Does anyone remember Where’s Waldo?
Waldo is this sharply dressed cartoon man. He usually wears a red and white striped shirt, blue pants, as he sets off on “a world-wide hike”. He travels to everyday places – such as the beach and the zoo, but the challenge is that Waldo himself is hidden somewhere in a very crowded scene and you must very carefully through the extremely detailed illustrations to locate him. And it’s not easy by any means. Waldo is hidden amongst so many other people and objects. He seems to get obscured into the landscape. Lots of people in the picture look like they might be Waldo, but they are not. Waldo seems impossibly lost in the crowd.
When we read today’s Word from Luke 2, we can just imagine Mary and Joseph in a very crowded scene asking, “Where’s Jesus?” When we hear this story it’s hard not to imagine Mary and Joseph re-entering Jerusalem and walking up and down the streets, just like it was a page out of a Waldo book calling out, “Where’s Jesus?” It wasn’t easy to find him. It took three whole days.
How did the group lose track of Jesus in the first place? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that somehow they took their eyes off of him, and then realized he was gone.
Jerusalem was a very crowded, and busy place. There was a lot going on. It would be easy for someone to get lost. Just like the world today is a very crowded and busy place too. There is a lot going on. I think it’s safe to say it’s easy for Jesus to get lost today, as well.
Have you ever found yourself wandering around wondering “Where’s Jesus?” It was like he was here just a minute ago and then poof he seemed to disappear.
Sometimes He can seem so far away but often many people can recall a time when they were really close to God? So close, they could almost taste it?
Isaac Butterworth wrote about such an occasion. He was worshiping in a church and the congregation was singing the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” He said the organ swelled. The voices of the people swelled with it. The moment was intense. And he sensed that he was in the presence of God.
He said “”I almost couldn’t sing. I couldn’t contain the joy. I wept. I wanted the moment to last forever. It didn’t.
Within thirty minutes, I was back into my routine. Out in the heavy foot traffic of hurried figures, racing along the drag to some appointment they were, no doubt, already late for. Cars buzzing by, honking obtrusively, trucks rattling along in careless disregard for my fast-fading ecstasy. No one I saw the rest of the day had felt what I felt. I had almost touched “the hem of the garment,” if you know what I mean. I had felt God close, and now he seemed galaxies away.”
So maybe that’s how Mary and Joseph felt. One moment, they felt Jesus close, and now he seemed galaxies away.
St. John of the Cross wrote about the Dark Night of the Soul …the terrifying situation to be looking for Jesus and you can’t seem to find him.
Luke 2:41-52 [From The NLT – New Living Translation]
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.
51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel with information about Jesus’ early years.
There are apocryphal stories that exist which may contain some bits of truth but most of the stories are pretty far out there. For example, in one account, Jesus strikes down children and raises them up again just to show that He can. In another, he strikes a teacher dead because he could not teach him anything. In yet another, to impress his friends, he tossed clay doves into the air and they flew away. Apparently another boy in the neighborhood was running down the street and knocked up against Jesus’ shoulder, so Jesus zapped him dead. The people in the community started to complain: “why did Mary and Joseph bring this strange child into our midst,” and Jesus struck them blind.
Does this sound like the Jesus you know? Would you recognize this Jesus?
No we wouldn’t. And the early church fathers and elders didn’t recognize this Jesus either, and were moved by the Spirit to exclude these fantastical imaginations from the bible. That and the fact that they were all writing one to two hundred years after Jesus’ came and no other apostle or early Christian writer even mentions or acknowledges these “false” writings as the truth.
So you can’t find Jesus in the false Gospels, he’s not in there. It’s the wrong place to look.
Where is Jesus? Where was he then, where is he now? In truth, you can find him anywhere God is doing his work. But to see Jesus, we have to look for God.
And with that, we see Jesus everywhere, if we have eyes and ears to see and hear.
“Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus said.
His parents didn’t understand. Joseph was Jesus’ Father..right?
And Joseph was right there. What did Jesus mean, he’s in my house? This isn’t my house, this is the temple. Why did you worry us like this? Why did you do this to us?
No, Joseph, not your house, my Father’s house (with a capital F). This is where I am. To find me, you have to look for God. He is my Father and I am His Son.
You didn’t know how to find me because first, you really didn’t know who I was, and second, you didn’t know where to look to find out.
Even though Mary and Joseph were visited by Angels, and Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, it would have been difficult for any parents to lose their son and find him in a Temple “astounding” people. Mary and Joseph did not have the luxury of reading about their lives in the Gospels. They reacted as any human parents would even if we had angelic visits, and it would have been confusing, difficult, and maybe even frustrating being parents to the Messiah.
