Have you ever lost something important? A much needed paycheck before it reached the bank. Your Social Security Card- who has my life? Your computer crashes- where went my life? My work, my plans, my memories.
What did you do? How did you feel?
In Luke 2:41-50, Mary and Joseph lose something beyond important.
41 Every year Jesus’ 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.
Over their lifetime, Mary and Joseph made this trip dozens of times. Three times a year a trip up to Jerusalem for the high, holy feasts.
- Passover in the spring- the celebration of God passing over the first born of the Hebrew slaves and their release from captivity.
- Pentecost fifty days later -the celebration of God providing the law at Mount Sinai.
- Tabernacles in the fall- the celebration of God’s forgiveness and provision in the wilderness
Even though it was a familiar trip, it was a long and strenuous trip. Around ninety two miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. At least five days on the road. They would take the route east down the Jordan River valley to avoid the steep mountains and shunned people of Samaria. When they reached the Dead Sea they turned west, climbing 3500ft up the rocky, robbers’ road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
Even so it was joyful. Spending time with friends and family, joining other caravans of pilgrims looking forward to eight days of feasting and worship in the wonders of Jerusalem.
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.
It was normal for families to be apart during the travel day. Women and men spending time chatting with their respective genders. The children playing as the miles passed.
At night though you made your way to your own household. This night Jesus doesn’t show up for supper. Mary and Joseph begin to search the caravan. Family by family. Tent by tent. No, we haven’t seen him. The clock is ticking. The panic is rising. It’s clear- their son is lost.
Do we leave now and risk the robbers or wait till morning to retrace our steps?
The anxiety grows
What was the conversation like on the way back to Jerusalem?
A whole day’s journey
Do they start blaming each other?
We made a plan. I thought he was with you. No you. I thought he was with them.
No Jesus among the rocks
They search Jerusalem’s endless streets
When does it hit them?
They’ve not only lost their son
They’ve lost the Messiah, the Promised One, the Savior
How do you pray at a moment like this?
I thought we were together, but I’ve searched and searched
Do they then make the emotional and theological leap?
I’ve lost God
It’s one thing to lose an important thing
Another to experience the sheer terror of losing a child
But to lose God
I thought we were together, but I’ve searched and searched
John of the Cross named it the dark night of the soul. A loss of hope, perspective, the ability to sense God’s presence. Prayers feel like they’re bouncing off the ceiling. Long held beliefs come into question.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, experienced it several times in his life. He went into the family business, attending Oxford University and becoming a priest in the Church of England. He and his friends were seeking God with all they had- studying the Bible, praying several times a day, working with the poor.
John felt a call to be a missionary to the “Indians”. It was a disaster. He made the long boat ride from England to Georgia only to find colonists. He preached and taught and fell in love and moved too slowly. She married another. He denied her communion and her father wanted him thrown in jail. After all, she was a governor’s daughter. John left under the cover of night, a broken, broken man.
On the boat back to England, a huge storm strikes. Everything fails him- his legacy, his education, his ordination. John is terrified to die. I thought we were together.
Surely the truly faithful never experience this. People like Mother Theresa. No, she experienced it throughout her life, too.
Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. – I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart – & make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me – I am afraid to uncover them.
In the end, John of the Cross, John Wesley, Mother Theresa, and so many others who have experienced a dark night of the soul find Jesus again. So do Mary and Joseph.
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.
After three days, Jesus is found alive. (I almost missed that!)
The flood of emotions- relief, guilt, anger, joy all rolled up into one. (I want to hug you and I want to ground you forever.) On top of that, there’s the astonishment and amazement. Jesus is found speaking with the best, most renowned teachers. Celebrity status. It’s like finding your 12 year old who’s into science talking to Stephen Hawking and holding his own. An uneducated boy from a rural community- not arguing, not debating, doing what rabbis do- listening to each other and asking questions.
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?”
The first recorded words of Jesus. (almost missed that, too!) Had they ever heard him speak like this? Had they ever seen him like this? His simple, short response says so much.
The time is coming mom. A few more moments and I am an adult. I know who I am and I will be about my Father’s business. This is where you’ll always find me.
50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Mystery. Reality. Truth.
There are times when all seems lost. Our emotions betray us. Our understanding falls short. In these times we cling to God’s promises and walk through the shadowy valley. We never walk alone, even though it may feel that way. God is not distant. We are not abandoned. Our Beloved is near and will never leave us nor forsake us. Like our brothers John and John, and sister Theresa, and so many, many others, we cling to the promises, practices and places where Jesus is found. John Wesley returned to worship and study and preaching and serving the poor. Mother Theresa made the decision to keep doing what she had been doing when she last heard from the Lord.
Breathe in. We will find Jesus in his Father’s house. Among God’s people. In the Scriptures, the songs, the prayers. In the worship. In the words. In the welcome.
Breathe out. We will find Jesus about his Father’s business. In bringing good news to the poor. In proclaiming release to the captives. In opening the eyes of the blind. In releasing those held captive in chains of poverty, sin, injustice, addiction. In joining Jesus in his saving work of mercy, healing, and new life.
When all seems lost it isn’t. Just breathe
For more hauntingly, beautiful work by today’s featured artist, Finnish photographer Latyrx (aka Mikko Lagerstedt), click here
For the graphics I created for my memory verses from Luke 2, click here
For the introductory post to Luke 2, click here
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