Holidays where gathering as family is that the heart of the activities are not always what we expect them to be. I think that naming this is the gift of our service of remembrance today at 10 a.m. But whether we lost a loved one this year or ten years ago naming that the holidays are full of mixed emotions for many of us is cathartic and healthy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a “Debby Downer” here two days after Christmas! Sometimes it IS absolutely what we envision: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren gathered around a table overflowing with traditional favorite food, laughing, relaxing and having a great time. I have witnessed such days and I hope that you have at least one such day that you can recollect. But if we’re honest, most of our holidays or special planned days don’t go exactly how we envisioned, for lots of reasons. People have to work, get sick, are in a dispute with another family member, or simply don’t come. More difficult is when a chair is empty never to be filled by that person again because they have died. I’ve had more of those kinds of holidays than I would like to recollect and maybe you have as well. Reality is that holidays can be difficult when it seems the rest of the world is joyous and festive and you are remembering who used to be around the table celebrating with you and now they are…not. Even in the healthiest or most functional family system, holidays are a messy experience and let’s be honest, who’s all that functional? I like to say that my family has put the FUN in dysfunctional. Sometimes just owning your dysfunction is helpful and remembering that no family is perfect can be relieving!
Our Luke story today tells us that even the Holy Family, had its share of messiness. They had gone to Jerusalem to Passover, a big family oriented festival where they had spent time with their loved ones, going to Temple, eating and catching up. All seemed to be fine until the big family unit set out for home. It says that Mary and Joseph realized quite a ways down the road that their 12 year old son wasn’t with the family caravan. How can the parents of the Son of God lose him?
In a panic, I’m sure, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Where could he be? Grandma’s house? No. Uncle’s house? No. Friend’s house? No. Surely, he wouldn’t be in the Temple? What middle school aged youth would stay for extra confirmation? Yet, after three days, that is exactly where his parents found him, with the scribes being taught and even more miraculously, teaching. Mom and Dad were initially relieved but then were upset that Jesus wouldn’t just follow directions and join the caravan home. And right there in front of the Rabbi, their nearly teenaged son, smarts off to them about of course he is in his Father’s house and why were they looking for him? Not the serene scene of mother and baby in the stable from a few nights ago. It didn’t take long for things to change.
Even for Mary, mothering the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace was not all it was cracked up to be. Those reversals she sang about when she was pregnant about the high being made low and the low being made high? Yeah, those aren’t so simple now are they? This was messy. This is not going the way she thought. Who is her son and what does this mean?
Messy indeed. Luke’s gospel isn’t afraid of the messiness, the incongruities, the complex emotions, situations and realities of our human lives. In this story Luke foreshadows the confusion and messiness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three days of not knowing what is going on. Three days of waiting in uncertainty. Three days of tumultuous emotions. Three days of asking “why”? Three days that will transform us and the world.
The reality is that our lives are messy. Our lives are not what we had planned. Spouses, children, parents, loved ones, and friends die and we don’t know why. We wrestle with the reality of our pain and sorrow in the midst of a season where we celebrate joy, newness, sing lullabies to new babies, and praises to a King. We might vacillate between really enjoying the season and our sorrow. It can all feel so hallow, shallow, and inauthentic at times. Friends and family may want us to not be sad but it’s not that simple. We grieve deeply because we love deeply. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve. That’s not a consolation or a platitude, but a reality. Love is risky, love changes us, love forever binds us together and so its bonds do not break when someone dies, they are stretched and so as we grieve, we wrestle with the stretching of our love for those who have died. Mary knew from the time of Jesus’ birth that at some level that her love for her son would pierce her heart and stretch her love from life to death. Many of us can attest to loving someone so deeply that we know we have the real risk of pain.
Jesus Christ, God as a human, was God’s deep, risky, transformative and binding love for us. Jesus was God’s love stretching to earthly life, to earthly death to eternal life for us all. God’s love is so vast that it stretches to encompass us all-binding us with all of creation together with God forever. God’s love stretches to swallow up death and our Colossians text reminds us that we put on the clothes of love and eternal life with God. God’s love through Jesus transcends the reality of love in this life where love is connected with grief. God’s love promises to wipe every tear from our eyes, make us whole, united with God now and forever.
This is our hope that we proclaim in our worship each and every week, in word, in water, bread and wine. We proclaim this hope sometimes with songs of praise and sometimes with songs of lament but always with words that dwell in us richly even when we don’t have any words at all. This hope that is offered for all through Jesus Christ, is one in which we rest, even when we have a hard time understanding or believing this mysterious and unconditional gift from God. When we gather as the people of God, we do so in all of our messiness, in all of our differences, in all of our stories of “why,” in order to point to our hope in Christ for each other when we have a hard time seeing it, experiencing it or feeling it. This is the importance of a faith community for us in all seasons of our lives. I know that I have had people in my life who in hard times pointed to the love and hope of Christ for me when I needed it and I pray that I have been that light for other people as well. We need each other on this faith journey. We gather together for the wisdom of the elder in our midst and the wonder of the child. We gather together because we need each other for wholeness, Christ binds us together in love not just for our sake but for the sake of the world. We gather to point to the hope in Christ in the messy, imperfect world around us. God, in Jesus, works through messiness, our imperfections, our sorrows, to reveal God’s promises of wholeness, peace, justice and love this day. Thanks be to God.