January 3, 2016

Lost, Found—and In Between


Text:  Luke 2:48: “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.’ ”

Something quite appropriate to the season happens with the lectionary today. We are in the happy twelve days into which is somehow compressed thirty years of Jesus’ life, from his birth in a stable outside Bethlehem to the beginning of his public ministry. So somehow in this space of just a few short weeks we have to compress about thirty years of the life of Jesus. As it turns out, today—right at the very end of our days of intense family time—the lectionary brings us to that wonderful moment so beloved by so many parents: the years of adolescence.

I think it will not cause any controversy among us if I assert from this pulpit the idea that adolescence is, and always has been, a time of turmoil and trouble. Earl Wilson, an influential columnist back in his day, used to say that adolescence and snow were the only two problems that would go away if you just ignored them long enough. That may be true, but at least when there’s snow around, you know it will end. When you’re the adolescent, you can’t imagine it ever ending; and when you’re the parent of the adolescent, at least sometimes you can’t imagine it ending soon enough.

We’re an Episcopal church, and one of the things that means is that we believe when it comes to the work that Jesus does, the God’s work of reconciliation, it is the beginning of the story—the birth, the life, the teachings of Jesus—that count as much as the end of the story, the passion, the death, the resurrection, the ascension.

Another way to say this is that we are incarnational Christians; that we believe in the incarnation of Christ is the place to put our emphasis and our attention when it comes to understanding not just what it is that Jesus does in saving us, but just how it is that he does so.

We did not invent this idea. It was part of the earliest thinking of the church, going back to the earliest conversations about just what and who Jesus was, and how it was he could be both Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of God.

It was in the fourth century, back when these debates were bearing fruit in the first drafts of what we now know as the creed, that a bishop named Gregory of Nazianzus first articulated this basic idea by arguing that it was in fact through the fullness of Christ’s humanity that our own humanity was brought into the picture of salvation.

Gregory put this argument in words that still stand as an efficient summary of the Anglican idea of who Christ is. When he described how Christ took on human nature, he put it in these terms: That which was not assumed is not healed. What that means, in simple terms, is Jesus takes on our human experience fully and completely, so as to leave nothing behind the reach of God’s reconciling love.

That means-—it must mean—everything about us, not just the pleasant or polite parts about humanity but the parts we would rather not discuss. Our capacity for compassion, yes, but also our capacity for pettiness. Our faith, yes, but our doubts as well. Our courage, and our fears. And even—yes, even—our adolescence.

This morning’s story from Luke is one of the few glimpses we catch of the adolescence of the boy who grows from the child in the manger. What we learn is that Jesus was pretty much the same as any other adolescent. He followed his own impulses; he had a limited capacity for following the plain instructions of his parents; he was always ready with an excuse for his absence.

Jesus has been taken to Jerusalem by his parents. They have gone to Jerusalem because they are faithful Jews, and that is what faithful Jews of their day did for Passover. They are three among hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who come to Jerusalem to be at the temple at this time of year. And as they leave, they somehow lose track of each other in the throngs of people.

You can sort of imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph, can’t you? “I thought you had him!” “Me? You said you were going to take him.”

They do what all panicked parents would do; they head back to where they last saw him. You can imagine how that trip went, too, at least if you’re the kind of forgetful, absent-minded, chronic misplacer of things that I am. And, of course, they eventually catch up with him, and we know the rest of the story, even if at least part of the rest of the story, the part about Jesus being obedient to them for the rest of his youth, may be the least believable phrase in the entire Bible.

In this little family drama are any number of any other family dramas. In this little story are all of the calls from all of the worried parents to all of the marginally responsible children on New Year’s Eve. In this story are all of the gentle and not-so-gentle requests for a call, or a text, to tell me who you’re going with and where you’re going and when you get there.

Within this little story is all of the desperation of all of the mothers and fathers who are trying to get their children out of the bloody chaos of Syria and Iraq and into some place, anyplace, safe. Within this story is the worry and dread of every parent of every child of color when that child walks on the city’s streets. Within that story is all of the concern, all of the care, all of the anxiety that loving parents everywhere know, keenly, when they raise children who become adolescents.

If it is true that nothing about this life of ours that is not somehow assumed by Jesus gets healed, and if it is true that in fully living into our humanity Jesus acts to sanctify every aspect of our lives, then it must be the case that family life, and especially the labors of parenting—in all of its complexity, in all of its difficulty, the anxiety and the joy, the pain and the pride—all of it must be part of what the incarnation encompasses.

Jesus is lost, and Jesus, eventually, is found. His parents, who endure the in-between of worry and concern, sanctify our own worries, our own heartbreaks, our own anxieties, and our own triumphs on behalf the children we bear, the children we love, the children whose guidance is entrusted, just for a little time, to us. Amen.