Luke 2:41-52

December 27, 2015


One Saturday, after rafting the waves at a beach in Florida, Sherrod Blackburn of Kings Mountain, North Carolina, and his friend Betty Ann headed back to their towels with plans to get their snacks from Sherrod’s car. The problem was that Sherrod’s car keys had disappeared. He was certain he’d left them next to his beach bag, but Betty Ann was sure he’d locked them in the car. After a park ranger helped them break into the car, their search turned up empty.

They were plotting a terribly inconvenient scheme to get a spare key when a man with a beer in each hand wandered up. He suggested that a sand crab had gotten hold of the missing keys, and he’d seen one walk off with one of his beer cans. Sherrod and Betty assumed he was drunk enough to have imagined this, but then decided they had nothing to lose. They walked back to their spot and began digging in the hundreds of crab holes. After a half hour, Betty Ann screamed. Sherrod looked up, expecting that she’d been bitten by a crab, but instead, he was holding the keys. For Sherrod’s next birthday, Betty Ann gave him a key chain engraved with the inscription “crab bait.”

We all know the helpless feeling we get when we’ve lost something important–like our keys. Now I want you to know that that has never happened to me–but I’ve heard of it happening to others. It is a frustrating experience.

Now magnify that helpless feeling many times over. This time what is missing is a child–your child.

One man tells about being in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when one of his children disappeared. Gatlinburg is a family-friendly tourist town at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The family of six, consisting of Mom, Dad and four daughters under the age of seven, had stopped in front of a candy shop. Not just any candy shop, but one in which they were actually making the candy. The older two girls were fascinated. The youngest daughter was in a stroller. But, unnoticed by her parents and her sisters, the three-year-old wandered off. Mom and Dad looked away just for a second and she was gone.

Panic set in immediately. “Angela,” they cried out. “Angela, where are you?” No response. The crowds milling around yielded no clue of the missing child. Had she been whisked into one of the cars creeping slowly through the crowded streets? Had a stranger foisted her into his arms and headed to who-knows-where? Leaving the other three daughters on a nearby bench with a warning to the older two not to allow the younger one out of sight, Mom and Dad began a shop by shop search. No result. Their worst fears were being realized. She was gone. Then one of them spotted a policeman on the street. “Officer, Officer, we’ve lost our little girl.” Giving her description, they sought to enlist his help. “Let me call this in,” he said. As he did that, Mom and Dad continued their frantic search. A few minutes later the policeman found Dad a block or so away. “I believe we’ve found your daughter,” he said with delight. “She’s up a few blocks at the Space Needle.” “At the Space Needle,” her father worried to himself, “how could her little legs have carried her so far, so fast?” She was safe. That was all that mattered. That was 30 years ago. But still that father is haunted by the memory, and he wonders, how could she have traveled so far in so little time? Did she travel there by herself?

Maybe you’ve been there. Children can tear you up, can’t they?

Maybe you heard about the 11-year-old Cub Scout who got lost in the wilds of Utah. He had been told by his parents to always beware of strangers. So he kept hiding himself from his rescuers. It took a while for rescuers to resolve that situation.

To decide to have a child, as someone has said, really is to choose to forever wear your heart on the outside of your chest.

Mary and Joseph misplaced their son on one occasion. You know the story. Every year their little family went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12 years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

That may strike you as strange, that they did not know where he was. But that was a different day and a different time.

In our land, we are very much aware of crimes against children. Every time there is an Amber alert we hug our own children a little closer, and we torture ourselves with the thought that it’s a dangerous world out there.

In Japan and much of Europe, however, children are given much more freedom and responsibility. They may travel across town by subway to get to school, making several stops to change trains along the way. Parents think little of it. Crimes against children are very rare.

That’s the way it was in Judea 2000 years ago. Besides, Jesus was 12. This was the age of Bar mitzvah. In that culture, that was tantamount to becoming a man. There were many more responsibilities that went with being 12 than in our culture.

So Mary and Joseph did not worry about Jesus as we might worry about our missing 12-year-old. They were traveling with a large company and they assumed he was with some of his friends. They traveled for an entire day before they realized that he wasn’t with them. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to those teachers and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

This would not be the last time Jesus’ family would not understand him. After all he was 12. Next year he would be 13. A teenager. There would doubtless be many misunderstandings over the years ahead. And this would not be the only time he brought them grief. Fast forward about 20 years. There he hangs on a cross, dying like a common criminal. No place for a good Jewish boy.

