Once upon a time there was a little boy riding in his parents’ car. He and his younger sister and brother, with their parents, were returning home from a family vacation. Along the way, they pulled off the interstate highway at a rest area for a bathroom stop. Everyone piled out of the car and walked to the restrooms inside. But when the little boy came out of the building and headed for the car…there was no car. In fact, there were no people! His family had left the rest area without him!
That little boy was me!
Well, even at that age I understood what had happened. They’d taken off, thinking I was in the car. This was way before cell phones so there was nothing I could do except sit and wait, hoping that they would come back and pick me up! I sat staring at the highway, and pretty soon way in the distance I saw a car backing toward me on the shoulder of the highway, and finally back up the ramp. My parents were embarrassed, of course. I was just glad to see them!
41Now every year [Jesus’] 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.
My situation at the rest stop was nothing compared to that of Jesus! It took only a few minutes for my parents to realize that I was not with them. As his family returned home from a Passover celebration in Jerusalem it took Jesus’ parents a whole day to realize that he was not with them! But, it gets worse. It took them three days to find him!
What a nightmare! Do you think those parents got any sleep at all during that time? No wonder 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?”
Centuries before all this happened a young boy named Samuel had been dedicated by his parents to serve in the Jerusalem temple—the same temple that Jesus’ family had visited for Passover. This is the story leading up to today’s first reading. One night Samuel had a vision in which he heard someone calling his name. He ran to Eli, his master, who thought the little boy must be dreaming. This happened again the next night. Samuel came running to his master. “Here I am,” he said. Eli realized that the voice Samuel heard must be the voice of God. And he told Samuel that next time he heard the voice he should ask God what God wanted. Samuel did as he was told and his life was forever changed by Eli’s trust in him.
So here we have two remarkable young people: Samuel and Jesus. Both are obedient to their parents and mentors, and God is able through them to bless the lives of countless people for generations to come. But in addition to being obedient these two young people discern their own path through life. They don’t become clones of their parents and teachers. They listen, they ask questions and they grow. It’s a two-way street: the grown- ups teach and lead, the children listen and teach the grown-ups what God is doing among them.
More amazing than either Samuel or Jesus, for me, is the faith of the grown-ups in their lives. Eli the priest understood that God was speaking to him through the boy Samuel. Although in this morning’s reading Jesus sounds like he’s sassing back at his parents, Mary understood that through a difficult situation God was speaking to her through her son.
What do you think? If you were Mary how would you have responded? Don’t ever do that again! is what we might have expected. Or even, Young man, you are grounded for a week! Unexpectedly, we find that Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
Sometimes when parents respond anxiously to their children’s behavior it says more about the parents than the child. Children can be pretty effective at bringing to the surface parental anxieties–anxieties which deep down may have very little to do with the child and the child’s behavior.
What we find in Mary–what we find in both Eli and Mary–is not some unrealistic fantasy. Instead, in their ability to remain calm we find evidence of faith. Instead of shouting, instead of punishing, they see themselves as part of a bigger picture in which they aren’t in control and never can be. What they could do—and what they did in these two stories— was to listen for the voice of God and realize that they could hear God’s voice “out of the mouth of babes.”
Here we are, a week after an Advent reading in which Mary was the young person in the story. Remember, Jesus at the temple was only twelve. Mary, when she was pregnant with Jesus was only thirteen or fourteen. It may be that after three days, when she finally found her son, she was able to think back on her own experience, which had been unbelievable to the grown-up world in which she lived. And yet, at that difficult time in her childhood she had found love and support by a few who understood that God was speaking through her.
Friends, isn’t that what Christmas is about? Isn’t Christmas the story of God coming into the world among us, unexpectedly, not through the usual paths of power or wealth or fame or prestige but…through an infant? And in this season of Christmas that story continues: God appears through a little boy named Samuel, and later through a pre-adolescent named Jesus.
The message of Christmas is powerfully clear: God is with us, and appears among us, not just in unexpected ways, but specifically, even through children. If we have eyes to see and take the time to listen, God’s presence and power and even direction for our lives can be discerned through young people…in every generation!
For those of us whose youth is past, still, our souls can remain young. Our teachers are Mary and Joseph, and Eli and Elkanah and Hannah, the grown-ups in today’s stories. These are models of faith. These are people whose faith in God is revealed in their ability to let go of their own needs and beliefs.
Notice the response of Jesus’ parents. When he asked, Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” — (He’s as amazed by their world as they are by his!)—and Luke writes, “But they did not understand what he said to them.” Does this not seem like a timeless conversation: I just don’t understand these young people! And yet, seeking not her own will but God’s will, we find that Mary’s own life was transformed. Luke writes that Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
In her song of praise (that we heard last Sunday), Mary sang, From this day all generations will call me blessed; you, [O God], have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation. In this Christmas season may the spirit of Mary take hold of our own hearts! May we see God With Us, and may God bless the world through our obedience and faith. AMEN