Christmas II 2009
Theme: Finding hope
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, remind us that we are a people of hope that no matter how lost we may seem to be, our great, good shepherd will leave the flock just to look for us; thank you for your generous love for us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Some people loose hope. Some people are always hoping. Norma Meece lost her Hope. Now before you get the wrong impression, Hope is Norma’s three-legged cat. She ran out of the door of her Cincinnati area home around the second week of November.
Six weeks later, two neighbors spotted Hope. (It’s fun playing with double meanings here.) Norma was gaining hope. Hope was around somewhere.
Norma’s neighbors knew what Hope they were looking for. The signs told them – signs for Hope. You see, Norma hired a pet detective to look for Hope at a cost to Norma of $550. Even the search for hope can involve total strangers. The detective placed signs all around Norma’s neighborhood. He searched in all the nook and crannies. He never found Hope.
Neighbor Mike Dreyling saw Hope on his back deck. He chased after Hope, but Hope eluded him. Norma saw the evidence of Hope – three legged paw prints in the snow. The pet detective searched longer for Hope. “Hope? Nope. ‘I thought I saw the glint of her eyes,’ he said. ‘But it was the shine off a beer can.’” (The Cincinnati Inquirer)
On December 14th, Hope was found. Hope was found in a cat trap. When we look for hope, we often don’t look in a cat trap. “Mike Dreyling was so thrilled that he couldn’t stop hugging her. ‘Mike called me Sunday morning and said, “You’re not going to believe this – we have her,”’ (Norma) said.
“Hope looked a bit thin and had some scrapes on her nose but dug into her food bowl and relished the attention (Norma) gave her. ‘I’m ecstatic,’ (Norma) said. ‘I wake up in the middle of the night and she’s there at my side.’ So for (Norma), there was a happy ending.” (The Cincinnati Inquirer)
As for the pet detective, though he did not directly find Hope, but he did find a mystery, or a puzzle. “There’s apparently more than one three-legged cat in Hamilton County,” he said. He continued to receive calls of sightings of three-legged cats after Hope was found. Hmmm.
We all have hopes and dreams. That’s what keeps us going forward. Whether it’s hope for finding a cat named, Hope, or hoping for what is best for our friends, loved ones and children. It’s just nice to know where are children are.
Such was not the case for Mary and Joseph one Passover journey. When Jesus was discovered missing, they hoped they would find him safe and sound.
Our gospel lesson today is the only glimpse we have of Jesus as a young child. Like good observant Jews, Joseph and Mary annually went to the Jerusalem Passover observances. Mary and Joseph are good Jews. They observe the Torah, the law or teachings.
Then there was the year when Jesus was a twelve year old. That was a different Passover pilgrimage. When it was time to go home to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph headed north with likely many others. The only problem was that Jesus stayed in Jerusalem and didn’t bother to tell his parents about his plans.
It should be mentioned that society in that part of the world and in that time was highly communal. It really took a village to raise a child. To Jesus, every adult in Nazareth is a parent. There was no such thing as a nuclear family. They weren’t even radioactive! It would be very easy to assume Jesus was traveling back home with someone else.
“Usually the women and young children traveled at the front of the caravan and the men and boys in the rear. We can imagine Joseph saying on that return trip, ‘Jesus must be with his mother,’ while his mother assumed he was back with the men. It was probably not until they made camp at night that they realized he was missing.”
But let us think about how Mary and Joseph felt when they discovered that Jesus was not in their traveling party. It’s pretty natural for kids to pal around with each other. Jesus probably did that many times. How many of us parents assume that our kids are with us and then discover they are not? It is a frightening experience.
As the first day of their journey was ending, Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus wasn’t with them. They began their search with their friends and relatives. No luck. So they went back to Jerusalem – another day’s journey. What if something happened to him? What if he is hurt? What if someone took him? Mary and Joseph frantically searched for Jesus for days. The search wasn’t quick. It wasn’t easy. With each passing day, their despair must have increased.
His parents finally found him at the temple. Jesus was sitting with the teachers. He was learning from them and asked them many questions. But more remarkably, he was sitting with them. Only their peers would be allowed to sit with them. The reason a twelve year old was allowed to do such a thing was because he surprised everyone with his knowledge and wisdom.
The scholars accepted Jesus as a peer. Listening and questioning is the rabbinical way of learning. Jesus is honing the skills he will use in adulthood challenging the religious authorities. It should also be noted that these conversations were public and helped to shape political and theological issues.
Of course when Mary found him she said, “Why did you do this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you?” Jesus replied to the effect that their searching was not done with a lot of thinking. Notice that Jesus replies about being about his Father’s business, not that of Joseph’s, though Mary refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father.
Many Bibles say that Jesus’ reply is about being in his Father’s house. A better translation would be that Jesus is doing his Father’s interests, which would be learning and studying the Torah. Now, some parents would think that was a smart-aleck remark. Instead, they had no clue what he was talking about.
This time Jesus went back with them to Nazareth. He tried to keep his nose clean from then on. Mary continued to ponder what all of it meant. We are next told that Jesus grew wise and strong. And everyone liked him, especially God.
This is a right of passage for Jesus. He arrives in Jerusalem in the care of his parents. He leaves Jerusalem as an independent person who pledges to live under the authority of Mary and Joseph. He leaves as someone who must be reckoned with as a teacher of the law. In a few weeks, we will hear of the adult Jesus preaching in a Nazareth synagogue, inflaming an angry crowd against him.
Jesus embodies many of our hopes. As Christians, we are a people of hope. We know that no matter how lost we may seem to be, no matter how we may think that all hope is lost, Jesus will always search for us. Jesus will never let us go. Jesus will always be with us.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for the gift of hope, through hope you give us this life and you give us eternal life; may we ever be reminded of the hope you have for the world, inspiring us to always be hopeful, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[The Cincinnati Inquirer contributed to this sermon.]
Text: Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 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. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parentsl 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.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”m 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,n and in divine and human favor.
Larson, B., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1983). Vol. 26: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 26: Luke. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (63). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
l Gk they
m Or be about my Father’s interests?
n Or in stature
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.