“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49).
Every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, no matter what season it is: true in Advent, true in Christmas, true even in Lent. Though the particular season may focus us on another mystery of faith, like Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, each Sunday recalls the central reason we gather, to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Signs may urge us at Christmas time to remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but I’ll do you one better: Jesus’ resurrection is the whole reason we’re commemorating his birth. Even while we’re celebrating his nativity, we’re mindful that the reason we have new life is that Jesus rose from the dead.
The Gospel writers had this in mind as they wrote: no one more so than St. Luke the Evangelist, from whom we read this morning. Luke gives us a story from Jesus’ boyhood, as he travels with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. While there, Jesus slips away from his tour group, but his parents don’t notice he’s missing until they’re returning to Nazareth. Of course, they’re frantic; and they hurry back to Jerusalem and discover him in the Temple. Jesus is not worried, of course: he’s deep in conversation with the teachers of the law, instructing them in God’s will!
To come back to the point, the way in which this story is told foreshadows the story of the resurrection. At Passover, Mary and Joseph are searching for Jesus in the same way as the women who went in search of his body on Easter Day. The women discover the empty tomb, and the angel at the grave tells them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Lk. 24:5). Those who are searching are met with a question. When the disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, on the day of resurrection, and don’t recognize him, Jesus asks them another question, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). The point of the question is the same: in each case, people thought they had lost Jesus, but suddenly he’s given back to them, alive not dead.
You can see the parallel: in both cases, they think that Jesus is lost, missing in action, absent without leave. From their point of view, there’s a blank space where he ought to be. The poet Czeslaw Milosz caught something of the feeling when he wrote about “absence; the mighty power of counter-fulfillment; the penalty of a promise lost forever” (How It Was): that sounds like what Mary and Joseph were experiencing as they searched for their son. “Penalty;” “lost promise;” “absence”: now happily overcome as they find Jesus, exactly where he ought to be.
What Mary and Joseph experienced that Passover in Jerusalem foreshadows what the women and the disciples experience at another Passover, on Easter Day: the Lord given back to them. “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49). He’s not lost: if anyone’s lost, it’s us; but yet we’re really found, as the Shepherd goes in search of the sheep (Matt. 18:12). What Mary and Joseph find is that Jesus is in command of the situation; just as much as Jesus in John’s Gospel is in command of the situation on Good Friday. Jesus isn’t in need; we’re the ones who are in need, the sheep who have wandered, the ones who need saving.
Where is Jesus finding you this Christmastide? Are you frantically rushing around, beside yourself with worry? Jesus isn’t lost; but still, you might be searching for him. You might feel his absence, the power of counter-fulfillment, and you might feel the penalty of a promise lost forever. Never fear: he’s not lost, and you are not in danger of losing him. He’s teaching in the Temple, risen to new life at his resurrection, entered into the sanctuary in heaven, as the Letter to the Hebrews says (Heb. 9:24). What we ought to find this Christmastide is that God is powerful to save, and that’s true for you and for me.
Every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. When we seek him at the tomb, we discover more than we were looking for. We begin this year as we begin every year, by greeting the risen Lord. He’s not lost, and neither are we, as he meets us this morning in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Why are we searching for him anyplace else? He’s at home in his Father’s house, and so are we.