We bought our son a drum set for Christmas because we’re idiots. I mean, deep down we know it was the right gift. He loves music; he’s become obsessed with “Little Drummer Boy” over this Christmas season. And he has an absolute blast playing it. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, when he’s done playing, my ears are throbbing. So, needless to say, we got tired of hearing the drumming relatively quickly on Christmas Day.
And all the parents here know what I mean when I say that, some days, my kids wake up and I just count the hours until they go back to bed again. Some days, having kids is just so completely stressful, so completely exhausting, that you just can’t wait until you get a break at the end of the day. Now, add a drum set on top of that, and you can imagine just how we were feeling after 12 or 13 hours.
So, we eventually put the kids to bed. Boston insisted on taking his drumsticks to bed, so we just conceded that to him and tucked him in. And before long, as we were cherishing the silence, we heard a faint voice coming from upstairs calling for no one other than “daddy.” I hung my head in frustration, let out a heavy sigh, and started walking up the stairs, assuming Boston probably wanted water or something. But when I got into his room and walked over to his bed, he said, “daddy look! Jesus!” And then I noticed that he was holding his drumsticks in the shape of a cross.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, that sometimes a kid or a person or a job or whatever can be so frustrating and draining, but then something happens that stops you in your tracks and changes your perspective. This is kind of what’s happening in our passage this morning. Jesus puts Mary and Joseph in an extremely difficult situation, and then completely turns it upside down and leaves them in awe.
So, our passage starts off by telling us this: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” Now, this may be old news for some of you, but it’s worth reviewing. Passover is a ritual observance that celebrates YHWH’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. This is documented in Exodus 12 and 13, and the term “Passover” comes from the Hebrew word פָּסַחwhich means “to (figuratively) skip over” or “to pass over”. It’s a reference to YHWH’s final attempt to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by sweeping through in the dead of night and killing all the first-born children in Egyptian families. Prior to this, YHWH instructed the community to slaughter lambs and wipe the blood of the lambs over the doorposts of their homes, and when YHWH saw the blood, he would “pass over” them.
Now, this idea of using an animal’s blood isn’t unique to the Jewish context of the Passover. It’s actually an idea borrowed from ancient nomadic communities who believed that the blood of slaughtered animals provided protection for the journey. And since, in Exodus 12, Israel is suddenly a nomadic community, it only makes sense that they would adopt such a practice and fit it into their Jewish context. In Exodus 12:14, we see YHWH telling the people, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”
So, Mary, Joseph, & Jesus go to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and this year, the journey happens to coincide with Jesus’ 12thyear. Now, at the time, a boy’s 13thbirthday marked a turning point as regards their relationship to the law. Today, we call this a boy’s “bar Mitzvah”, which is basically a celebration of the fact that the boy is now considered an adult in the eyes of the temple. 13 is the age boys begin to fully adhere to the Law, and take responsibility for doing so. However, for a year prior, boys undergo an intense period of training. So, this is the time Jesus would be studying Torah in preparation for his rite of passage.
All this being said, though, I would argue that there is a little more going on here than the author of Luke’s gospel is letting on. First of all, it’s almost certain that the gospel was written to a gentile audience, and the first verse of our passage is one of the keys which tells us that: “Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.” This would be a weird thing to say to fellow Jews, because it would be completely obvious. I could very easily go without saying. It’s like the equivalent of writing an email or a letter to someone you know is a Christian, and saying something like, “Now every year we buy a tree and decorate it with ornaments for the holiday of Christmas.” You just wouldn’t have to say that. In any case, though, there are lots of clues like this which lead us to believe Luke is writing to a gentile and not a Jewish audience.
Now, I’m really counting on all of you to know this by now: What is the ONE thing Luke’s gospel loves? Parallels. The question is what or who could Luke be comparing Jesus to that non-Jews would be familiar with? And I think it may be our old friend, Emperor Augustus. There’s no doubt that Augustus’ legacy still hangs heavy in the collective memory of the Roman Empire at this time. Also, we have a lot of examples of authors and biographers retrospectively ascribing incredible, almost mythical, attributes to powerful figures when they were children. We see this happening to Moses and Cyrus in the Old Testament, but there is also writing which speaks similarly of Augustus having surpassed scholars in wisdom and knowledge by the time he was 12 or 13 years old. So, I think there’s a bit more here than Luke lets on. Just like he’s done by speaking of Jesus as the “Son of God” and the “savior,” I think what Luke is doing here is furthering the narrative that there’s a new god in town. And this god isn’t inferior to Augustus.
