There’s a whole holy moment.
After the women show up to find the tomb is empty… Before they know Jesus is risen. After the magi set out to follow the star… Before they find the house with a baby. There’s a whole holy moment: After the crisis we never saw coming. Before the conclusion that makes it make sense. In this moment in between, we don’t know. We thought we knew! And we don’t.
Imagine if our faith is made for the moment in between the crisis and the conclusion because I really think it might be, that’s the first thing. The second thing to know is this: This holy moment of urgency and possibility — this is exactly the moment that’s upon us.
These are the days we are celebrating that Twenty Twenty is over, Hallelujah! We made it. In looking back on last year, something that I found particularly difficult was the experience of being taken by surprise again and again. It’s not like I was expecting the pandemic to happen, but then the shock kept coming in waves. I had no idea the pandemic would last so long or be so virulent.
None of us expected that George Floyd would be murdered by police, but then it was horrifying to see protestors come under attack, to see a doubling down of white supremacy.
None of us knew how the election would turn out, but I’ll tell you, I was entirely unprepared to discover just how divided our nation is. I’m sure you could add examples to the list!
Twenty Twenty was not just a series of surprising events, it was that as human people we are wired to make sense of the world, and all our efforts to make sense of things kept getting shocked and shattered again and again. We thought we knew, and we did not know.
Now even though Twenty Twenty is over, we have not yet arrived at the moment when everything turns out all right. We have not solved racism, or poverty, or mass incarceration, or climate change, or the pandemic, and hold on… There’s a whole holy moment after the act of violence but before the work of peacemaking comes true. This is the moment we’re in right now, and you know what: This is exactly the moment our faith was made for.
If we were in the Gospel of Matthew, today we’d hear the story of the magi searching for Jesus. Instead, the scripture Andy just read comes to us from the Gospel of Luke, and it’s not the wise men who are searching for Jesus. It’s his parents.
Every year Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival along with his parents and their network of extended and chosen family. But this year, when Jesus is twelve, he doesn’t make it back to the caravan before it starts heading home. Jesus is in the temple, sitting at the feet of the teachers, soaking up their faith and seeking God in his heart. Meanwhile his parents have been traveling for a whole day before they notice —Jesus is missing!
Now hold on, before you blame Jesus, this could happen to any of us. Who among us has not gotten so swept up in sermon that we lost track of time… Jesus’s heart was longing for God, and that’s not his fault. Even so, you know blamed himself.
Now hold on, before you blame Mary and Joseph, this could happen to any of us. In these big family caravans, it was reasonable to assume that Jesus was with his cousins; everybody thought he was with somebody else. It’s not Mary and Joseph’s fault, but you try telling them that! They were wracked with guilt! They were out of their minds.
So the whole caravan heads back to Jerusalem. Whoever wrote Luke says it takes them three days to guess where Jesus might be; that’s when they find him in the temple. Now Jesus is glowing with the delight of learning about the LORD. Once they see him, you’d think his parents would be so proud. You’d think this would be a moment of glad reunion. Jesus would notice them and give his mom a hug, and his dad would say, Oh my son who was lost has now been found! Except no. None of that happened.
Instead. What happens might be one of the most chilling moments in all the Gospel. Mary said to her son: How could you do this to us? We trusted you, and you let us down. Who even are you?! Jesus said to his parents: How did you not know to find me here? I trusted you, and you let me down. Who even are you…According to Luke Chapter Two, verse fifty: “his parents did not understand what he said to them.” Yeah.
Now there is a happy ending. Eventually, Jesus and his parents find reconciliation. Jesus increased in wisdom, and in years, and in divine and human favor. But before all that, the whole caravan has to make the journey back to Nazareth, and I’m pretty sure that Jesus and his parents did not speak to each other the whole way.
Mary and Joseph thought they knew Jesus. Jesus thought he knew his parents. They all hear themselves demand, Who even are you! And if you have ever been in any kind of loving relationship with anyone, I’m pretty sure this has happened to you. People we love fail to meet our expectations, and we fail to meet theirs. God fails to meet our expectations!
But it could be that’s not even the problem. It could be the problem comes with what we do next… We human people harbor the impulse that needs things to make sense. That’s not your fault or mine; we are meaning-making creatures. So when the story we’re in begins to swerve off course, we grab onto the first explanations that appear. We jump to conclusions without even realizing it! Anything to get things to make sense.
I’ve told you about the time at my previous church when I set up a big display with plastic Easter eggs. It was like an Angel Tree. Inside each egg was the name and age of a child who had a parent in the County Jail. The concept was that church members would take an egg off the display, then sign up on the clipboard with the child’s name. Then they would make an Easter basket for that child which we would deliver as a gift from their parent in jail.
Well the first Sunday, some of the middle school youth were standing by the table before the service. Later on when I went back, the whole display was destroyed. The tree stand was tipped on its side, there were plastic egg halves everywhere. I was so hurt. I couldn’t believe they had done this! These were my youth! I knew these kids. They weren’t the type to, you know, be hanging out in the temple when they were supposed to be on the caravan. How could they do this!
But hold on a minute. I was entirely wrong.
When I picked up the clipboard, nearly every child’s name had been signed up for a basket. The egg pieces were all over the table because people took the slip out and thought we might like to reuse the eggs next year. You should really put out a basket, they told me. And as you guessed, the kids were standing by the table —not because they were destroying the display — but because they were signing up to make Easter baskets. I thought I knew, and I did not know.
There’s a whole holy moment.
After the incident but before we grab onto the conclusions that make it make sense, there’s a mustard seed of a moment, and this is everything. It’s when our righteous indignation turns into curiosity. It’s when our incredulous Who even are you! melts and becomes Who are you really? I’d like to find out. This is what it means to be seeking Christ. All this time of being Christian we think we know, and we do not know, but hold on a minute. We want to.
You know this impulse of wonder. It’s what brought the magi to their knees once they saw that baby. It’s what kept Jesus in the temple, not realizing what time it was. Hold on a minute, we’ve got to see this!
And I can’t tell you whether this moment is what makes possible the grace in our soul or whether it’s the other way around, and it’s grace that makes possible this moment. All I can tell you is this moment is enough to keep us looking for Christ, to keep us open to the possibility that we might find him, even if that changes the ending we had imagined, even if we have to go home another way.
Friends, this is January Third. Remember last January Third? Back then, we had no idea what was about to happen in March. We had no idea what the year was going to throw at us, nor did we know how we would rise to meet the challenge. And so it is. Right now we have no idea what’s going to happen this March. We could choose to step into this New Year holding open the possibility for meaningful healing, for peacemaking, for a promise we can’t even see the whole of yet because when it comes to Twenty Twenty-One the truth is, we don’t know. But maybe we want to.
After the decision of betrayal but before the meal of reconciliation…. After the injury but before any retaliation, even before any forgiveness… After the devastations of last year but before things are all the way better, there is this moment when we don’t know. We are looking and longing for Christ! Let’s hold on.