The infant and childhood stories of Jesus are particularly poignant to those of us who have had children of our own. We remember the joy of anticipation when our children were newly born. And, the ache of separation the many first times our children left our side … to attend kindergarten and then college and when he or she married and moved out of the house. For some of us, the separation extended across state lines as our children moved out of the state we lived in or we moved away from them.
In some ways, our job as parents never ends. We always feel the pain our children experience. We always worry about them no matter what age they are or what age we are. But at some point, we have to let go. At some point, we let our children become the mature human beings God is calling them to become, which is not easy, but it’s necessary. Preparing our children to grow up and live out their destiny is a major part of parenting. Life will change for them and it changes for us as well.
This morning we read the story of a family in flux. Things are about to change for Mary, Joseph and the precocious Jesus. Like all children, this child is stretching beyond the safe boundaries set by his parents in ways that alarm and confuse them. And, like all good parents, they express their unhappiness with this son who didn’t bother to tell them that he was going to the temple. Imagine for a moment their fear and alarm when they discover Jesus is missing. Imagine the thoughts they might be thinking as they conjure up from the deepest places in their hearts the thoughts we all have when it comes to knowing how dangerous the world can be. All parents feel responsible for the safety and well-being of their children, but Mary and Joseph have a greater burden of responsibility laid on them … their son has been set aside for God’s work and they’ve lost him.
When they find Jesus sitting with the elders in the temple, Mary and Joseph reprimand him and well they should. He knew his responsibility to them was to obey them in all things and be a respectful, dutiful son. Honor thy Father and thy Mother. It’s a familiar commandment. But, at the same time, Jesus reminds them not only of his mission in life, but of theirs, as well. As the Son of God, he must be about his heavenly Father’s work, and they as his earthly parents, need to be ready and willing to let him do what God has called him to do. So, no wonder, Mary pondered all these things in her heart. She knew the time for change was upon them all.
How very human this all sounds, doesn’t it? Mom and Dad are setting the rules and their son is out to test them. Just like any other family really. Most families, I think, can count on a fair amount of stress and tension in their relationships. It’s part of being human. Families, like most growing changing organisms, ebb and flow in the way the members of the family relate to one another. And you can be sure that if members of a family don’t deal with these stresses and tensions when they occur, they will inevitably resurface later in life, and probably, often. They may even resurface in those times when we would expect that life would be the happiest.
Holidays would certainly be placed in the happy occasions category. And yet, holidays have a way of bringing out the worst in us, don’t they? There always seems to be too much to do; too many people to see, and too much traveling from place to place. Our budgets and our waistlines are overly stretched increasing our tension and anxiety. Going home for the holidays sounds romantic when Frank Sinatra sings it, but the reality may not be quite what we would have hoped. It’s a fact, and an unfortunate one that more alcohol-related domestic violence occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than it does at any other time of year.
On the one hand, Christmas time is family time. The airports bustle with homebound travelers. The college students head home to familiar surroundings. The guestroom in the family homestead is transformed once again into Junior’s bedroom, if only for a few days during a holiday vacation. Christmas, like no other time of the year, draws relatives and friend to the same hearth.
Yet Christmas can also expose family relationships to be something less than the Hallmark ideal. When you bring together people who love one another but live together no longer, the reunion can be quite stressful. So, isn’t it good that we have a story as helpful as Luke’s is? Luke tells us a story about the strain on one family and the ties that both bind them to and free them from one another. Once again, we are reminded that Jesus came to us as a human being; the Word made flesh, God among us. The strained family relationship as Luke describes it and the resolution of the tension between Jesus and his parents give us hope that our strained family relationships can be healed too. But notice the way this particular family moves forward in their relationship following Jesus’ strange, seemingly thoughtless action. Jesus never seems to apologize; in fact, he seems stubbornly certain that his decision to stay behind and worry his parents half to death was the right one for him to make.
Those of us who have parented a child know that we had to let them go some day just as Mary and Joseph come to realize that Jesus is moving toward a destiny none of them fully understand. Each member of this particular family would have to find a way to adjust. Each would come to accept what was yet unrevealed. I suspect that in our lives, in our families, we have had to accept the decisions those we love make without fully understanding why they made those particular choices in life. We had to place our trust in the God that loves us all and place the lives of the ones that we love as well as our own lives in God’s care. That’s what Mary had to do. The day she found Jesus in the temple she had to place her trust in the God who had claimed this child, her child, as God’s own. So she tucked this memory away, with all the fear and anxiety it had raised in her. She gave thanks to God for Jesus’ safety and she pondered yet again, what her little boy would be, what he would do when he grew up. And Jesus, for all the days that followed and throughout his childhood, did not disobey his parents again.
One day many years later, Mary, the mother of Jesus, seeing the empty glasses on a wedding table in Cana, would say to her son, “They have no wine” and to the servants, “Do what he commands you.” And Jesus obeyed and made wine from water. The times, once again, were changing.
And so it is with us. The arguments and the disagreements that separate us from the members of our family set us on a road that has many possible directions. With every decision we make, with every desire we have to heal the breaches within our family dynamic, with all that continues to cause us to hold grudges and to stay angry, the long term implications may not be clear but the model for healing and wholeness is given us in this story. There is always hope as we seek out ways to find our way back to one another and back to God.
In this coming New Year, I would invite each of us to give thought to the people in our lives who we have allowed to slip away. Some of the saddest revelations I hear, as a pastor, are the ones made by people who no longer speak to a sister, brother, mom or dad, who won’t talk to Uncle Ed or Aunt Jackie because of some real or imagined hurt that took place more years ago than anyone in the family can remember. I would pray this year that if your family is one such family broken by misunderstanding and pain, that you find your way back to the temple of God.
The irony in this story of Jesus in the temple and Mary and Joseph’s fear for him is that Jesus was exactly where his parents had left him. All they had to do to find him was to go back to the place they lost him, which is all we have to do too. All we have to do is go back to the places where we lost our loved ones to find them again, to make a decision to restore the family bonds that will make this New Year, and all the years that follow, ones that will enrich and bless our lives. Christ came to heal us and restore us to God and to one another. May it be so for you and for yours this year. Amen.