So vven though Joseph and Mary have had Divine experiences, the full impact and reality of who Jesus was
and what would take place, could not have entered their thoughts and minds.
Since they didn’t really grasp who He is, they couldn’t immediately know where would be.
We don’t know for sure what they expected, or where they looked first. But it took them a while to figure it out.
A pastor online used an illustration from the TV show the Simpsons that he says he’s “decided [is] about the best source of critique of modern American religion” I don’t know if I agree with that but this is what he wrote.
He said, “They did a Christmas episode this past week, and the Simpsons characters acted out the story of the birth of Christ. Marge Simpson played Mary as the stereotypical Jewish mother, and when the angel announces to her that the child to be born within her will be the savior of the nations, she replies, “but not a doctor?” The frustrated angel argues that he will heal many people, but Marge says “still, no diploma ….”[to hang on the wall?]”
Like many people in Jesus’ day and today, Marge has this one idea in her head of what a great healer, what a Messiah would be, how he would look, how he would act, but if she saw Jesus, the GREAT Physician, THE Messiah, first hand, in the flesh she wouldn’t recognize Him. In her mind, he wouldn’t have the right paperwork.
It’s why so many people don’t know Jesus. Yes, they’ve heard of Him, they have some ideas, but they haven’t really met Him, they haven’t entered His Father’s house with Him.
They have met Christians. And they certainly have ideas about Christians. They see Christians destroying the Temple and making a mockery of the Temple and they equate the poor behavior of Christians with Christ Himself.
It’s a sad commentary but Christians themselves do more damage to Christianity than almost anything else.
Many wander around calling out Jesus’ name, but have completely lost track of Him, don’t recognize Him, and don’t even know where to find Him.
I, myself, have several times lost Jesus in the crowd of my life. I have also been in a crowd of people calling themselves Christians and wondered almost aloud in frustration “Has anyone here seen Jesus? Has anyone met Him, does anyone know Him? The Jesus you claim, is not the Jesus I know.”
How can we help others to find Jesus, if we don’t know Him ourselves? It’s shocking sometimes to think that those in Jesus group, and that’s you and I, who claim to love him so much, can also find ourselves losing track of him.
It’s like that movie Home Alone from a few years back where to whole family flies off to Paris and leaves one of the kids behind. To many, the whole idea was shocking. How could you forget your kid that you love so much? Wouldn’t you notice right away?
Likewise, we can whisper to each other about our amazement that Mary and Joseph would leave their child behind for a whole day before realizing the mistake, but the fact, if we’re honest, is that we do the very same thing.
We get so wrapped up in what we’re doing and where we’re going, or at least think we’re going that we lose Jesus along the way.
Someone compared it to the holiday season. We get through Thanksgiving being thankful to God and all, take some time to observe Advent, which seems to be mostly about shopping and honking car horns at each other, we worship the baby Jesus in the manger, we enjoy the fellowship and joy and music of Christmas, stretch the Noel and Peace on Earth spirit to New Years….
…..and then we move on, heading back to our “real” lives, leaving Jesus back in Bethlehem for another year. Maybe by next Christmas, if we look hard, we’ll find him again. If we are truthful with ourselves it happens, to all of us, from time to time. Maybe it has happened right now.
Maybe you’ve lost track of Jesus, or someone you know has, or maybe someday soon you will have some dark nights of the Soul where you can’t seem to find Jesus.
How will you find Him again? How can we get focused back on Jesus by learning to recognize who He is?
There are some distinct features we can glean from today’s reading alone that can help us find Jesus in the crowd, features that can help us know Jesus is present in our lives.
We know from today’s reading, for example that Jesus’ first priority was the things of God. He was to be about his Father’s business, as the King James puts it. He would choose death, if need be, rather than let the Father’s will go undone. It was something he felt was a matter of necessity: he had to be about his Father’s business.
This fact was so hard wired into who he was and his mission in life that he is genuinely surprised that his parents would not have known this. How could they not know where he was? It was obvious to him; there was no question!
I’m not here for anything else, my dear parents. I’m only here for God’s will.
Does Jesus seem missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Am I only here for God’s will?
If Jesus goes missing, how will we find Him again?
The people who heard the boy Jesus discussing God’s Word with the rabbis were impressed by his understanding and his answers and the word “understanding” is key here.
What impressed them was not just his scriptural knowledge, but his understanding.
The kids in many churches today participate in competitions called “bible quizzing”. Teams of young people travel from church to church to see who knows the most about the most facts about the Bible. It’s a lot of fun, I am told, and there is much to be gained. The very most knowledgeable students of the Bible win prizes and have a great time doing it.
