New Years Eve, 2006

“The Boy Who Stayed Behind”
Luke 2: 41-52

41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem , but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When 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.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth , and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (NRSV)

very parent’s nightmare is losing their child in the crowded mall or at a sporting event, or even at church. I was entrusted with our eight month old granddaughter, Charlotte, last Thursday at Perimeter Mall, for several hours. She not only did not leave my sight, she never left my lap. Fortunately she had a long nap and was in a good mood when the weary Mother and Grandmother came to check on us. Charlotte was entertaining other folks sitting in the soft seats. However, I saw some children about twelve years old who were wandering around without supervision, perhaps happily lost.

Before malls, my mother used to turn me loose with a couple of dollars in the downtown. One Saturday in Greensboro I found myself in the center of a racial segregation protest. It turned out to be the crucial Woolworth’s protest of the dime store’s segregated lunch counter seating. At the time few realized how pivotal this peaceful protest would become in the struggle for equal rights. Of course Woolworth’s lost and integrated their lunch counter, and all America soon followed suit. I recall seeing Martin Luther King, Jr. walking with other clergy, college officials and community leaders. My danger was from the KKK and the even more violent white folks who waved Confederate Flags and screamed obscenities. Luckily, I was on time to meet back with my Mother at the appointed spot. She had been into a big shopping day and did not know about the danger in which I had been.

Unfortunately for Mary and Joseph, they were not as lucky. Their twelve year old son had become lost from the caravan of friends and neighbors who were headed back home to Nazareth from Jerusalem. They had been to Passover observance which was similar to old time Methodists attending an annual two-week summer Campmeeting. Older folks remember “the good old days” when kids played all over the camping, and tabernacle grounds under the mutual watch-care of all of the adults. We were never lost, but many times nobody knew where we were. We always showed up at meal time.

At age twelve most children are engaging in free cognitive thinking and trying to put philosophical and theological ideas together. Today’s environment offers great growth opportunities for children, in school, on television, the internet, and hopefully in Sunday School and worship. This is why we try to get sixth graders to go through Confirmation; and for sure, they are always full of questions.

Since the Father had set boundaries around His powers during the time on earth as the Son, the boy Jesus had to memorize his multiplication tables, and learn as all other children do. Jesus was evidently a bright student and was found in the Temple seated amid the professors, asking them all of the right questions and astonishing them with his quick mind. When his parents finally found him, they were also astonished, and also a bit upset. “Why have you treated us like this? Mary asked.  Then the question that has been debated, Jesus said to them, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  (49-50)

Had they forgotten that Jesus was the Messiah? Perhaps for twelve years they had become accustomed to his quick mind. The text only says that “They did not understand.”

However, by the time that Dr. Luke interviewed Mary about the events of Jesus’ life, this story had been pondered in her heart, and she had put the events together all the way to the Cross and Empty Tomb. This is the only story that we have from Jesus’ childhood, until he came walking up out of Nazareth as the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the human race.

Perhaps if there is any real reason to stick this isolated story into the New Testament it is because we need to hear that all of us must get our thinking caps straight concerning the deep meaning of life and how we should live. Lasting learning comes from much study, and lots of reading. Haven’t we all benefited greatly from our years sitting with the Scholars in Athens, or Auburn or at Georgia Tech, which was founded by Methodists out at our Oxford campus? There are several hundred New World Colleges and Universities founded by Methodists who believed that life requires connections with deep thoughts out beyond us. As a young man Jesus became a Rabbi in his local synagogue. In so doing He taught us how to live and learn. Right now there are dozens of Emory scholars lost off in study carols immersed in new and wild ideas, who are not even aware that its New Years Eve, or that its Sunday. They are often lost in thought when its class time.

This is where they usually found Jesus during his active three year ministry with his disciples on tour: He was often found alone on a mountain side studying, reading, and feasting on some big idea. We too, never outgrow our need for a new thought: Sometimes we even find ourselves lost in thought.

And now that we think about it, Mary and Joseph probably gave Jesus a great gift when they allowed him some freedom. He was allowed, probably encouraged, to think deeply, and Jesus was only doing what they felt that he needed: The God-Boy ended up forgetting the time to leave for the journey home, and found himself lost in deeper thought. And so, became the boy who stayed behind, delving into His Father’s business.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
New Years Eve, 2006