‘Where is Johnny?’…. ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you?

The Text: Luke 2:41-52

I’m wondering whether some of us can call to mind those arguments and panic stations that ensue when parents realise their child is missing. The pattern between husband and wife in this example usually goes something like this: ‘Where is Johnny?’….  ‘I don’t know. Wasn’t he with you? … No! He was supposed to be with you! You were supposed to keep an eye on him…. Well actually I did, and then I when I didn’t see him I just assumed Johnny went over to you…… Well he didn’t, and it is entirely your fault’….etc. etc. 

Sound familiar to anyone? It is panic stations when a child is lost. So often, blame kicks in even before a strategy is developed to try and solve the problem. Now I’m not sure what dialogue Mary and Joseph were having once they discovered that Jesus was not where he was supposed to be after an exhausting day of travel from Jerusalem, but the whole thing is not quite as simple as we might assume. Mary and Joseph had good reason to assume Jesus was coming home with them, so it is not as simple as thinking that Mary and Joseph were way too laid back or irresponsible parents.

But before we get to the part of Jesus being found some background is helpful. Firstly, our Gospel writer Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph and thousands of other Jews went to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover year after year after year. It was a set piece, the same routine. In those days people travelled together in groups and there was no such thing as two parents doing all the child rearing and formation by themselves. Whole communities were involved and so it was normal for children to hang out with lots of adults and other children.

And so, every year Jesus would have travelled as part of his community without seeing much of his parents along the way. The only time one could do a head count was the evening meal at the end of the day where everyone came together and camped for the night. This was the moment that Mary and Joseph knew something was wrong. He wasn’t with the relatives and family, and he wasn’t even with acquaintances and friends.

After a day’s journey imagine how you would feel having to travel back with all that worry about a missing child! And keep in mind the psychological profile of Mary and Joseph. Remember that they would have good reason to be anxious and extra concerned because of their early trauma of fleeing to Egypt. They know they have a son whom Herod tried very hard to get rid of. Perhaps Mary and Joseph think that Jesus might have been finally abducted or even killed.  

And so, the time it takes to find Jesus is three days in total. One day’s travel, another day travelling back and then another day looking for him in Jerusalem. Now it is interesting that Mary and Joseph didn’t try the Temple first since this pilgrimage for Passover was a very special one for Jesus. He had turned twelve.

This was the time he was officially an adult in Jewish eyes. This meant that during the pilgrimage Jesus would be required to attend classes in the Temple with the teachers of the law. This was a sort of youth development program and a way for the young men to become well versed in the Torah and to debate and discuss its content.

So, in verse 47 Jesus’ parents stumble upon a session in the temple courts and they witness the teachers of the Law being completely knocked out of line, and flabbergasted by Jesus’ answers and his understanding. Jesus and the teachers were clearly having a lot of extra time together. In the original language it describes Jesus as being remarkably able to ‘put all the pieces together’, to ‘connect all the dots’ in the Scriptures. And so, when Mary and Joseph see all this, the original language expresses their reaction as an image of a ‘mouth gaping open in surprise’. However, this astonishment is short lived, because the blame game kicks in very quick: ‘Son why have you treated us like this?’ they say to Jesus. For them Jesus has not only caused hassle, and worry, but in front of the teachers of the law they are likely embarrassed that Jesus has disrespected them by not telling them where he was.

But then comes Jesus’ reply, and this is the turning point of his life. It is the first time Jesus speaks in Luke’s Gospel; and he, like always, answers a question with a question. ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?  His calm response silences that voice of an anxious and confused parent. His reply completely perplexes them, and they can’t answer him. They can’t even connect the dots together and make sense of it all.

Jesus the young adult has arrived. Jesus also now reveals another key parental relationship: That is Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Father. Jesus’ time in the temple marks the beginning of a new chapter of his mission and ministry, but despite his time in Jerusalem, Jesus submits to his parents and goes home with them.

Things will never be the same again for Mary and Joseph, and Luke tells us that Mary is still doing her internal processing as she stores up all these events in her heart. Stop and think for a moment of how hard it must be for her to try and make sense of who Jesus really is. How hard it must have been for them to try and let go of their son as Jesus followed his Heavenly Father’s call? They wanted him to come home like he always did, but this time he didn’t come with them. He signalled to his parents that things would become different from then on.

