His mother said, “… your Father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”’
This morning we meet the boy Jesus in the temple following his parents’ anxious search for him on the streets of Jerusalem. I have personally never been that child who wanders off on the beach in summer, or in the department store around Christmas, so don’t recollect the kind of admonishment growing up as we hear Mary give her boy in this Gospel. I do certainly recognise, perhaps as you do, that level of maternal/parental anxiety experienced by Mary and Joseph. Maybe it’s similar to what my own mother has experienced whilst I have been in Trier. I didn’t say to her, ‘Did you not know that I must be about the community’s business,’ or even in St. Matthias’s Abbey, but might well have done.
I guess Gillian, my mum, likely shares some of Mary’s feelings. I know she has felt ‘great anxiety’ and even perceived a sense of my being lost. Of course, the surface truth is that this was not the case. I’m in Germany, mum; I’m here. Why are you searching for me in great anxiety? Yet on a deeper level this perception of loss points to a more fulsome, more complete picture of the reality. Being a mother reaches to greater depths than those presented by community (or other) business. First and foremost, I am a son in relationship to my mother. My mother’s attachment to me reaches to such an inexpressible extent of loving which means that a part of her will always be searching and anxious for me; always protectively scanning my horizons. This is completely natural. Parents have a vocation to identify with and advocate for their children. In particular, mothers and babies are connected physically and emotionally from the time of conception onwards. Usually, their attachment is immediate. Some part of the mother must be with the child from pregnancy through birth and into eternity.
Mary and Jesus are a sound pattern of the mother/son relationship and of secure attachment. The lad is growing up, he goes off; she is anxious and aware that he is different, holy even. Yet first and foremost he is her child, her baby. Jesus shows his mum that personal space for an almost-adult Jewish boy is necessary and God whose Kingdom is not from here, begins to unfurl his divinity through ‘amazing’ answers and knowledge. Jesus is also a profound listener, Luke tells us. He asks questions and hears stories; he gets people talking. Here is God incarnate, entering the temple beginning his work of teaching, leading, and enabling. Here, too, is an extraordinarily ordinary twelve year-old, promoting a confidence that most of that age wouldn’t and don’t possess in order that Godself may be deliberately glimpsed and the way for his truly lost children revealed.
This story of the journey to Jerusalem at Passover is a shrewdly placed inclusion in Luke’s account, for it teaches us so completely about what child this really is. The Holy child presented as just that, in unusual and yet ordinary circumstances. You could read Jesus’ response with an initially puerile undertone. ‘What’s up mum…? Chill… I’ve been here all the time.’ And it reads accordingly. But it is also a foreshadowing of the journey to Jerusalem that will be taken twenty-one years later when Jesus the adult will be among the temple authorities in a very different context, and Mary must bear a full final cost of the vocation to motherhood. ‘Did you not know?’ asks Jesus. I suspect Mary full of spiritual grace and motherly intuition knows very well, even though at this point in her son’s life she cannot know fully.
To be in the place of the Father, in his house and about his business, costs. All of us here have said with the mother of God, ‘be it unto me according to your word’ and we have and will yet know our souls to be pierced for that ‘yes.’
And when they are, it is, always remember, the Jesus who has in truth been there all the time and who awaits our finding of himself and responds with the attention and listening that Luke describes whom we discover as if for the first time. Feeling oftentimes lost on the surface, but there to be found in the temple; at the work of ministry; at the centre of the Passover festival, amazing people with his attention and response. Getting on it, being among and being with his people. It is that Son who comes to us with the welcome and hopefulness of 2019 and all that it will contain: all that will challenge, sadden and rejuvenate us. It is the twelve year-old gifted and talented carpenter’s lad whom Luke portrays in this account and no other who is God, who comes and walks with us and serves us and saves us ever and again.
The incarnation is fully presented in this boy in today’s gospel; this young man on the cusp of life. It is that same life at the heart of the Lord’s court within the living temple which is Christ himself, to whom the loving Father draws us.
This morning we are granted the grace of recognising and receiving him once again who is life in all its fullness. We don’t need to go searching anxiously, but we need simply and wholly to be wherever his Father’s home is, making Christ’s business our own carrying our perceptions of the given moment with us and letting him bear them; letting God, our brother, love us.
The community, the church and the world in which we are set can be seen all-too-clearly in the sight of a loving mother like Mary or Gillian. We do and are bearing many searches of anxiety, uncertainty and loss based on the reception and perception of the present moment and its climate. Yet we also know where Jesus is found. Not sparing us these things, but amongst them, seeking to bind our afflictions at the depths of heart and soul where we have been and are hurting, so that we may perceive and know healing. It is where, this 2019 and every year, we must be also. Going and being and doing likewise; attending and enquiring; giving people the gift of hope, the Word who is never lost to us, but very near; on our lips and in our heart.
Mary treasured that Word in her heart. May we do the same in our own searching and finding of the Lord, and so discover the strength to be about his business in the dwelling-places of the Father, to discern and do justly his will for our lives and the lives of those whom we are led to serve, wherever the way of this New Year takes us.