And it’s clear that even at the early age of twelve, Jesus could have been captain of his Bible quizzing team, but what made him stand out was not his answers, but his questions.
What Jesus said made people think; to see things in a new way.
What impressed people was his insight into the Bible and his practical application of it.
As the years when on, just as it was clear here as a young man, he taught with authority. He taught in a way that was different that the scribes and teachers of the Law.
Of course, he could quote the scriptures. In that way he was the same as the other teachers. The different was he understood them, and could share that understanding with others. He had insight. He had vision. He had clarity. These things given to Him by his Father, with whom he was in constant contact in prayer.
Does Jesus seem missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Am I in constant contact with Him asking him not just for knowledge but also for understanding of the scriptures?
If Jesus goes missing, how will we find Him again?
How did Jesus handle this difficult situation? He was obedient. He was in subjection.
A reality in Jesus’ life, was that he lived in obedience. He lived in obedience first to His Heavenly Father and then in his love for His neighbor.
Right here at age twelve we see him living the greatest commandment. He did not live as a hypocrite. He lived in authentic obedience. That’s why he was at the Temple, and that why his earthly parents didn’t understand. Some say Jesus took off and was being rebellious. Yes, he was being rebellious. Jesus lived his whole life rebellious. But he lived it also in strict obedience. “You should have known where I was, folks, Love God, Love Each Other. It’s in that order. It’s what my Father wants, it’s what I’m doing.”
And part of that was “Honor your father and mother.” He did that too. But he never listened to man’s will over God’s will.
There were many demands of Jesus his whole life to conform and disregard his mission. But he didn’t.
His submission and obedience took Him to the cross for You and me. His standing firm and standing up cost Him dearly, but that cost was the price of our redemption.
Does Jesus seem missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Am I truly obedient to Him? Do I put my life down for Him as He put His down for me?
If Jesus goes missing, how will we find Him again?
Today’s reading says Jesus increased in wisdom and stature. In other words, he grew.
If Jesus seems missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Am I still growing and maturing in Him?
If Jesus seems missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Do I fully accept and believe His promises?
And finally if Jesus seems missing in your crowded life? Ask yourself. Am I still looking for Him? Are my eyes open to Him?
In our reading today, the people lose track of Jesus and he scolds them in a way and says, “Why didn’t you know where I was? Why did you need to look so hard for me? You know me, surely you would find me right away. I was in the obvious place. You probably circled this city a dozen times, and I was right here.
It’s like this story by Tolstoy.
An old shoe cobbler who dreamed one Christmas Eve that Jesus would come to visit him the next day. The dream was so real that he was convinced it would come true.
So the next morning he got up and decorated his little cobbler shop and got all ready for Jesus to come and visit. He was so sure that Jesus was going to come that he just sat down and waited for Him. And he waited and he waited and he waited. The hours passed and Jesus didn’t come.
But an old man came. He came inside for a moment to get warm out of the winter cold. As the cobbler talked with him he noticed the holes in the old man’s shoes, so he reached up on the shelf and got him a new pair of shoes. He made sure they fit and that his socks were dry and then sent him on his way.
Still he waited and waited and waited but Jesus didn’t come.
But an old woman came who hadn’t had a decent meal in two days. They sat and visited for a while, and then he prepared some food for her to eat. He gave her a nourishing meal and sent her on her way.
Then he sat down again to wait for Jesus. He waited and waited but Jesus still didn’t come.
Then he heard a little boy crying out in front of his shop. He went out and talked with the boy, and discovered that the boy had been separated from his parents and didn’t know how to get home. So he put on his coat, took the boy by the hand and led him home.
When he came back to his little shoe shop it was almost dark and the streets were empty. The day had nearly passed and yet Jesus never came. In a moment of despair he lifted his voice to heaven and said, “Oh Lord Jesus, why didn’t you come?”
And then in a moment of silence he seemed to hear a voice saying, “Oh shoe cobbler, lift up your heart. I kept my word. Three times I knocked at your friendly door. Three times my shadow fell across your floor. I was the man with the bruised feet. I was the woman you gave food to eat. I was the boy on the homeless street.”
He couldn’t find Jesus. He was waiting for Him to arrive but Jesus had come. The cobbler just didn’t realize it.
He wasn’t looking in the right places.
To find Jesus, you have to know Him, and you have to know where to look. People who really know Jesus can see Him everywhere. But again, you have to know Him, to see Him and recognize His voice.
Amen©2010 Timothy Henry