You know, it may seem like something that’s obvious to us, especially after having just experienced Christmas. But I wonder how many of us actually believe this. I wonder how many of us actually believe there’s a new god in town, because even though we come to church and read the bible and pray or whatever, we’re still inclined to compartmentalize our lives. We’re still inclined to shut Jesus up into a specific corner of our minds and hearts as just one god above many. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Jesus doesn’t want to lord just over your religion or your spirituality. He doesn’t want to lord just over your ethics and morality. He wants to lord over all of you; your marriage and your family; your job and your bank account; the words that come out of your mouth and the thoughts that remain unsaid. There’s a new god in town, and he’s far superior to whatever ones we’ve built and declared for ourselves. I think this is what’s happening in our text. I think this is what Luke is consistently coming back to when he keeps striking these parallels between Jesus and empire, which would have been easily picked up on by the original audience.
Now, when the festival was over (which lasted for several days), the group that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were traveling with headed back home, but Jesus wasn’t with them. And it took them an entire daybefore they noticed he wasn’t with them. I mean…what??? It took them an entire daybefore they realized their kid was missing?! It’s kind of like Home Alone, but instead of leaving a kid in a suburban Chicago neighborhood, they lost the MESSIAH! Like, they had one job in this whole big plan and the only thing they really had to do was keep Jesus alive, and now that’s in jeopardy. So, they turn around, go back to Jerusalem, and it takes them 3 days to find Jesus. THREE DAYS. That’s insane. I can’t imagine the anxiety they must be feeling.
But, when they do find him, he’s in the temple with the teachers and rabbis. And we’re told that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, it’s worth pointing out that if Jesus had incredible understanding of the Hebrew scriptures, it was most likely due to Mary. In this time, women managed the household, and that included managing their children’s training in the faith when they had come of age. So, whatever learning he had, likely came from Mary, and it says that both Mary and Joseph were astonished. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re angry with Jesus, and when they start yelling at him, Jesus says something really interesting: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” This phrase in Greek is actually kind of odd. It canmean “in my father’s house,” but it can also mean something along the lines of “Did you not know that I must be carrying out my father’s business,” or “being among that which is my father’s”?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how often we find ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s position; wondering where Jesus is, wondering where god is, getting angry at his absence and then, all of a sudden, realizing that he was kind of there all along. The same matter-of-fact way that Jesus talks to his parents here is kind of how god talks to us sometimes, right? “Why were you concerned about your bills? Have I ever not provided for you?” “Why did you think I wasn’t with you through that season of pain and suffering? Didn’t you know I was suffering with you?” It can be easy to wonder where god is while we’re living in a time such as this. On Christmas morning, an 8-year-old asylum-seeker died in ICE custody. 17 days earlier, a 7-year-old asylum-seeker died in ICE custody, and several months earlier a 19-month-old asylum-seeker died in similar fashion.
And I wondered where god was. I searched for god for days on end, just like Mary and Joseph. And you want to know where I found him? This is where. I didn’t find god as some some metaphysical being up in the sky or some spiritual presence in my heart. I found the god who became human and was executed on the cross lying in the caskets of three brown-skinned children who were demonized by our president and killed by the American military-industrial complex. That is where god is.
Sometimes we find ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s position, looking for a god we can’t find. But maybe the problem is that we’re looking in the wrong places. Maybe we should stop expecting god to come out of some eternal void and realize that god is already here with us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us exactly how he will come to us: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. That’s where god is. It’s almost as if we can hear Jesus saying: “why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I was there all along in the eyes of those whom my father loves?” Until the day comes that there is no more poor & no more oppressed, god will walk alongside us as our neighbor, and it’s our responsibility to acknowledge this fact in the way we live our lives.
Now, our story ends by Jesus going back with Mary and Joseph and increasing in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor. But before that, we see a very familiar line yet again: “[Mary] treasured all these things in her heart.” This is the 3rdtime we’ve seen this. We saw this during the Annunciation with Gabriel; we saw this when the shepherds came and visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the manger, and we’re seeing it again now. It’s as if every time Mary realizes anew that god is in Jesus, she can’t help but treasure, or ponder, these things in her heart. It’s like whatever is conjured up in her is too complex for words, and so it must remain unsaid. In a way, that’s what faith does to us. Faith moves us outside of ourselves, outside of our own ego, and makes us ponder and treasure the fact that we’re not our own; that we’re small parts of a big plan who have been allotted our shares in God’s ministry, just like Mary and Joseph.
Now, there have been a lot of things Mary has experienced at it relates to her son, but there’s still another piece of the puzzle which will be revealed by a few wise travelers from the East who come to visit the holy family. More on that next week. Let’s pray.