Sermon 1-3-21 The Rev Jen Van Zandt
“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.”
Under God’s Care
In this unique and singular account of Jesus’ early years, we get a brief look at Jesus in all of his humanity as a teenager. It is the only glimpse that we have of him between his birth and the beginning of his adult life as a future prophet, priest and king. People often ask me why we don’t know much about his life; or really anything at all before he begins his journey. The fact is that besides knowing that he was a carpenter by trade, the answer, in short, is it really doesn’t matter all that much. I’ll come back to this later.
But here, Luke doesgive a helpful bridge at least between infancy and adulthood and there’s a bit of humor, I think, in seeing his humanity in his adolescence. There’s also perhaps some comfort for us as parents, as well as the teenager in all of us, when we see and hear these classic struggles and dynamics between a parent and child; the parents going in one direction and the teen making his own different and separate choice. And then the tension ensues. I’m sure that was the case in my family, and it may have been in yours as well.
At first blush, this story pulls at one’s heartstrings with both compassion for the frantic parents, who have just realized their son is not among them and the poor child who has been forgotten or left behind in the chaos of the holiday caravan. It has all the great makings of a movie. Oh, wait a second… there wasa movie about this. You know what I’m talking about. Yes, my friends, this is the story of Home Alone.
Although it’s not an exact replica, there are some striking similarities. Catherine O’Hara, who plays the mother in Home Alone, shows us the utter hysteria and guilt that a parent feels when separation is realized. And John Heard, who plays the father, typically, is downplaying the mother’s anxiety and trying to calm her down through logic.
Where the plot separates between the story in Luke and Home Aloneis that unlike the adorable Macaulay Culkin, who plays the forgotten child, Jesus is a teenager or what we would call a ‘tween’ now. And it’s unclear from Biblical historians whether Jesus was formally bar mitzvahed at this point or not. But clearly, he is wise beyond his years and has chosen to be among the priests and the religious leaders. While we can appreciate the dialogue between the frantic and angry parent and a snarky teen (which comes out clearly in this text), it also points to a far more important message. Jesus, at the age of 12 is fullyaware who his father is… and it’s notJoseph.
Mary exclaims, “Son, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And Jesus’ retort can be seen as snark coming from a teenager. But, more deeply, he’s saying, “Why don’t you getthe fact that I mustbe in my Father’s house?” His parents are utterly confounded and Jesus is left feeling and being misunderstood. Ultimately, Jesus complies and leaves with his parents and they return to their home while Mary, for a second time, is pondering these things in her heart. I bet she pondered. You know the real reason why we don’t hear about Jesus again until he’s thirty? It’s because she groundedhim for about twenty years!
But seriously, this story, even though it’s not in the lectionary, must not be glossed over. In this story, we have a crucial glimpse into Jesus’ full humanity as well as his remarkable wisdom and understanding of who God was to him and to the rest of humanity. Further it’s a helpful bridge between an infant king and what comes next literally–next week is his baptism as an adult. Most importantly, this is a story that sets in motion God’s story and God’s activity.
In the story of the world, here is a story of the beginning of God’s redemption. Now, more than ever, as we wait with increasing fear and impatience to be set free from the prison of Covid and all that has been put on hold and cancelled and lost; as people around the world wait and pray and try to sustain one another as our lives continue to be forever changed and lost; this is a message of God ‘on the way’. This message of us being under and in God’s care,needs to be highlighted.
I happened to see Home Aloneon the television maybe three or four months ago and I decided to watch it all the way through. The part of the story that I forgot was the redemption in the plot. Macaulay Culkin, who is terrified by his next-door neighbor who looks like an old creepy, dangerous man, ends up bumping into him when Macaulay Culkin goes off to church, seeking comfort, seeking peace. And in the church is that very scary next-door neighbor. It takes a while for them to connect and they end up sitting together. And in that moment, Macaulay Culkin sees the humanity, the brokenness, and the loneliness of this man, because he’s all alone for Christmas, just like Macaulay Culkin. And, in that moment, we see the story of hope and redemption.
You’ve all seen this movie, so it’s not a spoiler alert, but go back and watch it, because on a very snowy day, as Macaulay Culkin’s parents and family return home and embrace him; so, too, the next-door neighbor’s family comes from far away and surprises him to give him strength and courage. My friends, God’s story of redemption starts now and we need this message now more than ever. So go back to the text and look at it again for yourself and know that hope and help really is on the way.