As we the best moments of Christmas Day, we quickly realize the Christmas season is closing, the year 2018 is coming to an end, and a new year will soon arrive. The arrival of a new year serves as a fresh starting point with millions of people. Many will make one or more new year resolutions. The top resolutions for Americans 2018 starting with the most popular were: Eat better — 37 percent; Exercise more — 37 percent; Spend less money — 37 percent; Self-care (e.g. getting more sleep) — 24 percent; Read more books —18 percent; Learn a new skill — 15 percent; Get a new job — 14 percent; Make new friends — 13 percent; New hobby — 13 percent; Focus more on appearance — 12 percent; Focus on relationship — 12 percent; Cut down on cigarettes/alcohol — 9 percent; Go on more dates — 7 percent; and Focus less on appearance — 3 percent. These all seem like good things to do. But it should not be much of a surprise that all 14 resolutions I mentioned benefit the resolution maker. The intent is to make for a healthier, wealthier, and happier resolution maker by self-focused activities. It is not a bad thing to improve oneself but to what end. If someone successfully kept all these resolutions, then what? Other than the pursuit of self, what do these resolutions offer?
I did some searching for new year’s resolutions that benefit others. Most of the suggestions fell into these broad categories. Say “Thank You,” more often; Offer help to strangers; Donate stuff you don’t need; Volunteer; and then my personal favorite – Be more honest. I like the qualifying word of being “more” honest. Adding the word “more” allows for a few lies along the way to avoid the unpleasant messiness that comes with just being honest. These resolutions do seem a bit more focused on others but seem to have a little in common with one another.
So with this mixture of thoughts swirling about Christmas Day being passed and new years coming, I wondered what insight might be offered to us in the Bible following Christmas Day and the start of something new. Curiously, the Bible contains very little about Jesus immediately after his birth. In fact, the Gospels for the most part start with Jesus’ baptism and the start of his ministry, likely at age 30. There is 30 years of near silence after Christmas Day in the Bible. Curious, isn’t it that from birth to age 30 Jesus is virtually unknown? But just as curiously, what little was said about Jesus after his birth and before his ministry began with his baptism is very powerful. Today, I would like us to focus on brief passage and see the power that story has to shape our lives today.
I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, starting at verse 41. As we get to that passage, we need to keep in mind that Luke was not present when the events we are going to read about took place. Luke never met Jesus. Luke became interested in the story of Jesus and sought out witnesses to Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. One of the witnesses was likely Mary, Jesus’ mother. With Mary’s help, Luke wrote about Jesus’ birth. Luke wrote about Jesus’ start in ministry at age 30. And Luke wrote about exactly one event between birth and age 30. To select just one story over that 30 years span would suggest that one story was exceptionally meaningful to the entire story of Jesus. If so, then there should be some important truth for us in that story.
Luke began the story this way. “41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” Passover was the celebration of God freeing the Hebrew people from Egypt. God commanded the Hebrew people to celebrate Passover every year and that command continues to be followed until this present time. We also might find it interesting that Passover occurs in the Jewish month of Nisan [Nis-an], which God said to the Hebrew people “is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year” (Exodus 12:1). In many ways then Passover was a new year celebration and Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and many other family members and friends made their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate as God had instructed. Centuries later, the Jewish people introduced Rosha Shana as the New Year’s Day for its calendars.
Luke continued, “43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they [Mary and Joseph] were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he [Jesus] was in their company [think caravan], they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him [Jesus] among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him [Jesus], they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him.” The celebration of the Passover was complete, the caravan assembled, and started back to Nazareth. Historians tell us that women and children traveled in one part of the caravan while men traveled in another part. Jesus being 12 may have fit with either the women and children or with the men perhaps leading to the confusion of his parents about his whereabouts. Whatever the reason, Mary and Joseph did not realize Jesus was absent for a day. Once they realized Jesus was not with them, Mary and Joseph spent the next day retracing their steps to Jerusalem. And then in Jerusalem, they spent a day searching the city for him. Luke said, “They found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished.”
This is a great scene. Jesus is seated among the Jewish teachers. Being seated was the position rabbis took when teaching. Luke said that Jesus was asking the religious leaders and teachers questions and they were amazed at his answers. Luke gives the impression Jesus was asking and answering his own questions with such insight that everyone was just mesmerized.
That is the scene Luke painted to come to the defining moment of this passage. Mary said to Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” At this point, Mary and Joseph were a tangled ball of emotions. They had been panicked, worried, and fearful about Jesus’ absence and now at finding him they are astonished, relieved, frustrated, and angry all at the same time. Mary wanted to know why Jesus put them through such an ordeal.
