Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sermon: Luke 2: 41-52 Home but not alone

Every family seems to have some sort of traditions and customs. So maybe when it’s someone’s birthday, they get to choose what’s for dinner, or where you go to celebrate. You might take the day after New Year’s Day to take down the tree and do a spring clean. Or you always take a certain week or fortnight on holiday, every year, without fail.

Family traditions are usually seen at Christmas. Whether it’s who hosts the dinner, or there’s a pattern of which ‘side’ you go to on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, or when you open your presents - there’s a way you tend to do things. Family traditions that help make Christmas what it is. One of our family traditions (although, I’m realising we didn’t do it this year...) is that at some point in the run-up to Christmas, we’ll watch a movie. Not just any movie, though, the same movie, every year.

Some of our friends watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe for you it’s The Great Escape. In our house, almost every year since we’ve been married, we’ve watched Home Alone. Or else Home Alone 2: lost in New York.

If you’ve never seen Home Alone, then perhaps the name helps you to grasp the idea. A little boy called Kevin is, well, home alone. Through a series of mishaps, Kevin gets left behind while his family head off on holiday. As the movie progresses, you follow Kevin overcoming his fears, enjoying having the house to himself, and finally defeating the wet bandits as they try to break in to steal from the house. While Kevin is having a great time, the camera keeps cutting back to his frantic parents as they try to get back home to find their son.

In our Bible reading this morning, we find a situation a bit like the Home Alone story. Every year, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It’s one of the big Jewish festivals, recalling the escape from slavery in Egypt. It was a requirement for everyone who could to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival.

And so this particular year, Jesus was twelve years old. When they’re travelling back to Nazareth, they were likely in a big group, everyone walking and talking together. But after a day’s travel, they discover that Jesus is not with them. He’s nowhere to be found.

Now, imagine that you’re Mary. You’ve given birth to this special son, announced by an angel, witnessed to by more angels and visited by shepherds and wise men. And he has... disappeared. Aged 12. Imagine the agony, the sense of blame, the panic as you begin to search for him. Where is he? Where could he be? What’s going on?

Before we discover where Jesus was, I’ve a question for you. Why are we told about this incident? This is the only record we have of Jesus between the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2 (when he was under 2), and the moment when Jesus begins his public ministry around the age of 30. This is the only detail we have of his childhood. Why?

Back at the start of Luke’s gospel he tells us his purpose and method in writing this book. He talks about eyewitnesses and servants of the word. He talks about carefully investigating everything from the beginning. and he does that careful historical work ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

It seems that Luke has interviewed Mary, and got this story from her. Back on Christmas morning we looked at the unforgettable Christmas, as she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ So in v51 ‘his mother treasured all these things in her heart’ - even though she didn’t understand what Jesus said to her. (50). Time and again, she would return to this day, think about this day, run over the words her son said, trying to work it out.

So we’re given this bonus DVD material only in Luke’s gospel, because he thinks it’s an important step along the journey. It adds something to the gospel, it helps us to see Jesus more clearly. So what does it show us about Jesus? We’ll see, as we return to Mary and Joseph in verse 45.

They return to Jerusalem to look for him. There wasn’t any Twitter or Facebook to put out a missing persons appeal. They just keep searching... for three whole days. And where was he?

‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at this understanding and his answers.’

He’s in the temple, talking to, asking and answering questions with the religious leaders. Just a twelve-year old boy, yet with great understanding. It would be like one of our Sunday School members attending a meeting of the House of Bishops and holding their own with them in theological debate. Everyone is amazed at his understanding.

Everyone, that is, apart from Mary and Joseph. We’re told in verse 48 they were astonished. They were also probably annoyed. Look closely at verse 48. How is Joseph described there?

‘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.”’

And look how Jesus replies: ‘Where were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ At the time, they didn’t understand what he said, but Mary remembered those words. Do you see what Jesus is saying about who he is?

Mary says, ‘Your father and I’ meaning Joseph, but Jesus says, ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ While it’s a bit like Home Alone, Jesus is saying that he’s home, but he’s not alone. He is in his Father’s house, the temple, the place where God is at home.

Back in Luke 1 we’re told that Mary conceives Jesus as a result of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was not Jesus’ father. Yet Joseph adopts Jesus as his own, he becomes his earthly father by adoption. But Jesus reminds Mary and Joseph that he belongs to another family, that Joseph isn’t really his father - that God is his Father. Jesus is growing in the awareness that he is the Son of God, not the son of Joseph.

At the tender age of 12, Jesus already knows who he is - his real identity, and with it, his mission. For Jesus, his primary loyalty is to his heavenly Father, in recognition of the fact that he is the Son of God. This is then confirmed in the next chapter, at the age of 30, at his baptism: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (3:22). Nothing will sway him from his primary identity, yet he willingly submits to them in obedience as he grows up. (51)

Boys and girls - there’s a challenge here for you. The Lord Jesus was perfect, sinless, and yet he submitted to sinful parents, who didn’t always get it right.

As he did so, ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.’ What about taking that verse as an aim for this new year? In 2018, seeking to grow in wisdom - godly wisdom, knowing God better through his word; seeking to grow in stature - maybe for the boys and girls to grow up taller, but for each of us to grow in reputation, to be known for our Christian witness; and to grow in favour with God and people.

These things won’t happen by themselves. We don’t drift into godliness - we need to work at it, need to make an effort. Whether that’s by taking some extra time each day to read and pray; or by taking up a good Christian book; or committing to be regular at worship; or starting to come along to the Bible study fellowship. What steps will you take this year to grow in wisdom, stature and grace?

How do you see Jesus? Is he just a man, the son of Joseph? That’s how some of the crowds saw him in Nazareth, in Luke 4:22 - ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ Or again in John 6:42 - ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven?”’ The son of Joseph would be just a man, unable to save us, mired in sins like the rest of us.

But Jesus is the Son of God, in his Father’s house, about his Father’s business, even knowing that from the age of 12. He knows who he is, and why he is here, and nothing will sway him from his mission. Do you know Jesus as the Son of God, as God come down to save us?

Jesus, God’s Son, was home, but not alone, fulfilling his mission to save his people and make us children of God. It’s through Jesus that we can grasp the promise that ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’ - as he welcomes us into his house. It’s through Jesus that we are welcome today, to share his table, to celebrate his love and sacrifice, and to wait for our heavenly home with him.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 7th January 2018.

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