The One Thing God's Up To At Christmas

Luke 2:41–52 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 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.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

God is up to a million things in our lives and we might understand three of them. At least, that’s the way it seemed to Mary at this moment.

It’s interesting that she admits this so openly. And, yes, it almost certainly is her admitting this. It probably wasn’t Joseph who goes around telling this story. He disappears from Luke’s gospel after this. He may not have been around too much longer. And it almost certainly wasn’t those teachers that Jesus was sitting with either. I mean can you imagine a mother outing herself in front of that culture’s leading figures? Can you imagine it? Can you imagine her saying to those authority figures, “Excuse me for a moment while I talk to my preteen son who by the way I haven’t seen, texted, or talked to, or known his whereabouts for three days?” Can you imagine? I’m pretty sure those authority figures wouldn’t have known the full extent of this story. I doubt it was the family or the relatives that traveled with either. I suppose that Mary could’ve let them in on it later, but Luke doesn’t suggest anywhere that it was them. I mean Luke’s quoting Mary to Jesus and Jesus to Mary verbatim here. But you know what really seals the deal that this was Mary telling her story? It’s Luke telling us, “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (v. 51) How would he have known that unless Mary told him herself. And by that way, this is already the second time Luke told us that about Mary in his Gospel. How else would Luke be able to develop Mary this thoroughly, know her reactions to Jesus’ birth announcement, and now know about this twelve-year-old and preteen Jesus who Mary parents? This all seems to be coming directly from the horse’s mouth: a personal interview with Mary.

Which, of course, brings us to an altogether different and shocking question: Mary, why this story? Seriously, Mary, why this story? I mean just think about the massive, massive historical leap we’re making here. If you do, it’s the kind of reflection that produces a sort of spiritual vertigo and nausea because of the incredibly swift movement. I mean here we are being introduced to preteen Jesus when just two days ago he had been wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger. Do you see what a jump that is? All of a sudden we’re put into a time warp and we’re introduced to a twelve-year-old. That’s one massive jump. And in between there’s no cute verbal photo album where Mary’s recalling Jesus trying out human language for the first time saying, “goo, goo, ga, ga.” There’s no image of Joseph holding out his arms to a teetering toddler saying, “Come on, Jesus. You can do it. Take your first step.” There isn’t even a sort of funny and equally amazing story about how Joseph said, “Jesus, this is how you hammer a nail.” And Jesus misses the nail, hits his thumb, and that perfect child has absolutely no inclination to say a naughty word when does. You only have this vertigo, nausea inducing time warp from Jesus the tiny infant to Jesus the preteen.

It gets even more shocking from there. I mean Mary could have told any story from Jesus’ preteen years. Any at all. Just think of how shocking it is that she includes this one. I mean. Come on. What more maternally damaging story is there than the one where you tell the whole world, “Yup. I committed one of the most egregious parenting sins you can commit. I completely and utterly lost my kid.” I mean seriously. This isn’t losing your kid for a brief heart stopping moment behind a wall of clothing at Macy’s only to rediscover her 60 seconds later. This is losing your kid for three whole heartrending days. And, yeah, we understand there are some big cultural differences here. They traveled caravan style and the village was helping raising the kid. And, moreover, they clearly weren’t the overwhelming sort of helicopter parents we are these days, but still. But still. You lost your kid for three whole days. Can you imagine what an aggressive DHEC would do with that one? And let’s be honest. This wasn’t any old kid we’re talking about. If there was any kid, you should probably keep your eye on. If there was any mother who really should’ve been a helicopter parent, it was Mary. I mean this is the Savior, the Most High, and the Redeemer. Jesus was not just her son. Jesus was her whole future and the future of us all. And Mary risked it all with her lackadaisical parenting. She didn’t lose some normal kid. She lost God.

And then she made it worse. Did you catch that? She compounded her parental failure. I get that she was upset. I know that she was emotional. I know that she was stressed to within an inch of her life. I grant all that to her and I feel along with her, but even she doesn’t cut herself any slack on this. She gives us a direct quote of what she said to Jesus. She said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (v. 48) Do you see what she just did? She blamed him for her less than observant parenting. Even with a normal kid, it’s not particularly wise or endearing to blame the kid for getting lost. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make it any better when you blame God for it either. Especially when you had now had twelve years to figure out how divine he was. I mean can you imagine? Everybody at mom’s club is talking about how their kids won’t eat their broccoli and Mary just sits there and in her mind’s eye sees Jesus obediently always eating his off his tray. No threats of not dessert getting were ever needed. None. Can you imagine? She’s had twelve years of perfect obedience from Jesus where she had come to understand that her amazing parenting had nothing to do with his perfect obedience and yet the first time something weird happens she has the gall to show up and blame God for her failures. Suffice to say this isn’t the most flattering picture of Mary you’ll find in the Scriptures.

