2nd Sunday after Christmas

2nd Sunday after Christmas 2.21 “Amazed” Luke 2:41-52

Does this whole Gospel passage strike you as very strange? It does me. Here’s why: it’s like Mary and Joseph simply do not know who Jesus is anymore—as if they did not remember (or no longer believe?) the whole Christmas Story as we celebrated just last week, as the angels above Bethlehem sang to the shepherds, who told Mary and Joseph the news, as did the magi from the East whom we will meet up with this Thursday…

But Mary and Joseph do not seem to remember any of IT! They are devout Jews, as their annual visit to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast according to Moses’ (required!) customs from the Torah demonstrates. Passover was a feast in every sense of the word, a week long party in Jerusalem where they’d all go with their friends and relatives in a pack, laughing, telling stories, having a great time.

They were free-range kids, those devout 1st century Jews, like we children of the 1960’s were. No one kept track of us. We roamed and rambled as we liked, dawn till dusk, when we’d find our way home for supper. No one asked what we did, so we did as we pleased. It is amazing to me sometimes that so many of us survived childhood.

So it was with Jesus. They left Jerusalem in such a throng of friends and relatives that they didn’t notice Jesus stayed behind and didn’t leave with them until they were a day’s journey out and it was time for supper and Jesus didn’t show at Mary and Joseph’s place. Frantic, they rush back to Jerusalem and look everywhere for him. After three days, (Jerusalem isn’t large, had to be the last place they looked 😉 they find him in the temple, stunning the learned crowd with his questions and answers.

Stunned Mary and Joseph too! Which seems… odd if they believed Jesus is God. Yet, they’re amazed at his wisdom and quite annoyed. Mary goes: “Son, why have you treated us so? We were worried sick! Your father and I have been searching for you in great distress!” And Jesus shoots back, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand.

You see the problem, right? It’s when Mary says “your father (obviously meaning Joseph) and I have been searching for you in great distress!” And Jesus shoots back, with a tone: “Why were you looking? Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” Which is a pretty nice and respectful way of saying: “Mom! Do you not remember who my Father is? It’s not Joseph as you well know! I AM the Son of God, not Joseph’s, and this is my House, my real Home…” And Mary simply does’t get what he’s talking about!

How could she not get it? How could you forget something like the virgin birth, announced to you by the Angel Gabriel and revealed to Joseph when he was going to divorce you for adultery? And the shepherds reporting the Angel’s word, and the magi and their gifts and the soldiers from Herod killing all the little baby boys of Bethlehem just hours after you escaped with Jesus and Jospeh, again, at the Angel’s direction? And the living in Nazareth because of the fear Herod the tetrarch would find him and kill him and y’all?

But I can’t see any other explanation for Mary’s confusion except that she simply did not remember or seriously doubted that the virgin birth and all that had really happened. She does not seem much more clued in during his public ministry that began 15 years later, either. And how can that be? How could the Queen of Heaven question who her Son is, who she is? And what does this mean for us and for our faith in him?

You ask so many good questions!

But remember how difficult it is to believe some of the strange things that happened to you? And how the mind plays tricks (especially years later!) when you recall them? Some events are so bizarre, so unlikely, they leave you scratching your head, wondering, “Did that really happen? Or did I just get dropped on my head once too often as a child?”

For instance, don’t you wonder, sometimes, to yourself, if it really happened in the last two years that the American government (on account of a fairly nasty cold that’s been going around) forbid us (in the old Soviet style!—for months on end!) to assemble together and worship God according to the usual custom? Kinda hard to believe, since hardly anyone complained or protested except about those few kooks who refused to comply with the directives to cut out that worship and communion thing for safety’s sake? Were the 3rd commandment and 1st Amendment cancelled? Is this still the land of the free and home of the brave, or have you just lost your mind? There was that November 2020 Supreme Court decision that ruled the Governor of New York had violated the 1st Amendment and illegally persecuted churches in Brooklyn. But hardly anyone commented on it, except your friend Rusty in his little journal—who made quite a fuss about all this from the start. But maybe you and Rusty are just slightly paranoid and a little nuts? He does have a lot of the traits of those “friends” your mom warned you to avoid!

And speaking of that school where you met Rusty, did you really have a vision, in Holmer’s Kierkegaard class, one evening, of the Risen Christ walking away from the Tomb in the dark of Easter dawn, or was it just a vivid daydream, some trick of that old conjurer Holmer who did often seem more wizard than apostle? It’s why you hardly talk about it, although: when you finally visited the actual Tomb a few years ago, there was that weird moment, kneeling there, that seemed to repeat and confirm the vision?! But Lutherans don’t believe in visions like that! Probably it’s just an overly cinematic backdrop and an overactive, romantic imagination?

And speaking of cinema and romantic imagination, was your fun and flirty friend Jen (who was kinda cute, I guess, in a tomboy way with her wild, unruly mane of frizzy hair, black Walter Cronkite geek glasses, baggy sweatshirt and thrift-store chinos) who sat next to you in Stout’s history class really one of the hotter Hollywood starlets of the time—as another guy in the class insisted? You laughed it off, pointing out such a brilliant disguise would require far greater acting skills than her (alleged) namesake ever displayed on the silver screen 😉 Though, years later, you discovered a starlet fitting Jen’s description did attend your (somewhat notorious) school, back then. Still, it’s probably just an overly cinematic backdrop, overactive imagination. Besides; your (then) girlfriend (now wife) says: “No way! I just can’t see how a movie star would be interested in you” ;-)

Maybe Mary just couldn’t see how God would be that interested in her? Maybe the problem wasn’t remembering a marvelous past, but rather believing it isn’t a little crazy to think it had all happened to her?

Is this why Luke tells us this story, this way?—as if to say: “It’s OK. The truly sane always wonder if they’re a little crazy, and the faithful flirt the most heavily with doubt…”?

Jesus’ Story rather plausibly fits the “Too Good To Be True” category—more like a cool fairy tale than serious history! But aren’t the best, the truest stories all this way? Isn’t Christmas for little kids? And aren’t the credulous little nippers Jesus’ favorites? And wasn’t Lewis right that it’s better to be a fool believing in Narnia than conformist to dull, grey “Reality”?

Maybe you’ll just lock it away, like Mary, ponder it in your heart until Jesus returns in Glory with Peace surpassing understanding, guarding your heart and mind in him. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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