First Sunday after Christmas

by Crossings

Luke 2:41-52
(First Sunday after Christmas)
Analysis by James Squire

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents 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.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

DIAGNOSIS: Cross Parents

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Clueless
Most of us, like Mary and Joseph, find Jesus hard to keep up with. We like our life’s patterns and rituals the way we have them. Call it our everyday rut. We want things the way we have them, so that we know what to expect. Jesus, however, insists on “disobeying” our wishes. When he proclaims that he is doing his Father’s work, we (like Mary) don’t understand. We still want to call the shots; but this is a sure sign that we are not clued in to what Jesus is doing. We go on our merry way, like Mary and Joseph leaving the Temple, presuming that Jesus is right there with us. It is kind of like the parent who assumes the child is standing right next to her when checking out our groceries, unaware that the child is off to a more interesting section of the store. In Jesus’ case, there is other venues to explore. So he is back in the Temple, carrying out a different agenda than what we had planned. But then, our comfortable pattern of life, our standard daily ritual, is thereby disrupted. So is the nature of our clueless state; but neither will Jesus leave us in our rut.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Anxious
Upsetting our daily routine can lead to a few anxious moments. “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (v. 48). When that which is comfortable to us is stripped away, we are afraid. For Mary and Joseph, it was the great Passover ritual handed down to them from Moses that kept them connected to God. It was unsettling to see Jesus transforming it right before their eyes, sparring with the priests. So we also regard our own rituals as ends in themselves, and when our personal piety is disturbed in any way, we react the way Mary reacts to Jesus. In spite of our protests to the contrary, all too often we find ourselves trying to hold onto what we’ve always had, all because those rituals are what we have trusted. Instead of deepening our faith, however, those rituals become idols that cannot spare us from anxiety.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Speechless
It is significant that Jesus’ question left Mary and Joseph speechless. In a way, it killed them. For Mary and Joseph, their Passover custom has been disrupted by Jesus and they are unable to recover from this. Although they had thought he was lost, it must have become painfully clear to them that they were lost. Suddenly they knew what to be afraid of. The problem is that when you are lost from God, recognizing it does not help to solve that problem. There is no way for us to evade the Death Angel. The Passover ritual that we cling to can become the instrument of our demise. We are lost to God because we put our faith in the Passover or in other church rituals, rather than putting our faith totally in Jesus Christ. The Passover is Bad News for us, rather than Good News. We are not marked as protected, so the Death Angel does not pass over our house. Instead of a mark we have a price on our head, which we are unable to pay. We can’t even count on the mark of Cain to protect us. Speechless is a metaphor for defenseless, which is what we are as sinners who put our faith in rituals.

PROGNOSIS: Cross-ed Children

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The Obedient One Finds Us
The biggest surprise in this story is that this same “disobedient” twelve year old Jesus is the one who “finds” us and resurrects us by doing his Father’s work. This Jesus institutes his new Passover, by practicing it on those of us who are lost in our old Passover rituals. Lo and behold, the Father’s work he speaks of is being merciful to lost sinners, namely us. Jesus finds us by swapping places with us. Luke tells us that Jesus returned with his parents and “was obedient to them” (v. 51). In doing this, he implicated himself as having violated their trust. In a sense, he validated their complaint against him. He returned submissively with them, as if to say, “You were right and I was wrong.” Jesus transfers the guilt of Mary and Joseph, and indeed of us all, to himself. The price that was on our heads is now on his head. He connects himself to our Passover ritual, becoming the first-born of our house who dies at the hands of the Death Angel. He absorbs God’s plagues that were meant for us. The crucial point is that all of this is called “my Father’s work.” Jesus is not lost from his Heavenly Father, yet he takes our place and suffers the consequences of being lost that deserve to fall on us. In doing so, he is able to put lostness to death for us, so that never again need we be lost from our Heavenly Father. He has put the Death Angel to death, so that we no longer have to look over our shoulder.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Treasuring These Things in the Heart
In Mary, the mother of our Lord, we have a sterling example of faith. “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51). The heart is where faith occurs, and Jesus’ actions on behalf of sinners, doing His Father’s work, bring about a change in heart. Mary’s unique way of modeling that for us is her marvelous talent for pondering things silently. The silence doesn’t so much mean keeping her mouth shut as it means her willingness to listen and to receive the gift of faith. She submitted herself to her Lord, allowing Him to calm her anxiety, silence her fear, and create faith in her. He did all of this in the same question that killed her (v. 49). The kind of Passover Jesus institutes is the kind that is truly worth believing in, as mysterious as it might be, because it alone can save. One of the most joyous moments of faith is when Jesus, as he does in this story, puts himself in our hands, returning home with us, and getting us to believe in him. We respond the way Mary does, by pondering in the silence of faith.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Clued in
As readers who have been touched by this story, it is time for us to take our cue from Mary, who took hers from Christ. What is that cue? Why, it is none other than “being about [our] Father’s work,” namely, being merciful to sinners. Now that we have been clued in, it is our turn to show mercy to the clueless, the anxious, and the lost whom we interact with on a daily basis. As Jesus grows on us, he prepares us to serve others on his behalf, even to the point of standing in their place in the face of the Death Angel. We can do this because that Death Angel has already been defeated for us by the new Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord.


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