A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52
Sunday, December 30, 2012 – Christmas 1C
I don't know how many of you know this about me… I know some of you do, but, well… I was abandoned by my parents at an early age. Both of my parents left me when I was 6 or 7 years old.
Okay, it's not as bad as it sounds. They both left me at home alone—just like the movie, but without the burglars and the booby traps, and not for nearly as long as Kevin McAllister was. It was an oddity that I was ready for church before everyone that particular morning. That never happened. I was usually scrambling to find my other shoe while everyone else was in the car waiting. But this particular Sunday I was ready to go with time to spare.
Now that particular Sunday dad had a council meeting after worship and mom opted to head home instead of sit around at church, so they both drove separately. Well, when each was ready to go, little Rob wasn't around (since I was quietly watching cartoons in the basement, patiently waiting for the others). Leaving at separate times, each parent assumed I was with the other. And the mistake wasn't discovered until they both reached church, 40 minutes away, and asked the other, "Where's Rob? Didn't he come with you?"
I was abandoned at an early age. I think the emotional scars have healed.
But I know I'm not alone. I've heard the stories of kids being left alone at the rest stop when the road trip caravan moved on. And parents didn't realize anyone was missing until they made it dozens of miles down the road.
And it's not just parents today, but even in Jesus' day, even Jesus himself was abandoned at an early age and left behind. And thank God that he was. Thank God that he was abandoned by his parents and kept the law perfectly for us, that later he might be abandoned by God to win our salvation. Luke 2:41-52…
41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast 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 men.
It was Jesus' bar mitzvah; his coming of age. He was finally a "Son of the Law" (that's what "bar mitzvah" literally means – "Son of the Law") where he was old enough to study a trade, but more importantly old enough to study the Torah. He'd always been obedient to his parents and to God's law as his parents instructed him in it, but now he would study God's Law for himself. So he accompanied Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.
But when Mary and Joseph were ready to go, each parent assumed Jesus was with the other, or maybe with extended family and Jesus was abandoned, and left behind at the temple courts. And when Mary grilled him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." With the first words of Jesus that we have recorded for us, Jesus showed Mary how much he understood the Word he'd been studying.
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"
You see, Jesus knew who he was: the God-man. He knew that God, not Joseph, was his real Father. Jesus knew the prophecies that were written… about him. (Later, when he was fully grown he said, "These are the Scriptures that testify about me.") He knew the Word of God better than the priests, better than the teachers of the Law. (And he would continue to demonstrate that when he was fully grown.) And you can be sure that he knew what his mission was: To save mankind, who could not save themselves, no matter how well they tried to keep the Law.
You see even though we often make the boast of Peter, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." (Matthew 26:33) "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33) "Even if friends and family forsake you," we cry, "I will never abandon you. I will never leave you behind."
But then we go and play the part of Mary and Joseph and leave Jesus at church ("where he belongs" right?). Oh we love Jesus here. We sing our praises to him and worship him. "But please, Jesus, just stay at church. Don't follow me to the bar. You wouldn't like what you saw. Don't come into my living room to see what's on my TV. Those shows aren't for you. Don't come into my vehicle, Jesus, and see how I drive (or hear what I say to the other drivers). Don't come into my kitchen and hear how I talk to my parents. And please don't come into my head and see my thoughts. Just stay at church, where you belong."
But you know that there is no place where can really leave Jesus behind. As David sang in Psalm 139(:7-12), "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea… If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."
Jesus is with us in the bar, in our living rooms, and in our vehicles. He's there in our kitchens and in our bedrooms. And his is there inside our heads and inside our souls, seeing the filth of sin that resides. We cannot leave him behind.
And for all the times that we've tried to abandon Jesus and leave him at church, we deserve to be abandoned by him and left behind when he comes in glory. Jesus said in Matthew 8(:38), "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Oh dear Jesus, forgive us! Forgive us for the times we've abandoned you! Forgive us for the times we've been ashamed of you! Forgive us for the times we've left you at church!
And you know, dear friends, that he does forgive us. For Jesus was abandoned again. He was abandoned by his real Father. On Good Friday, "Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'—which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"
And you know why. It wasn't for his sin that God abandoned him. For Jesus always kept the law perfectly—even in childhood, perfectly obeying his parents in all things, even as an adolescence when his hormones were raging, even through the rebellious teen years, he kept the fourth commandment and honored his earthly father and mother.
And he always honored, loved, and obeyed his heavenly Father. As he continued in his obedience, he continued to grow in favor with God. With every new temptation resisted, with every truth he boldly proclaimed, with every new act of obedience added to the last he made his Father in heaven favor him more and more, so he could proclaim, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)
No. Jesus wasn't abandoned by God for any sin of his. He had no sin. But for the many times that we've abandoned God, for the many times we've tried to leave Jesus behind at church ("where he belongs"), for the many times we thought that we escaped his noticed and served ourselves instead of him, Jesus was abandoned by the Father and cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
And now, by his sacrifice, we will never be abandoned or left at home alone—not truly alone. Can't be you with your family this year because a relationship has been destroyed by sin? Feel all alone? You're not. Feel abandoned when the cancer threatens… or the bottle disrupts …or the bills pile up? You're not. Even if your friends throw up their hands in disgust, even if all your family abandons you as a lost cause, even if all others leave you, still you're never alone.
Because he abandoned his Son, and thus, paid for your every sin, God has now promised you, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) So, "Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
We will never be abandoned in this life no matter how dark the hour. And we will never be abandoned to hell no matter how great our sin. For Jesus' obedience is greater. His sacrifice is greater. His forgiveness is greater. And we are forgiven. And we are never alone.
So we say, "Thank you, God! Thank you, Jesus, for being abandoned in my place… for being left behind! Thank you with all of my heart! Now let me serve you in thanks. Keep me in my faith that I might never abandon you again, but might live for you each day in thanks." In his name, dear friends, amen!