Especially when you consider her emotional state, which Luke very clearly outlines for us. When Mary said, “I have been anxiously searching for you,” (v. 48) she really meant anxiously searching for you. The Greek word she used to describe her emotional state is incredibly intense. Especially for Luke. Luke uses this word only three other times: to describe the torment of loss and anguish in an eternity of separation from God (He uses the word twice there.), and then again when he describes what it was like for pastor Paul to say goodbye to a church for the last time. It’s clearly a heart wrenching word that describes a profound and deep anguish. We’re talking here about a Mary who’s probably admitting that she was nothing less than an emotional and spiritual wreck. Her heart was ripped to shreds inside her. She was probably constructing all kinds of awful scenarios in her mind about what happened to Jesus; how much she’d miss him; how much guilt she’d have as a result. Mary was one sad and lost soul here who shows up to her preteen son in the Temple in Jerusalem having lost not just a normal kid, but God’s kid. And now was so upset about it that when she finds him with the teachers in the Temple she has the gall to attempt to tell him that it was his fault.

It’s shocking really. No goo, goo, ga, ga. No stories of Jesus obediently eating his broccoli. No hammer hitting thumb stories. Just this one, which no matter which way you cut it isn’t the most flattering picture of Mary, her parenting, or of her spiritual life. But it’s always like that, isn’t it? When you read in the Scriptures about people who experience God’s gospel work in their lives? It’s always unexpected. It’s always surprising. Often it feels wrong and dangerous. And the people who experience it never understand it as it happens. They never understand that the Lord may well be up to a million things in their lives. And because they don’t great, great emotional and spiritual uncertainty results. I’m not sure I even have to work that hard to show this to you. How can bad things like losing the Son of God ever feel like part of a good, master plan? How can other bad things like still being single when you thought you’d have found Prince Charming five years ago be either? How can wishing that you’d have had five kids by now and still be suffering with unexplained infertility be a part of it? How can that marriage that started with so much promise end with so much regret and hurt make any sense? How does that move or that demotion or that heartbreaking miscarriage fit into something bigger, something better that we can’t see right now? And can we not be asking like Mary, “How can God take my sins and my mistakes – even massive ones like losing God’s Son for three days – be a part of some kind of salvation jigsaw puzzle for me and for everyone else?”

You know what Jesus’ answer is to that? And, by the way, these are Jesus’ first spoken words in the entire Bible. Did you know that? I don’t think we can make a too big a deal of that. These are the first red letter words Bible EVER. Jesus’ first words to us aren’t, “Momma or Da da.” They’re words that just about give away his whole mission and work. They’re two questions to Mary’s one question, “Why are you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in Father’s house?” (v. 49) Which when you read those words you can’t help but begin to see that that is such a huge theme for everybody who’s ever been involved in Jesus’ salvation story. After Jesus rose from the dead, do you remember what the angels kept saying, “Why are you searching for him? He’s not here.” It’s always the same story for everyone who gets involved with Jesus’ salvation. The gospel arc in our lives is way too high for us to see so we search for it, but we can’t seem to find it. So we show up at the Temple and we can’t quite grasp that Jesus had to be there to be taking care of his Father’s business. And we show up to the ultimate grave yards, Jesus’ tomb, and we actually expect to find his lifeless bones there. We do this searching because we’re not yet seeing the big, salvation picture. We’re not yet seeing that God might just be up to a million salvation things even as we grasp only about three of them.

It’s only later that Mary understood. It was always about going to Jerusalem for Jesus. It’s only later she got that he had to go there to and take care of his Father’s household. That he had to go there and be about his Father’s business of saving people. It’s only later that she understood that Jesus would do that not just by going missing for three days from a travel caravan as he sat with the teachers of the Scripture, but that he would go missing from the entire living world for another epic set of three days and that once again people would search for him with hearts even more broken and sadder than her heart was in that moment. It’s only later that she pieced it all together and she understood that the preteen Jesus was asking her heart the same question that the angels of the resurrected Jesus’ asked other the believers after he died, “Don’t you get it? Why are you searching like this? It had to be this way. It had to be. And now it’s happened. And you’re saved.” And now here’s Mary sitting with Luke with tears of joy glistening in her eyes saying, “we, “…did not understand what he was saying.” (v. 50) But we do now. We do now. He had to go to Jerusalem. He had to be there. He had to fulfill the Scriptures. He had to go missing for three days. He had to die. He had to rise. And now. Only now I see.”

You know what else I think Mary said to Luke? I think she said with those same glistening tears and that same heart full of the Spirit, “Luke, tell them that story. Don’t tell them the one about Jesus’ first steps. And forget the one about Joseph teaching him to handle a hammer for the first time. Tell them this story. I think they’ll need this one the most. Tell them the one that shows how easy it is to live inside the salvation jigsaw puzzle, be a piece, and miss the fact that you’re a part of the puzzle. Tell them that one. Tell the one about how anxious we were; how it was like death had a grip on my soul for the moment. Tell them the one about the Father who was up to just one thing with this young mother and her son and how this young mother understood absolutely none of it. Help them see that even as I knew none of it that he was always working the plan for us even as a preteen. That he was headed to Jerusalem. That he was about his Father’s house and his Father’s business the whole time. Tell them that story so they’ll see how big and saving he is for them too. Tell them that the infertility matters. Tell them that the move to Aiken was divine. Tell them that that tough upbringing mattered and that that rocky marriage wasn’t for nothing. Tell them that the miscarriage, the heart problems, the anxiety, and the demotion was all a part of it. Tell them that they’re pieces of the salvation puzzle that all fit perfectly together in a way they’ll come to understand only later. Tell them that story so they’ll know this truth: That God’s actually not up to a million things in their lives. He’s up to only one. He’s going to save them.” Amen.

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