Here’s a sermon I preached last Sunday at St. Philip, Oak Bay (Anglican) here in Victoria.  

It’s based on Luke 2: 41-52, with some reference to the Emmaus Road in Luke 24. 

Happy New Year to you all!

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Have you ever been lost?  I can remember one time it as if it were last week.  As a four year old, there in the Dominion grocery store – I had somehow wandered off from my mother.  I can still remember the very spot where I noticed that she was no longer with me – there facing the Wonderbread and Twinkies – halfway down aisle one.  When the realization set in, my tears and hysterics came, and some nearby conscientious well-wisher escorted weeping little me up to the customer service desk.  Beside myself, I wondered – had my mother just abandoned me – forgotten about me and simply headed home – leaving me to fend for my four-year-old-self?  I can also still remember the exact words bellowing over the store intercom – the kind voice of the head cashier saying: “there’s a little boy who’s lost and his name is Robert…”   Within a fraction of a millisecond, my mom – equally as agitated and upset as me – fearful that I had been snatched by someone and was now halfway to the U.S. border – came running to fetch me. There, she held me in her arms as my heaving tears settled into her deep, loving embrace.

Jesus’ youthful separation from his parents was undoubtedly a far nobler wandering away then the events of my now-35-year old supermarket memory. And unlike mine, Jesus’ reaction isn’t painted as one of fear or angst – he actually seems pretty at ease with the fact that his parents have headed off down the road and unwittingly left him behind (this is perhaps the difference between a 4 and a 12 year old – perhaps he was even happy to see them go!).  After all, he had things to do in order to live into being God’s son, right?!

My how they grow up quickly!  And this is especially the case in the record that scripture gives us of Jesus. It seems like it was only last week when he was still a baby! Now we’ve moved rather hastily from the manger – and here, with little detail in-between, we have the holy family, pious folks that they were, on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  Jesus is twelve – in that stage between boyhood and manhood.

And so they find themselves in Roman-occupied Jerusalem – its winding alleys and streets, travelling merchants, Roman Soldiers – and a festival to boot – a time when things were always tense – especially in the capital – as the Jews gathered to remember their release from slavery.    This is also a family who, if we look over to Matthew’s account of their early years had already lived through great fear in their lives – fleeing as refugees to another country in order to avoid bloodshed from the death-squads of Herod – not exactly a trust-building experience in the goodness of humanity.

So it may then seem odd to us – it certainly does to me as parent – that, with all of that, Jesus’ family would just let him wander off – not noticing where he was for a day.  But that’s indeed what happens.  Even with the dangers I’ve just noted, perhaps the closely knit culture of the time would allow Jesus’ parents to just let their youthful Son wander for a few days through a major metropolis – knowing that the safety of extended kin and others would safely shelter Him.

But Jesus – without even checking in with the folks – heads straight for the temple. He’s here to listen and ask questions of the teachers – in order to grow in wisdom for the sacred work He was called to do – to live into whom He was supposed to be.  And, heck, why should the details of human expectations – that He at least tell his parents where he was going – stop that from happening, His 12-year old mind might have asked?

We can also empathize with the parental angst and consternation when Mary and Joseph realize that he is not where they expected Him to be – safe among the kin – likely fearing that some untimely end had come to the One who had been promised to redeem all of humanity – leading them to hike back a day to make sure He’s OK.

There’s a lot that can be said of this oft-overlooked incident in scripture – the only story we have in the canonized gospels of Jesus’ youth.  However, the element that I really want to focus in on today – is that this is a story – not unlike the story of the Magi on the road to Jesus – that calls us into getting lost, going off the beaten path, taking a seemingly wrong turn, surrendering our expectations, losing control in order to really` be able to seek and meet Jesus anew – no matter how much we might think we might already ‘have’ Him or ‘get’ Him or ‘know’ Him.  This is a story that calls us to surrender our safe expectations of Jesus, of God – and, at the same time to seek Him out with reckless passion.

