
When Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple, they are surprised. They didn’t quite know the depths of wisdom and holiness in their son; he was not even of age. We’re inclined to question their reaction. Why did they not know what Jesus was capable of? Why were they so surprised to find him hanging out with the rabbis, listening, asking questions, teaching, and learning? Chances are, this is the first time Jesus showed any indication that he would grow up to be the Messiah. Of course his parents were surprised. And aren’t we surprised every time we encounter Jesus?
We expect to find Jesus in church or when we spend time in prayer. But when we find him in the eyes of a stranger, the wisdom of a friend, the kindness of a neighbor, or in the solitude of the wilderness – aren’t we always a bit surprised? How often is Jesus where we expect him to be rather than where we encounter him? We really should have a bit more sympathy for Joseph and Mary.
In this brief season of Christmastide, what might happen if we stop making assumptions about where Jesus is or should be and open ourselves to the possibility of finding him anywhere, everywhere? Is it possible that we will recognize Jesus in our grief, in our sadness, in our longing for better days? What if he is there listening, asking questions, teaching, and learning – just waiting for us to realize that Light shines through all things? Better yet, what if we discover that Light shining in us and allow it to shine on others? What might change if we approach the world around us with Love, anticipating welcome and healing?
It’s hard to imagine that in a few days we won’t know where Jesus is, especially when today we know exactly where he is. Maybe we can hold onto the hope, the peace, the joy, and the Love that guided us to Bethlehem and let these things illumine our path for days to come. Maybe we won’t lose sight of Jesus so quickly. However, it’s very likely that we will. When we realize that we don’t know where he is, perhaps we will start looking in the less obvious places and receive what he is asking or teaching a bit more readily.
No judgment here, though. We live in a world that is very uncomfortable with the Light of God that shines with wisdom, hope, healing, forgiveness, love and so much more. Maybe this story of Mary and Joseph losing track of Jesus will remind us how easy this is to do and give us the grace, freedom, courage to go searching for him a bit more quickly… and the openness to receive whatever he is offering in spite of whatever is happening in the world.