Luke 2: 40-52 – And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
Dear Friends in Christ,
"Finders keepers, losers, weepers" is an old proverb with a less than generous morality. A boy who sees a friend dropping a $5 bill at line in McDonalds thinks it’s his lucky day, but the one who drops it can’t believe how selfish some people can be. In the 1950’s Elvis Presley sang a song with the title Finders keepers, losers, weepers, including this refrain: “Finders, keepers, losers, weepers, The loser has to pay the score, He lost you and I found you, And I'm keeping you forevermore.” Elvis is obviously singing about how that old proverb applies to the ups and downs of the dating game. In today’s Gospel lesson, we give our attention to the story of Mary and Joseph losing and then finding their 12 year old son Jesus. And in the context of that story as told by Mary to Luke, we consider two lessons – the first one is this, “Losing Jesus comes (Naturally) for us.”
Losing contact with our Lord Jesus is as natural as breaking New Year’s resolutions. It is as likely to happen to us as misplacing our cell phone and keys on a regular basis. Even though we try really hard to stay organized and do what is good, right, and salutary, we fall short on a regular basis. No doubt Mary and Joseph tried hard to be great parents, and relatively speaking, they probably were. Even before Jesus was born, they were hearing the word of God and keeping it. The angels of God gave instructions to Mary and then Joseph and then to Mary and Joseph combined, and they did as they were told. The law required that Jesus would shed blood in the ceremony of circumcision and be named Jesus on the 8th day, and so He was. The law required that they present their firstborn son in the temple for purification on day 40 and to offer the necessary sacrifice, and so they did. Fast forward 12 years. The law required all Jewish men to go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover and Unleavened bread, and so Joseph and Mary do so with their 12 year old son. 12 years of age in that day seemed to be the age of maturity in religious matters.
All seemed well until the first night of their return trip. Mary and Joseph lost Jesus. Commentators tell us that it would not have been unusual in that day for parents to travel a day’s journey without realizing that their son had stayed behind. The traveling to and from the great festivals happened in great caravans with groups of neighbors and families traveling together. (Reminds me of 30 or 40 Trinity School families traveling to the Rochester basketball tournament).
We do well to remember that every story and ever sentence and every word of Holy Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It’s there for our learning. The fact that Jesus remained in the temple teaches us that Jesus knew his destiny, and as a sign he remained where he should be. God has come home to the place where He would accomplish salvation. That his parents lost him for parts of three days points us forward to his body being dead and buried for three days. When Jesus asks his parents “Why were you looking for me?” we fast forward to Luke 15 where being lost is identified with being dead and being found with coming back to life. Or to Luke 24 at the empty tomb where the risen Jesus asks the seekers why do you seek the living among the dead?
After Jesus replied that his parents should have known that he had to be in his father’s house, that he had to be about his father’s business, Luke records, “And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” Humanly speaking, it seems as though Mary and Joseph lost Jesus due to a combination of misunderstanding and wrong assumptions. They assumed that he was with relatives, and they did not understand the necessity of him being in the temple listening to the scholars. The necessity of Jesus learning wisdom from on high.
Like Mary and Joseph, it also comes naturally for us to lose touch with Jesus Christ. To drift away from our Baptism faith. To misunderstand the nature of the kingdom of God. To carry wrong assumptions and priorities through the ups and downs of life. To fall prey to an unholy trinity of enemies – our own sinful nature, the nasty and sinful world all around us, and the father of lies himself.
Only (wisdom from on high) will rescue us from this trio of enemies in this new year.
First, it will be necessary to do battle with a sinful (flesh) which stumbles into (inattentiveness). I don’t know about you, but I seem to be losing my ability to pay attention in ever increasing fashion. We hosted a few friends for New Year Eve’s supper, and I asked one of our friends whether she wanted red or white wine. She said “red” and as I turned to the next in line, I had to turn back and ask, “did you say red or white?” She again said “red” and about a half minute later, I’m not exaggerating here, I had to ask her the same question. With great patience, she answered a third time. Can you imagine the level of patience Debi has needed to cultivate, in response to my inattentiveness? And oh how we rejoice in this New Year at how incredibly patient Jesus Christ has been with His Bride, the Church?