It’s interesting to me that, for various literary reasons, some scholars pair this travelling story, near the opening of Luke, with another travelling story near the end of Luke’s gospel (see N.T. Wright’s commentary in Luke for Everyone, as an example).  Let’s flash forward 20 years for a just a moment to that other story in Luke’s gospel – the resurrected Jesus, pierced hands and feet – talking with two of His followers on a road to Emmaus.    As a boy – in the temple he had opened the ancient scriptures and “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers”.  As the resurrected One they noted that (again) while he was opening the scriptures – their hearts were burning within them… In both cases Jesus’ answer to the anguish and confusion at the events surrounding him is similar, and, in fact, draws from the same verb in the Greek, meaning “It was necessary.”

As a baby, it was necessary that he come from heaven to earth in an unlikely pilgrimage, to be born in backwater country, to peasants, in a barn.  As a boy – it was necessary to break from the norms of the established travel and family expectations and to be at His Father’s house – getting involved with His Father’s work.   On the Road to Emmaus, as a resurrected man, He noted that it was necessary that He take the nonviolent way of the cross, rather than calling down the angels to get Him out of there and smite the Romans – necessary in order come into His glory – albeit a different kind of glory.  Time and time again in His short life, Jesus wandered away from convention and external expectations about who He should be and what He should do – and in doing so, reshaped the world.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says that Liminal Space is a term that applies to those uncertain times in our lives when we stand in the “threshold” between the “old” which may no longer work and the “new” which is not yet clear (see Rohr’s article on Epiphany here).  These times are the times, he says, for the deepest stretching, growth, clarity, and perspective.  Going on pilgrimage, such as Jesus and his parents did yearly for the Passover, or as the Magi did to find Jesus pushes one into ‘liminal space’.  Likewise, Jesus on the road to Emmaus – in that liminal space between resurrection and glorified ascension brought about the burning hearts.   Jesus whole life was one of liminality – bridging the old and new, inaugurating the kingdom…

And this too is what Christmas is about. The Christmas season is filled with stories of this liminality – and today’s youthhood pilgrimage of Jesus to the temple is but one of them (Mary’s trip to Elizabeth, the road to Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt, the journey of the Magi are other notable examples – and there are many others from this season).   I wonder if we too are not called now and then into that liminal space – that in-between, seemingly chaotic place where we experience the necessity of getting lost – in order to be truly found – and realize anew the embrace of God.

It was necessary.  How might it also be necessary for us to switch course in our lives in order to find the Jesus we thought we’d lost? Put another way, where and how are we called to wander from human expectations and conventions to become fools for Christ?  To surrender our needs, our fears – to actually lose control in order to find ourselves basking in the amazing grace of Jesus?    These are good questions to ask ourselves at the end of one year and at the beginning of another.   We must remember that Jesus Himself said that He came not to seek the found, the safe, the righteous – but he came to seek after and save the lost.

Of course, getting lost isn’t easy or fun – and I don’t want to belittle the very real dangers in it.  Having said that, the good thing about getting lost is that, assuming you are found, that you do make it through, you never come back the same.  I imagine that even my experience in the supermarket – the fact that it’s still so imprinted in my mind – attests to the fact that that little episode changed and shaped me to this day.  In today’s story, Mary and Joseph are indeed changed – they have a new way of seeing their divine-human Son. And Mary holds these things in her heart, scripture notes.  Perhaps more profoundly – Jesus, too, changed we are told, for He returned home and was obedient to His parents – and increased in Divine and human favour.

As we enter this New Year, may the Holy Spirit lead you in your going off of the beaten path in order to follow Jesus.   May you find Christ in unlikely ways, places and spaces and may you be changed in your encounter with Him.  And may the comforting embrace of the loving Parent God who passionately seeks after us day-after-day in our wanderings be yours this sacred and holy season.  Amen.