A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
First Sunday after Christmas – December 28, 2003
Text: Luke 2:49-50
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember what it was like when you first believed in Jesus? Really, truly believed in him?
Maybe that day came early for you, as a young child growing strong in the church in which you were baptized. Maybe that day came later for you, as a searching young man or woman who suddenly found everything you were looking for in Jesus Christ. Maybe that faith came for you a little bit at a time, until one day you were surprised to realize just how strongly and deeply you really did believe in the man from Galilee.
However it happened, recall what it felt like when you first started to believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is, and that he can do for you exactly what he says he can. What sort of emotions raced through your heart that day?
If you’re anything like me, it started out with a burst of relief, with joy close on its heels. Then, for quite a few months after, I remember an intense awareness of all the ways God was at work in the world around me. Everywhere I looked, I could see his thumbprints. If it rained, it was God at work; and if it was gorgeous out, I thanked him for his artistry. Even the little details of my life seemed somehow connected to the divine, in ways that I couldn’t always put my finger on but that were heavy with meaning nonetheless.
I say “I remember,” because that was half a lifetime or more ago, and because – like many deeply religious experiences – it has faded over time until it is a memory of who I was as a child, rather than the experience of my faith today. I still believe…in some ways, perhaps, my faith runs deeper now than it did those many years ago. But it if my faith is now a deep, calm, fruitful Mississippi River, I have to admit that there are days when I long for a few of the spectacular shallows and rapids of my younger self’s faith to stir thing up a bit. They are memories to me now, and sometimes…sometimes I even forget them.
I suspect that I’m not alone in this experience. Many things that we believe in recklessly and passionately when we’re young seem to get tempered with age. Time does that to us; God made us creatures who live in time, and living in time means that we change from one moment to the next. Whether to our joy or dismay, our selves of fifteen years ago – or even fifteen minutes ago – are not the same as our selves this very moment. We’re prone to forgetting even the most powerful experiences.
I take some comfort from our Gospel reading today; it tells me that I am far from alone in the ups and downs of my faith over the years.
Everyone knows the outline of this story: Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the big city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover. When the time comes to leave, the parents assume their son is among the large group of family traveling the road together, and they set out for home. It is a whole day later when they realize that Jesus is nowhere to be found among the travelers, and mother and father rush back to the city to find their boy.
When he is finally found, sitting in the temple amazing the priests with his knowledge, Jesus is scolded by his frightened parents: “Where have you been? How could you stay behind like this? Do you have any idea how worried your father and I have been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”
We all remember what Jesus says to Mary then: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And we say to ourselves, of course. Where else would Jesus, the Son of God, want to be? It makes sense that he’d be at the temple.
But have you ever noticed the very next verse? I think it’s more important to me than any of the others in this whole reading: “But they did not understand what he said to them.”
Not understand? How can they not understand?
Just twelve short years ago Mary and Joseph had both been visited by angels about this child, for heaven’s sake! They had been told by the messengers of God himself that the son to be born of Mary would be most special; that he would be the Son of the Most High God, and that he would save the people. In case that weren’t enough to burn itself into their memories, several shepherds had come to the stable where Mary had just given birth, talking excitedly about the skies lit up with angelic choirs, singing the praises of this small child. Then came the kings, a few weeks later.
Mary and Joseph had had one of the most amazing religious experiences ever recorded, and yet now they couldn’t understand their twelve-year-old boy when he called the temple “my Father’s house.” Could it be that even for Mary and Joseph it was a struggle to remember the things God had done in their lives? Could it be that even the earthly parents of our Lord looked back on the faith of so many years ago and struggled to grasp it again?
I think that’s exactly what we find here.
The heroes of the Bible aren’t different at heart from you or me. They experience the ups and downs of life and faith. They are able to forget even the most moving experiences of faith, at least for a time. We catch them doubting and worrying, just as we might catch ourselves in the same act.
What the great men and women of the Bible teach us is that God chooses ordinary folks like us, and uses us despite our flaws. They remind us that God understands what it’s like for us to live in time, and he doesn’t expect us to always glow with the intensity of our faith. Remember, Jesus doesn’t scold his mother for her forgetfulness…remember, also, that Mary is ultimately one of the few who remain at the foot of the cross with her son.
God has created us with a past, a present and a future, and we will always be prone to forgetfulness of the great things God has done in our past. I pray that we might be like Mary, turning the present over in our hearts while trying to recall the precious moments past and hoping for greater faith once again in the future.
I’m reminded of the lyrics to a favorite song, by the Christian artist Michael W. Smith:
There was a boy who had the faith to move a mountain
And like a child he would believe without a reason
Without a trace he disappeared into the void and
I've been searching for that missing person
He used to want to try to walk the straight and narrow
He had a fire and he could feel it in the marrow
It's been a long time and I haven't seen him lately but
I've been searching for that missing person
Keep searching. Look for the person of faith and awe that you remember being. And know that that person is not lost to God. Not ever.