Scripture: Luke 2:41-52 (CEB)
“…but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple.” – Luke 2:43b-46
About a year ago I had a ‘moment of panic.’ I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was working with two families experiencing loss, and the Senior Pastor at my church was about to leave on vacation for a month. When I got to Christmas Eve at my church in Pontiac and as I shook hands and greeted people I began to feel overwhelmed. What was truly overwhelming was the way in which person-after-person cocked their heads to say, “are you okay?”
Each thing on its own would have been fine, but this perfect storm hit that night. During that service as I sat up front, when my responsibilities were concluded and my mind drifted a bit, it all washed over me. I knew I was going to fall apart right in front of the entire church. I didn’t. I made it to the back steps of the church instead of greeting people and I fell completely apart crying. I sobbed, alone, in the dark for the longest time. I collapsed in a ‘moment of panic.’
Have you ever had a moment of panic? It is different for everyone, but I suspect most of us have felt a moment like that. It could be a missing child, a confrontation, a call from a creditor when you have no money to pay, legal trouble, abuse, job loss, divorce… I don’t know what you have experienced (or maybe you are experiencing), but I suspect this is a pretty universal feeling.
In the scripture above, Mary must have found herself in a moment of panic. I can almost see it and hear it: She is in the midst of a loud parade heading home. There she stands with voices, laughter, and rejoicing as her community heads home from the festival. Can you imagine how the world must have become muted and far-off when she had her moment of panic? Can you imagine how her stomach must have twisted and fallen when she realized her son was not in this large parade of safety and happiness?
In a moment of panic: Mary & Joseph must have been frantic and must have hurried back to Jerusalem. They found the boy, feeling at home, in the temple challenging others and being challenged, himself. Yet, the story doesn’t end when the young Jesus is found. The story is about more than a young boy being physically found by his parents.
This story is about a messiah who took Mary and Joseph’s moment of panic and turned it into something else. They worried for their little boy’s well-being, but the Christ child saw it differently: He asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They had a moment of panic, but young Jesus turned it into a moment of clarity.
I wonder, though, it you’ll allow me to go off-point for a moment. I want to talk about where this all happened. It’s the end of a festival. When Mary & Joseph return the temple must have been nearly empty compared to a day earlier. For us, on the week after Christmas it isn’t much different: Christmas eve and Christmas Day have come and gone; Warm feelings were felt as we sang ‘silent night’ on xmas eve; and then everyone returns home. The temple…the church…is empty.
The good news is that our God can take a quiet temple and turn it into a place of growth and faith. For us, today, this text reminds us that when we face a moment of panic, pain, grief, trouble, strife…when the world becomes muted and joy seems distant…we are to face that panic and return to the temple.
We are to return to our community of faith and when we come to the otherside of our trouble, Christ may just help us see the world differently. Our panic and trouble can become a growing faith: through scripture, challenging questions, the people around us, and, of course, God’s Holy Spirit.
Christ takes our human worries and pain and asks us to look at the world from another perspective. We are shaken by our pain & worry, but God helps us to see more clearly.
For me on that Christmas Eve that filled me with so much anxiety? I don’t know if I made it about Christ the way I should have. I don’t know what I did right or what I did wrong. And am sure that my life is no more valuable than others who didn’t survive when confronted by illness.
But I know with certainty that I grew and, as I look back, I see that others grew out of my ‘moment of panic’. I also know that my community of faith and my God: loved me, challenged me, prayed with me, and, ultimately, changed me.
I do know that on the other side of my own “moment of panic” I see the world differently and, I hope that, I love more fully. Oh, I’m not perfect – not even close. I’m not even sure if I’m better than I was. God doesn’t promise that, but in my moment of panic and struggle: God & my community helped me through that terrible time. They helped me to look back with clarity and insight.
When you find yourself struggling, I want you to know that church should be a place to struggle. When you feel lost or broken, I want you to know that you can be found. When the world has taken something from you, or you feel loss: know that you can gain something from a community of people who live out their faith and, of course, from your God.
In your moments of panic and trouble. Go with haste to your true home. Find a church that cares and allows you room to struggle and grow. I know you would enjoy mine…