Rev. Caroline Barnett
Where is God's Home?
41 Now every year [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming 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. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 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.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a strange one.
The schools are closed and so are many offices. Even those who go to work between the two holidays, well, it feels like things operate at half-speed.
For many— though maybe not this year— we’re often still with family and friends, many people are traveling during that time. Email inboxes are left unread, the days are spent in pajamas, leftovers abound, and I, for one, think there is nothing wrong with eating desserts for breakfast during this time.
Time moves a little differently in the days post-Christmas. Details and schedules become a little hazy.
So I don’t hold it against Mary and Joseph that, in their own post-holiday fog, they lose track of their twelve year old, Jesus.
They are traveling home from a long Passover celebration. They’ve just seen all of their relatives— I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good or bad thing. But even if they’ve enjoyed the holiday, the travel home from it, the come-down from any sort of celebration leaves them worn out and tired. I imagine they’re just ready to be home.
But, travel is tiring, and it takes even longer when you go by foot or donkey. And so, Mary and Joseph walk with their neighbors traveling back to Nazareth, and they look around and realize their son has slipped away from them and can’t be found.
He is not, as they first assumed, with other travelers. It’s a big group so maybe he’s somewhere else in the crowd. But he is nowhere to be found.
He is lost.
So, they do what all people who lose something— or someone— do: They retrace their steps.
Back and back they go, until they are at right back to where they started: the temple again. And lo and behold: There is Jesus, sitting with the scholars. No worse for wear.
Once, when I was five years old, I got lost in the rainforest exhibit of the zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. And I was a wreck until a family realized I was lost and a park ranger located my parents. But Jesus is far calmer about the absence of his parents.
It doesn’t even cross his mind that he has caused worry for them. In his mind, he was never lost.
Jesus was right where he was supposed to be: At home.
Because the temple is his father’s house.
It’s his home.
Over the past nine months, we’ve spent a lot of time at home.
For some, they’ve used this time of working and learning from home to really sink into the comforts of their space. People have started gardens they never had the time for. Others became more familiar with their kitchen and cooked more. Still some have used this time to have quality time with their family, knowing that this was an unusual opportunity to be together.
Our homes became our everything.
But even so, this pandemic has highlighted that not everyone’s house is a home.
For many, the economic insecurity this pandemic has brought has threatened their home. The need for assistance from organizations like PCM to help cover housing costs has increased significantly this year.
Others find that their house is just the place they keep their stuff. Their home is elsewhere, with others they can’t spend time with.
And even if you are secure and you love your house, doing everything from your home— especially if you share it with others— was probably not what you had in mind for that space.
If we had any doubts, this pandemic has reminded us how vitally important homes are for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Because when the world becomes dangerous and chaotic, we retreat to our places of comfort and safety. We looks to cozy spots in our life— a couch, a dining room table, a backyard— that we know will keep us safe.
And— when it is safe to do so— we invite the people we love to share those spaces with us— to fill our homes with laughter, good conversation, and important memories.
When we are in our homes— whether that is the four walls that surround you right now or somewhere else— we are not lost. Not really.
There is a version of this sermon that continues with: “Just as we find love and support in our homes, we find it too in our church home.”
And the message would be that, like Mary and Joseph, we should return to church whenever we might be lost, and when we are there, in this sanctuary, we will be found. And Christ will tell us that we never all that lost to begin with.
But that’s a sermon for a different time and circumstance, because right now, I am the only person in our beloved church sanctuary, and all the doors are locked, and there are still bulletins from last March sitting in the Narthex.
And I wish I could say: we are like Mary and Joseph searching and finding God here at 143 E Thach Ave.
I wish I could preach that sermon today.
And even though those words would be true, that’s not where this scripture passage meets us.
Instead it meets us in world where we feel more lost than ever before. This has been a hard year for nearly everyone, in unique and personal ways. There’s been no road map to tell us how to go from day to day, crisis to crisis.
It’s a world where maybe our homes don’t feel comforting. Where they are growing claustrophobic and we are longing to get out.
It’s a world where hope might be difficult to come by, and our usual methods to find it through community and connection just aren’t the same.
It’s a world where we need the church more than ever, but the doors are shut.
But God has never really needed a temple or church to find us, even if that’s what we’re used to finding God.
God meets us wherever we are. Yes, at church. But also in our homes. While we travel. In the wilderness. When we are with others. When we are alone. God meets us here and there.
Because God makes God’s home in buildings, but also among people. Through the birth of Christ, God joins humanity on the earth, in a stable with his parents, in a house as he is raised by Mary and Joseph, at a table where he eats bread his mother bakes. On the road he traveled with his parents to Jerusalem.
God makes God’s home in whatever neighborhood humans reside.
Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian minister, wrote a paraphrased version of the Bible called "The Message." Now, it’s not an exact translation of Hebrew and Greek, so we don’t use it for our worship and study of scripture, but it does have a creative way of capturing the essence of what the text might say in new words.
In one instance, he takes a famous verse from a chapter in John’s Gospel— “And the Word became flesh and lived among us”— and he offers us a new angle on the incarnation.
He writes: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
God lives in our neighborhoods. God lives in our homes.
This is the good news of Christmas: God lives among us.
Which means whenever we feel lost, whenever we lose sight of Jesus, whenever our houses don’t feel like homes, we don’t need to retrace our steps all the way back to this building to find Christ.
We can find Jesus wherever we are.
It might take a little bit of effort. It might challenge us to form new habits. But Jesus already lives in our neighborhood, we just have to look for him.
One day we will be back in this sanctuary together. And I can’t wait for that day when we open the doors, dust off the hymnals, and make our way to our favorite pews.
But until that day, we’ll sink into the comforts we have, the habits and practices that remind us of God’s presence does not need certain address to be felt.
Because, God is with us. Emmanuel. In our homes, in our neighborhoods, even if we feel lost.
Thanks be to God. Amen.