Christmas II

My friend Father Bret Hays says that there are many ways a priest may communicate with his parish during the time in-between the Gospel and the Creed. In descending order they are the Sermon, which consists of eight to fifteen minutes of serious Biblical teaching; the Homily, which is more like six to nine minutes of similar if more light-hearted teaching; the Meditation, an open-ended talk which is usually given from notes and tends toward sentimentality and contemplation; and, finally, the “dreaded Homilette,” which takes about three to four minutes and usually begins with the preacher saying something like “Just a few words on this Gospel from Saint Luke…” I tell you this to get you ready for something in-between a Homily and a Homilette, which I formulated as I sat motionless in my car for three hours behind a fuel spill on I95 this morning, turning my three hour ride into an eight hour ordeal.

St. Luke just told us of another ordeal, the much worse, three-day ordeal of a young couple who had lost their Son. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, to go frantic, to issue an Amber Alert, to know deep down that chances are you will never see that child ever again. Family members of mine have buried their children, I have seen the agony and see it still, that agony that never really goes away. I can’t imagine what Mary and Joseph went through for those three days; surely there was no sleep, constant motion, dread upon dread. They had lost their Son. Mary had given flesh to the Son of God but couldn’t keep Him by her side. Joseph had been given charge of the Word made flesh, and had not protected Him.

But let’s not jump on Mary and Joseph just yet. It’s not like Joseph loaded up the luggage into the family truckster, jumped in and took off, leaving Jesus in the dust. The Holy Family traveled as most did in those days, in large groups; the group gave stability, communal charge over the children, and communal safety from the ever-present threat of bandits on the path. And remember that Jesus was twelve years old when He went missing from the caravan: twelve was the age of ritual manhood, the age when a boy learned his trade or took up serious study, twelve was the age at which a boy had to take some responsibility for himself.

And so the boy Jesus did just that, and most likely took years off the lives of Mary and Joseph. After three days of looking they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. St. Luke tells us that when His parents saw Him they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But Mary and Joseph didn’t really get the “Father’s house” reference, one more thing for Mary to ponder in her heart. Jesus left the temple with His mother and foster father, and that’s when Luke, purposely or not, shifted the story. Luke tells us that “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth.” Up to this point, Mary and Joseph were driving the story, they were the ones moving and searching, they were the protagonists, the willful actors. But now “He went down, with them,” to Nazareth, Jesus is the one moving and leading, He is the protagonist with a will of His own.

Jesus leads Mary and Joseph out of Jerusalem; twenty years later He will lead His mother back up that same hill, back to that same temple and teachers, but twenty years later it will be the teachers who are astonished, astonished at Jesus’ teachings, His authority, His claim to divinity. Twenty years after Mary first lost her Son, she would lose Him again on those same grounds; Mary would see her Son not praised for His understanding but crucified for it. Twenty years later Mary would once again lose her Son for three days, but she would again find Him, this time to never lose Him again.

Jesus is not lost, so I will not ask you if you have found Him. Jesus is here, He is here at the altar and in His Word, He is here in Body and Blood, He is here in the temples of your hearts. He is here because this is His Father’s house. So when you are lost and anxious, when you are sleepless and in constant motion, when your hearts are pondering the mysteries of the Lord, you know where to find Him.

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