Secondly, it will again be necessary for us to do battle in this New Year with the second of our three enemies - a sinful (world) whose false (assumptions) are contagious. No doubt Mary and Joseph held views similar to their family and friends on this annual pilgrimage to the holy city. That their son Jesus was fine, that He was either ahead or behind and that He would meet them at the designated place that first evening of the journey. To this very day, all kind of worldly and wrong assumptions have found their way into the church. Examples of these false and dangerous premises abound. Like “God is love and in the end everybody will be ok” and “All my sins have been forgiven and therefore I may sin without fear of judgment” and old standbys like “everybody is doing it and therefore it couldn’t be all that bad” and a favorite of Lutherans, “the fact that I’ve been baptized and confirmed gives me a license to pretty much do what I want to do in life.”
Our third enemy is all around us and after us in every one of our days. He is a wily (devil) who daily tempts us to lose that which we have been (given). In contrast to Mary who kept on treasuring up all these things in her heart, even and especially those things she did not understand, the devil keeps on urging us to give away that treasure we have received. At the end of each calendar year, your pastors receive a print out of members who have attended communion rarely or not at all. A list that saddens the heart and if I am honest about it, ruins my day. If you’re going to worry about anything in this year, dear Christian friends, I invite you to worry about that which causes Christ and His angels to weep – namely sinners refusing to repent. Baptized Christians refusing to hear God’s Word. Instructed and confirmed Lutherans refusing to honor their vows. Bruised reeds close to breaking. Smoldering wicks getting extinguished. The good fight of faith giving up the ghost. Souls that have been found losing their way.
Our second and final lesson to learn today is that the only way not to lose Jesus is to draw near to that (place) where He can find us. For Jesus, that place where He had to be was the temple of Jerusalem. This is where He had to be at 40 days of age for his parents to offer up a sacrifice of two turtledoves or pigeons, since they could not afford to offer up a lamb. This sanctuary is where Jesus had to be later on in his public ministry in order to cleanse the place and drive out those who would desecrate His Father’s house of prayer.
To this very day, this sanctuary continues to be that place where faulty and struggling sinners are cleansed. In this New Year, it will be in this very place that our lives will be transformed, our hearts will be made new, our minds will be renewed. In this very place, the Spirit of God will be moving and shaking what needs to be moved and shaken. Here we will be receiving the good gifts God is wanting so badly to give us. Here we will be searching eagerly that Word which makes all the difference in the world. Here we will be throwing ourselves on the mercy of Him Who is all about showing mercy.
Wilhelm Loehe, a Lutheran Pastor who lived in Germany and had a profound impact on the development of Lutheranism in North America, had this to say about what it means to be the Bride of Christ and to joyfully gather as one community of faith. Or to say it another way, what it means to be finders and keepers in life instead of losers and weepers. Here it (the Church) lives in nearest proximity to its Groom in a heavenly life on earth, an earthly life in heaven. Worship is the most beautiful flower of earthly life. Just like land in the middle of an ocean, the Word and the Sacraments stand in the inner life and worship of the congregation. You have one week behind you, a new week lies in front of you. Between these two weeks is the day of Communion Sunday. You desire to draw near to God with the congregation. What do you, whether you are a shepherd or a sheep, have to do first? You do what all religions say is necessary for the soul: you cleanse it like feet that have become dirty from the activity of daily life. In other words, you prepare yourself for worship by confessing your sins and receiving absolution. Being cleansed from sin, you enter into the joys of the particular festival day or Sunday. But the worshiper finds that earth still has other burdens and sorrows, both present and future. Life, death, and eternity, with all of their bitter fruits and consequences, threaten you as you journey to the heavenly kingdom. Worries burden you and keep burdening you. But no longer does sin torture you, no longer do you fear evil, no longer do you sigh longingly, but joyful confidence fills your soul.
Finally, we know that we can’t just stay in the sanctuary and live out our days. We go forth in peace and serve one another, wherever is our station of life. (Vocation) is where we help others not to be losers, weepers. Not too far away from here is a young lady whose boy friend told her recently that he wants nothing to do with her anymore. She feels like a loser, and she can’t stop crying. Not too far away from her is a not so old widow who lost her man to cancer recently. Her pain is taking her down and her loneliness is overwhelming and she can’t stop crying. And not too far from her is a man in his 50’s who has left the Church that his great grandparents helped to start. He isn’t sure what He believes anymore, and he imagines that his dear mom is crying herself to sleep tonight worried about his soul.
God help us in this place to be better listeners than we were last year. God help us to say everything that God would have us say and to do everything that God is asking us to do in an effort to help others to be finders and keepers, not losers and weepers. In Jesus’ Name.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther