Lost and found – Dec 30, 2018
Being lost and being found… It’s not always as clear cut as we might like.
My family like to tell a story about me being lost. Even this Christmas my Dad asked me: Do you remember that time you got lost at Sunshine? We had gone to Sunshine for a family ski week of the sort they still run with various activities through the week for the whole family. We had ski lessons each morning and would ski together as a family in the afternoon. My dad or sister would ski down and then the rest of us would follow to meet up along the way. It was near the end of the week and on that particular run, I just kept going. I skied past whoever was waiting for me. I wasn’t very good at turning and I was fearless, so I just pointed my skis down the hill and flew. Your basic nightmare for the parents of a 5 year old. That time, nobody else in my family saw me go by. My mom, dad and sister met up and “where’s Christine!?!” They thought maybe I’d followed my sister through the trees, fallen down, and was unable to get up by myself. They quickly asked for help and the ski patrol was notified. Within minutes, ski patrollers were all over the hill, looking for a lost 5 year old.
The thing was, as I remind my family often, I was never lost. I knew exactly where I was the whole time. I was an oh so grown up 5 year old. I had been there a week and totally knew my way around by then. I was never scared or worried. In fact, I was having the time of my life. I had made my way down to the lodge and found my brother who took me to get a Coke… which was a special treat I wasn’t usually allowed. My family might like to ask: do you remember that time you got lost at Sunshine? And I remind them… I was never lost. They just didn’t know where I was, and were worried. They were afraid while I enjoyed a Coke. So basically… I’ve always been trouble.
On this Sunday after Christmas, we hear a story of Jesus being lost. Only Jesus wasn’t lost. His parents just didn’t know where he was and they were worried. It happened in the big city, Jerusalem, where his pious Jewish family went every year for the Passover festival. Having been every year, by 12 years of age, Jesus clearly knew where he was and where he wanted to be. Instead of joining his parents and other friends and family headed back to Galilee, Jesus stayed behind. When Jesus’ family realized he wasn’t with the caravan, after a full day’s journey, they returned to Jerusalem and searched high and low until they finally found him, 3 days later, amongst the faithful in the Temple.
Jesus is found in the temple, learning and growing. Jesus is listening to the teachers there and asking questions. His uncommon level of understanding means he answers with uncommon wisdom, particularly for a boy his age. Jesus is not there to show anyone up. He’s not there to embarrass or correct the teachers of the law, as we hear in other parts of the Gospel stories. He’s not turning over any tables. All that will come years later, when one wonders if the people even remember this favoured boy Jesus. At any rate, Jesus stays in the temple to grow and to develop in wisdom and knowledge. It is a most fascinating scene to contemplate. It almost invites more questions than answers in light of our belief in Jesus as both fully human and fully divine.
Just a few days ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth as Emmanuel, God-with-us. In Jesus, God comes to us as a baby, upending all our expectations of what divinity might be… what divinity should be. We imagine strength, omnipotence, transcendence and we get a baby. We want power and we get vulnerability. The story of Jesus’s birth invites us further to wonder about what came next. What was Jesus like as a child? Did he go through the terrible 2’s? Did the Creator of the Universe ever refuse to eat his vegetables? Was his first word “no” like so many children? Did he ever stubbornly utter “I do…” to the chagrin of his parents? Can the Son of God have a temper tantrum in the grocery store? The very idea of Jesus’ childhood fascinates and confounds us. As fully human, Jesus had to have been a child like any other… and yet as fully divine… what do we do with that? Our imagination can run wild and never come to any resolution. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t wonder… our questions are healthy and good… we just need to remember that in the end, we won’t get answers that satisfy.
Our story today is the only one we have in the canonical Gospels about Jesus’ childhood, and it does little to satisfy our desire to make sense of the Incarnation. God is all knowing and yet here 12 year old Jesus is in the temple learning from the teachers there. Even as God, Jesus grows and develops and increases in wisdom as he increases in years. It is quite the statement about the Lord Almighty. How does God grow in wisdom?
I believe there are many instances when the biblical story testifies to God’s growth and development. It all comes down to relationship. From the beginning of creation, human beings interact and respond to God and God interacts and responds to us. Eve and Adam make choices that change the course of history. When people misbehave on a broad scale, God sends a flood to destroy all but one family… and then God seems to regret the violence and makes a promise instead to renounce such destruction forever. The people want a king like other nations. Against God’s better judgement and though it pains the divine heart, God gives God’s people the king they seek. And so it goes…
God grows and learns and develops because of creation… because of humanity… and not just “humanity” on a grand scale, but because of individual people, individual choices, the complaints of a community, the repentance of a town. Being in relationship means adapting and responding to the other party. As the community of faith, we have gone as far as to codify the idea of God in relationship… God as relationship… in the doctrine of the trinity. God is Creator, Father, Infinite; God is Jesus, Redeemer, Incarnate; God is Spirit, Breath, Fire. And today we hear about God as a child… curious, independent, determined. Not just following the crowd but actively seeking out what he needs to be a good… God. How odd.
However you may hear this strangeness of this story, with its confounding, unrelenting questions about God-with-us, maybe it’s good news is its encouragement to growth. If God entered humankind as part of a divine process of lifelong learning, so to speak, then how might we follow such as example by seeking out teachers, sitting among them, listening and asking questions? In this season of new year’s resolutions, I wonder how you will seek to grow and develop… to increase in wisdom as you increase in years… in the coming year, 2019?
When Jesus’ parents finally see him in the temple, they are astonished at the scene… and then they’re angry. Her 12-year-old missing for 3 days, Mary is understandably upset but calms down when she realizes her boy is safe and spoken well of by those in the temple. It turned out Jesus wasn’t lost at all… they were. It’s so strange when the world flips and we realize that the one we thought we were meant to teach, to take care of, to protect is actually the one to lead us home. How surprising to discover that the one thought lost is actually the one who will find us. With Joseph and Mary, we might not always know where Jesus is, but we can be sure that God is right where God needs to be. So we don’t need to worry. We can seek God anew by growing and learning and increasing in wisdom… and when we least expect it, we will turn a corner, and there God will find us.