I have a lot of sympathy for Mary and Joseph when they lost track of Jesus. He simply wasn’t where they thought he was. They had to retrace their steps, searching everywhere, anxiety growing with each passing minute. When they finally found him in the Temple, they were incredulous. Jesus was matter-of-fact. How could they not know he would be in the Temple speaking Truth? Where else did they think he would be? Apparently, they thought he be just about anywhere else. I often have the same problem; Jesus is often in the last place I look.
Actually, Jesus is often in the place I am most reluctant to go. I’d rather go to the familiar, easy places than go to those deep, difficult places of truth. Like Mary and Joseph, I’d be moving through life in the usual way only to suddenly discover that I had no idea where Jesus is. I thought that I was going where he was leading only to find out that I wandered off track. Getting back on track isn’t ever as easy as retracing my steps. It’s all about sorting through whatever is overwhelming me in the moment and grasping hope again.
Here on the edge of a new year, with Christmas 75% off on store shelves, are we asking ourselves where Jesus is? He didn’t remain an infant in the manger, easy to find under a bright, shining star. If we knelt at the manger last week, do we know where Jesus is this week? Are we even interested in finding him? I’m not sure we are.
Church has a way of holding onto the past much more tightly than holding onto Jesus. We go along telling ourselves that we are following Jesus or that Jesus is with us without bothering to look around. It’s possible that Jesus isn’t where we think he is. Jesus is not in our fully lit Advent wreaths, in the fading greens, or in any of the remnants of the season. Jesus isn’t likely living in the boxes of Christmas pageant costumes or the booklets of carols stacked in the corner. If we are looking around our church buildings, then we aren’t likely to find Jesus. Jesus is where Truth is.
These days Jesus is at the border with refugees seeking hope and safety and being ignored or attacked. Jesus is in the homeless encampments with people huddled together for warmth while most people turn their heads in dismissal. Jesus is with those who are lost, lonely, and forgotten while most people continue on their way without thinking of those who live on the edges of society. Jesus is with those we deem as “other,” waiting for us to show up. Today’s Temple, today’s house where God lives, is not any church building. It’s the places where people meet and seek to lessen the pain another carries. No church tradition has more value than human beings who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.
We are between celebrating the birth of Jesus and the coming of the magi. It’s easy to criticize Mary and Joseph for losing track of their son. This isn’t a story about negligent parenting, though. This is a story meant to remind us that losing track of Jesus is nothing to be embarrassed about. Losing track of Jesus and continuing on pretending that we have not is a problem. Pausing to look around and figure out where Truth is being lived or spoken or cried out, this is what the journey is about. Going wherever Jesus is, this is what church is called to do. And when we get there, we are to embody the Love that breaks into the deepest, lightless night and changes everything.
Have you seen Jesus lately?
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RCL – Year C – First Sunday after Christmas – December 30, 2018
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26