The words that follow are Jesus’ first recorded words and the only words we have from Jesus for the first 12 years of his life and for the next 18 years. The twelve-year-old Jesus replied with two questions. 49 “Why were you searching for me?” Jesus question challenges Mary’s need to be anxious and to search. Anxiousness comes from fear, uncertainty, potential danger, and great worry. The opposite of anxiousness is peace. Jesus’ question suggests that Mary should have been at peace and did not need to search. She, perhaps more than anyone else, should have had a peace knowing exactly where Jesus would be; namely the Temple. Her mental anguish of anxiousness was unnecessary, and searching was a waste of energy. She should have known where Jesus was.
To accentuate his point, Jesus said to Mary and Joseph, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Other Bible translations put it, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”
These words, “I had to be about my Father’s business,” become the defining words of Jesus. Jesus said, “I had to be…” These words, “I had to be…” mean there was no alternative. The use of these words, “I had to be…” means the person is driven to do something by the priority of their life. We might think of it this way. Each of us could say, “I had to… keep breathing yesterday to be here today. If I wanted to stay alive to see today, the one thing I had to do was keep breathing. I could have gone without water, food, sleep, and a myriad of other things. But if I did not keep breathing yesterday, I would not see today.” This is the sense of this phrase Jesus was using. “I had to be…” He was driven, focused, single-minded, compelled, and even propelled toward something. What was it?
We see the object of his need in the second half of his statement. “I had to be…about my Father’s business, or in my Father’s house.” Perhaps with Passover, the Hebrew new year, and borrowing from our modern traditions about new year’s, Jesus’ single lifetime resolution would be, “I resolve that I must be about my Father’s business.” If we pause for a moment and think about what we know of Jesus from the moment he began his public ministry, everything he said and did falls back to this statement he said as a 12-year-old. Every Jesus said and did was done because he must do be about his Father’s business. Jesus was pointing his earthly parents toward God showing that he had an intimate personal relationship with God by calling him Father. He had a powerful connection to God that compelled what he said and what he did.
It makes sense then why the only story of Jesus’ early life recalled for us in the Bible is this one. Because this story tells us that Jesus had to be about his Father’s business. Jesus did not have mixed feelings about that call upon his life. Everything he did came back to this single purpose.
Now that we have looked at these few but powerful words from Jesus’ early life what message is there for us? Do we have peace in what we have to do with our life? How do we have peace in our hearts like Jesus had? Sadly, many people struggle with finding that peace. They live lives that are a tangled ball of emotions. They are anxiously searching for something and they do not know where to find it or if they will ever find it. They are left often struggling with the question, “What on earth am I here for?”
Now here is the good news. Jesus in doing his Father’s business, said our life can be as clearly defined as his, have meaning, purpose, and peace. That in following Jesus, we too become children of God and he becomes our Father. We can have an intimate relationship with God. Jesus invites us to receive the Holy Spirit so that our lives can be moved like his to be about God’s business; our Father’s business. We do not need to live a tangled ball of emotions.
Sometime ago, I met a person who was very naturally upset over the death of a loved one. After a few months of knowing this person, they confided to me that they thought about taking their own life. The person said, “I just do not see the point in living anymore. I lived for this other person [the one who died] but now they are gone. I lived these last few months because I feared if I took my own life, my pet would be put to sleep because no one would want it. So I stayed alive for my pet. But now I just don’t know if that is enough to keep me going. I have no purpose for being here.” There were a few moments of silence between us as those words sunk into my mind. Then I said to this person, “I can see that you are in great pain and are very anxious about your present and your future. But might I point out that your purposes for living, the person you loved and your pet, would one day die. Have you thought about a living your life for a purpose that does not die and cannot be taken from you? Have you thought about living your life for God?” The person was quiet for a few moments and then said, “I have never thought about doing that. I am not even sure how to do that. Could you teach me?” This person is beginning to come to understand what it means to live a life for God’s purpose.
“God did not create you or me to be a defeated, discouraged, frustrated, wandering soul, seeking in vain for peace of heart and peace of mind. He has bigger plans for us. He has a larger world and a greater life for us” (BGEA).
God does not want us to live a life of a tangled ball of emotions or to live our life for ourselves. God wants us to know that we cannot be separated from Him. God wants us to live a life with a simple but forceful focus of being like Jesus, following him, not in a casual way but in a very deliberate way. He wants us to imitate Jesus as though we had to. God wants us to live our life for the great purpose of being about His business as his child.
At our Christmas Eve service, I quoted a poem entitled The Work of Christmas. I believe it could well describe our Father’s business. It could well describe our forever new year’s resolution. It could well describe a life lived on purpose for God. It could well describe what we can say to all who will listen to us, “This is what I had to do…”
The poem goes like this. “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal those broken in spirit, to feed the hungry, to release the oppressed, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among all peoples, to make a little music with the heart…And to radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say. Then the work of Christmas begins.
Once the angels, shepherd, wise men, kings and princes were gone, Jesus said he would do all of these things and more because these things are his Father’s business. Let’s make doing the work of God, our Father, our new year’s resolution and join Jesus by do such things as these as we pursue a life lived for God. Amen and Amen.