Jesus’ family was like every other family. There were conflicts. There were misunderstandings. There was a despairing Mother, “Why do you treat your father and me like this?” And there was the befuddled young person. “Why are you making such a big deal about this? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” Said one cynic, “That sounds exactly like our family vacations.”

One well-known comedian acknowledges that every day is filled with the possibility of conflict in a family. He suggests that no subject is argued over more than that of the type of music young people listen to. He notes, “I doubt that any parent has ever liked the music his children did. At the dawn of time, some caveman must’ve been sitting on a rock, contentedly whistling the song of a bird, until he was suddenly jarred by music coming from his son, grunting the sound of a sick monkey. And eons later, Mozart’s father must to walked into the parlor one day when Mozart was playing Bach on the harpsichord.

“Turn that down,” the father must of said.

“And Mozart must’ve replied–in German, of course—‘But, Dad, this is great stuff.”

“The older generation is simply incapable of ever appreciating the strange sounds that the young ones call music.”

The comedian goes on to describe how his father couldn’t understand what he saw in Dizzy Gillaspie or Pattie Page in his youthful days and then when he himself was a father how he was always telling his daughter to turn down her music which he described as “sounding like a train derailment.”

Jesus’ family was like every other family. There was conflict. There were misunderstandings. And Jesus was like every other young person.

Now, some of you will argue with me on that. Wasn’t Jesus the Son of God? Yes, He was. Wasn’t he born of a virgin? Yes, that’s what the Bible teaches. Then, wasn’t he perfect? Actually the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus was perfect. What it says is that he was without sin. In Hebrews 4:15 we read, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” Jesus experienced all the emotions you and I experience. He got angry. Ask the poor fig tree about Jesus’ temper. The fig tree was barren, as it should be during the off-season. Still Jesus let his frustration fly. Or ask the money changers he drove out of the Temple.

When Christ came into this world, he emptied himself–completely. He became as we are. He knew what it was to be tired, frustrated, even frightened. Remember the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “if possible, let this cup pass from me.” Yet he experienced all this without giving in to the power of sin. Nothing ever caused him to do anything other than the will of his Father.

Not every teenager rebels. Did you realize that? No young person is perfect, of course. It’s difficult becoming your own person with your own strong values. There will always be misunderstandings between young people and their parents. But many young people come through their teen years with flying colors. We have young people like that in our church. The Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. I believe we ought to give at least some of the credit to Mary and Joseph for that.

Are you familiar with the so-called “Wimbledon Effect?” Each summer in England, when the Wimbledon tennis tournament is shown on TV, tennis coaches around the country report a marked improvement in the performance of their students and club members in the weeks following the tournament. Obviously there is something inspirational and even instructional about watching the best tennis players in the world.

This suggests that everyone needs a model. Not a critic, but a model. I have not a doubt in the world that Mary and Joseph embodied in their own lives the love and compassion that Jesus showed as he went about his ministry. I may be wrong. You can’t always tell about kids. Sometimes people with rotten parents do well and some of the best parents in the world have children that never quite get it. But, if I were a betting person, I would put my money on the best parents producing the best children. Jesus’ family was like your family. Jesus was like any other young person who needed God’s love modeled in their lives by his parents.

And Jesus’ parents, like any parents, needed God’s help. Mary and Joseph prayed for their son just as any devoted parent lifts up his or her children daily to God in prayer.

It’s not easy being a parent. It’s not easy modeling the proper values in finding that proper balance between encouragement and discipline. We need help, God’s help.

Many of us miss the late Erma Bombeck, the columnist who saw humor in everyday life. Erma Bombeck once made some New Year’s resolutions:

  1. I’m going to clean this dump just as soon as the kids grow up.
  2. I will go to no Dr. whose office plants have died.
  3. I’m going to follow my husband’s suggestion to put a little excitement into my life by living within our budget.
  4. I’m going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers.
  5. I will never loan my car to anyone I have given birth to.
  6. Just like last year … I am going to remember that my children need love the most when they deserve it the least.

Those who are parents can relate to that. But how can you give love to your offspring at that precise moment when they need it most and deserve it the least? That is a balancing act that is Herculean. I’m not sure how anyone can do it without God’s help. But God’s help is available.

All families have conflicts. All families have misunderstandings. There are times when an outside counselor is definitely called for to mediate these misunderstandings. But families can survive the deepest conflict. Families must survive the deepest conflicts. As evangelist Billy Graham once said, “the only thing that parents can take to heaven is their children.” That’s true. And to do that we need God’s help.

Thank God for Mary and Joseph. They were special people. But in many ways they were very much like you and me. They needed God’s help in raising their child … So do we.