The headline read, “Jacking Jesus.” The story began by saying, “’Tis the season to be Jesus stealing? Away in a manger, no Christ for the bed? It has become a new Christmas fetish – neutering nativities by jacking the Jesus. Just over the past week, dozens of mini-messiahs have been nabbed from nativities across the country.” I’m not real sure why anyone would get their jollies by stealing Jesus statues from manger scenes, but I suppose it takes all types; however, many churches are fighting back. One church placed a sign in the crib after their Jesus was stolen that read, “Bring Back Baby Jesus and no one will get hurt – signed… God.” But there is a more high-tech approach.
The New York-based firm BrickHouse Security offers free, short term loans of global positioning system to religious institutions. The systems are designed to give a pinpoint location of where Jesus is based on satellite tracking. The ones from BrickHouse Security will notify immediately if the display is moved. Reverend Bob Gorman of St. Ambrose Church in Old Bridge, New Jersey told The Star-Leger, “It’s not a global positioning system. We call it God’s Positioning System.” Their church drilled a hole in Baby Jesus’ backside to slip in the GPS device before the figure was placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. From the sounds of our gospel reading today, Mary and Joseph could have benefited from such a system.
The story begins by telling us that it was Passover. This is the eight day celebration that falls in the Spring and is a festival commemorating God sparing the Jews when he killed the first born of Egypt during the Israelites final days of captivity. The festival is always marked by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and this was the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were taking.
In their day, it would have been very common for the entire family or even village to travel together. Safety in numbers. So the Holy Family, they would have been in a large group and it wouldn’t have been uncommon for Mary and Joseph not to see each other at times, much less keep up with an energetic twelve year-old. They knew where he was: he was with friends and family and he was safe. Perhaps there’s a lesson we can keep in mind: everyone looked out for one another and they all looked out for the children.
After the festival had ended, it would have been very natural for Mary and Joseph to assume that Jesus was with the group. They were n’t irresponsible parents. It’s just how things worked and they never thought twice about it. The scripture seems to indicate that they did not start looking for him until the end of the first day—“You be home in time for dinner”—or something along those lines. When he was a no show, they probably didn’t worry much, but after a short time of looking, they went into full parental panic. Realizing he wasn’t with the group, they returned to the big city to search for him. Three days later, they find him, sitting in the temple and asking questions. Mary said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” Jesus response, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
We often read this as Jesus rebuking his parents, but when we do, we are putting words and the attitude of an insolent teenager in the mouth of Jesus and assume he is saying, “Duh. Where else would I be?” A more accurate take would be to say that Jesus was surprised. He did not intentionally distress his parents and he wasn’t wising off to them. He honestly thought they would know that if he was not in the house of his father Joseph, then he would be in the house of his Father in Heaven.
So, here’s a question: have you ever had Jesus go missing on you? Said with Mary and Joseph, “He’s lost!” Have you ever needed him and gone looking for him, but without success? We all have, but… did you ever stop to consider that maybe he’s not the one that’s lost? “Jesus, we’ve been searching all over for you!” “Why? I’ve been right here all along. I never left.” You… We are the ones that wandered off. We are the ones that were lost and the—not “Ha ha”—funny thing is: we never even knew it.
Pastor Joseph Stowell talked about going with his wife, three-year-old, and parents to Chicago for the annual Christmas trek at one of those massive malls. At one point, in the midst of all the fun and excitement, the adults suddenly noticed that little three-year-old Matthew was gone. Terror immediately struck everyone’s heart. They had heard the horror stories: little children kidnapped in malls, rushed to a rest room, donned in different clothes and altered hairstyle, and then swiftly smuggled out, never to be seen again. They split up, each taking an assigned location. Joseph’s was the parking lot. He said, “I’ll never forget that night—kicking through the newly fallen snow, calling out his name at the top of my lungs. I felt like an abject fool, yet my concern for his safety outweighed all other feelings.”
Unsuccessful, Joseph trudged back to the designated meeting point. His wife had not found him, nor had his mother. And then his dad appeared, holding little Matthew by the hand. Their hearts leapt for joy. Interestingly enough, Matthew wasn’t the slightest traumatized. He hadn’t even been crying. To him, there had not been a problem. Joseph asked his father where he had found him. “The candy counter,” he replied. “You should have seen him. His eyes came just about as high as the candy. He held his little hands behind his back and moved his head back and forth, surveying all the luscious options.” Matthew hadn’t looked lost. Why? Because he hadn’t even known he was lost. He was oblivious to the phenomenal danger he was in. Joseph concluded by saying, “This is a candy-counter culture, where people don’t look lost and don’t even know they’re lost.”
When Jesus seems lost or missing to you and when you go looking for him, remember: he’s not the one that’s lost. He is very near to the Father and that is where you will find him. When we do finally find him, I bet he speaks the exact same words to us as his mother spoke to him: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Let us pray: Almighty God and Father of light, a child is born for us and a son is given to us. Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night, and now your Church is filled with wonder at the nearness of her God. Open our hearts to receive his life and increase our vision, that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.