Have you ever found God where you never expected Him to be?
I remember a man in a wheelchair once telling me how his motorcycle accident brought him closer to God. I was leading a men’s retreat in Indiana and sat next to him during a breakout section. He told his story of freely riding away from God only to find himself wounded and wheeling his way back to church.
God reveals Himself to us in Word and Sacrament but sometimes these revelations happen in unexpected ways. A conversation at the gym with a father in a bitter custody battle for his children ends up with a request for prayer and a furtive glance toward God. God appears, doing what He has promised to do, but you just did not expect it to happen at that time or in that way.
God’s ways are beyond our ways. That is the teaching I draw from our Gospel reading.
Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. They encountered God where they expected God to be. But then, on the way home, something happened. They lost sight of Jesus. At the end of the story, although they have Jesus in their possession, they still remain in the dark (v. 50). For God’s ways are beyond their ways.
Consider how Luke tells the story. After Luke informs us Jesus remains behind in Jerusalem (v. 43), he does not tell us what Jesus is doing there. Instead, he intentionally turns our attention away from Jesus to Mary and Joseph. He asks us to see them looking for Jesus.
At first, they are clueless. We watch as they assume Jesus is with others and make a day’s journey toward home. On the way, they start to search for Him. They talk with relatives and acquaintances. Those who know Jesus do not know where He is. Tension builds. Because they cannot find Him, they return to Jerusalem and search for three more days. Finally, they find Him in the Temple. Jesus is speaking with the teachers, listening, asking questions and providing answers that amaze. Yet, Luke records none of this conversation. Luke only records the exchange between Mary and Jesus.
How odd (but how appropriate) that the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke are a misunderstanding between mother and child. Talk about God entering into the common things of this world! Yet, in a very human and homely conversation, Luke reveals the mystery of God and His ways in the world.
The first words of Jesus are enigmatic. They raise more questions than they provide answers. Jesus reveals a divine necessity which draws and drives Him in the world (“it is necessary for me,” the first occurrence of δεῖ in Luke). He claims a personal relationship with God as His Father (“my Father” rather than “our Father”). He leaves a gap in His sentence as He speaks about the things of God (“the [blank] of my Father”). In this humble exchange with His mother, Jesus reveals how a divine necessity calls Him and He faithfully answers, being drawn through the human stations of this world (a child returning home from Passover with his parents) into the mystery of His Father’s will (a son faithfully obeying the will of his father).
Although Mary and Joseph do not understand, we do. Jesus will not conform to our expectations. He will not be obedient to our will. He will do the work of His Father, even when that work means dying on a cross. God will raise Him from the dead, revealing the mystery of salvation, as God goes to the depths of Hell to bring the glories of Heaven to people on earth.
In this odd story from the childhood of Jesus, God calls us to look at His work in the world differently. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.
When I was a child, I remember playing hide and seek. One of the fun things about the game was the way it caused you to look at the world differently. The stairs were not things you walked up and down but something someone could hide under. The door did not lead to a closet but possibly hid a person. When you are seeking someone, the world looks different.
What was true for us as children is true for us as children of God. We come to church and encounter God where He has promised to be; in His Word and Sacraments. But, as we leave, we remain aware of His work in the world. Jesus is not a God we can control. We cannot love Him in our own ways or confine His work to a few hours at church.
No, Jesus does His Father’s will. He goes out into a fallen world, working in the humblest of conversations, to lead people to His Father and make them part of His family. Where in your life have you lost sight of Jesus? What is it like to search for Him, the one who desires to be found?
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 2:40-52.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 2:40-52.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 2:40-52.