One of the gifts of endings and beginnings is that we can take a moment to pause and reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Maybe you have done this this past week as you reflecting on the last year, or even on the last decade as we start a new one. Maybe your face bears the evidence of a hard year, or maybe your walls are covered with the joy of big adventures and significant life-changes that have happened over the last decade. It’s a firm conviction of mine that comparison, even, and maybe especially comparison to ourselves does good for noone, but I do think that reflecting on where we have been and where God might be calling us is an especially valuable spiritual discipline. To stand at the conclusion of one season of our life with the ability to look into the next is no small gift.
This, I think is where we find Mary in our gospel passage; we find her at the end of one season of life and at the surprisingly scary start to another one. On their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy Family starts our gospel lesson out today on their way to the Passover feast, with the 12-year-old Jesus in tow. Once the feast ended, the family joins their group and heads out on the long journey back home, and given the nature of this type of journey, a community would travel together, waking early in the morning and making stops throughout the day to eat and rest; no doubt, on their journey, Mary and Joseph likely noticed Jesus’ lack of appearance but probably assumed he was with the other children. But by the time they had traveled a whole day, it was clear that Jesus was still in Jerusalem and not with the community.
Mary and Joseph broke from the group to return to Jerusalem to look for Jesus, and it’s only after three days of searching that they find him in the temple, sitting with and learning from the rabbis. When his parents found him, Mary, likely breathless, exhausted, and frustrated after three days of searching for Jesus, asked why he did it, and doesn’t he know that his parents were worried sick? Jesus responds, of course, with the iconic phrase, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? And here, what we get isn’t Mary’s response, but instead Luke moves the story along to Jesus joining his family on the journey back to Nazareth, where he obeyed them and grew in human and divine favor, the only canonical statement about Jesus’ youth. Yet, throughout this time, Luke tells us, Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
In this passage, Mary stands at the end of one season of life and at on the cusp of another. Somehow, we are still in Christmastide, and even though it feels like it’s been a whole month since we heard the angels proclaiming, “Do not fear!” as they prophesied over her what is to come, yet here, just a few days for us, and a decade or so for her, there is a definite, distinct silence for three days as they search for Jesus. Luke writes of several angel visits in the first two chapters of his gospel account, but as Mary and Joseph search frantically for their young son, there are no signs, no angels proclaiming the good news to them; there are no angels doing their best to assuage their fear that they have lost the most important part of their life.
What must Mary and Joseph have thought in these three days? I wonder if they thought that they had a little longer; I wonder if Mary and Joseph thought that they had longer before their son would begin to step into his calling? I wonder how they might have questioned why God pulled them into this life; why would God call them to bear God into the world, only for them to lose track of Jesus before he even became a teenager? I wonder if they doubted their saying yes to God and to God’s call. I wonder if Mary was shaken with fear and worry that she, in spite of all the angels’ proclamations, inadequate to be the one to mother the Christ? Sometimes we do the long, hard work of discerning God’s call and saying yes, only to be confused about it when it starts up; it can be disorienting to leave one season of life and enter into another.
After the Holy Family returned home, Mary, Luke tells us, “treasured these things in her heart.” For three days, Mary searched frantically for Jesus, and once he was safely home, she treasured all that she had experienced, all that had happened at the temple and the way in which Jesus responded to her; she kept all these things in her heart. This, of course, is not unlike how she responded when the shepherds came in haste to the manager at the birth of this very child who continually pulls her into new seasons of life. Mary treasured these things in her heart; Mary treasures in her heart the way that Jesus reorders everything, even when he was lost in the temple, just as he does in his birth.
Somehow, it’s still Christmas; it’s the 12th day, in fact, the last day of the season of Christmas. And I was pretty proud of myself yesterday at the dog park when someone made a comment about folks still having Christmas lights up that I didn’t loudly proclaim, “actually Christmas lasts until Jan. 5!” It’s still Christmas, and I actually care very little whether or not you have put away all your Christmas decorations, but what I’m concerned with is whether or not you are still oriented to the hope born in the Christ Child. What do you continue to treasure in your own heart?
Because surely, the mystery of the incarnation cannot possibly be contained in 12 days, so take a few more beats. Take a few more precious moments to marvel at the baby in the manager, take a few more periods of silence to wonder at when did the Christ Child become the Christ? There is so much to distract us that lingering a little longer on the mystery of the incarnation can do nothing but good for us. It’s the season of hope and joy, yet still, we’re on the cusp; we stand today where Mary stood in our gospel passage. We are at the end of one season and about to begin another season of life, and just like Mary, even when we are disoriented and confused, God is present in these spaces to which we have been called.
While we are at this in-between time, pause to consider just how much life can happen in three days’ time; pause long enough to consider just how quickly three days can go or how long they can drag on. Three days’ time is a relatively insignificant length of time, but here we have Mary and Joseph searching for three days for their son, and it won’t be long before Mary searches for another three days after his death. They were searching for the thing they didn’t ask for, the thing that came to them with angels heralding and bright stars, the thing that reordered and changed everything in not just their life, but in the whole world. So my prayer is that we may spend the remainder of Christmastide, just a few hours now, grounding ourselves in the hope and light of the incarnation and the ways in which God is present in all the different places to which we have been called. My prayer is that we, like Mary, can treasure the miraculous, glorious, confusing things that can happen when we follow God’s call, even in just three days’ time.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 5, 2020 in Bowling Green, KY for Christmas 2A on Luke 2:41-52.