Jesus’ transition from his earthly family is something we can identify with in our own families. Many of us have transitioned from our original family into a new world of marriage with another person. That can be difficult for parents to adjust to. Similarly, it can be hard for us to let our friends and family members transition into their calling with the Lord too. It is especially very hard for sons or daughters from a non-Christian family who then become Christians. Parents can become very hostile and even disown their children because of this change. Christian parents aren’t immune from this attachment problem either. Some struggle greatly that their dear son doesn’t wish to be a lawyer or doctor and get a secure job, but instead wants to be a pastor or a missionary overseas. Even though there is joy in one sense, there is also an odd sense of loss, and parental expectations compromised. 

This sense of expectation being compromised is something that Mary in particular would suffer as she would eventually see Jesus, the Messiah of the whole world being put to death for our sins. This is a calling no parent would ever wish for their child, but Mary had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was God’s Son and she and Joseph had that privilege of being able to care and nurture him in his early years. They were a key part of his formation, and soon they would have to let him go into his ministry.

Jesus was safe and sound in God’s house, and all those who are baptised are baptised into the Christ, the Lord’s house, his temple. This is not a physical building, but the spiritual house of God that we all are part of. So let us not dwell in worry and anxiety over our children and our dear friends but commit them to the Lord’s care. We pray for many of the people we love to be able to follow God’s call on their life; not always expecting that they will follow us in our walk, but that we pray that they will dwell in Christ Jesus the place of true care and comfort. May all of you who are grieving over prodigal sons and daughters whom we might think are lost, keep on engaging in prayer for them so that one day they might be found safe in Christ’s arms. For we truly have a wonderful saviour who goes out to seek his children and bring them home.


It’s all about Mary

The Text: Luke 1:39-45


Many of you in the coming days will spend time visiting friends and relatives or having friends and relatives visit you for various Christmas celebrations.

Some of you will play the part of host welcoming others into your homes.  And as I talk you’re probably running through the 100 things you still have to do, before your guests arrive. Being a host can be a busy or even a stressful task.

Others of you will be the guests this time around enjoying the hospitality of others, but that has its challenges too, packing travelling, managing time, perhaps attending multiple celebrations in multiple locations on the same day.

This is a special time of year to gather with loved ones and a blessing for those who are able to or have the opportunity to do so.

Today’s text describes another family get together, a visit between relatives. In fact it is usually referred to on the Christian calendar as the visitation—when Mary, having discovered that she is pregnant, travelled to the hill country of Judea to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is pregnant with her son John at the time. What happens then as Mary enters the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth?

There is an outpouring of emotion and joy and blessing, there is blessing for the host, there is blessing for the guest, and there is blessing for the whole home as it welcomes Mary and Jesus into its midst.  Let’s think about the hosts. First of all Zechariah and Elizabeth and little miniature John the Baptist about six months along at this stage.

They weren’t spring chickens these two.  Luke describes them as being well along in years. Elizabeth has finally been able to conceive but now Zechariah is unable to speak because he didn’t believe the angel’s words and that God was capable of giving them a child, so they have a few challenges to overcome. But all of that seems to pale in significance compared to the joy in their home and the good news she brings. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and later she says, “Why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Elizabeth puts aside her challenges and distractions to simply rejoice and be grateful and express honour that such a special guest has come to her home. Elizabeth is excited, John the Baptist in the womb is excited. We’re not sure what Zechariah is because he can’t talk but we assume he is excited too that Mary, who Elizabeth calls the mother of her Lord, has come to stay.

Elizabeth recognises by the power of the Holy Spirit the miracle of what’s going on here. God hasn’t just entered the world but God has entered the womb. God has become embryonic, the infinite finite, the immortal mortal, the invulnerable vulnerable, the supernatural natural, the creator has entered his creation and the impossible has become possible.

This is the visit of our Lord into his world. We get so distracted by externals at Christmas time, by presents, by preparations, by food and drink and being a good host or a good guest. Elizabeth draws our attention to what is internal to her inner joy at Mary’s inner child. Being a good host isn’t easy. Do you know how long Mary stayed with Zechariah and Elizabeth? Three months. Do you know how long your relatives are planning to stay with you after Christmas? You better find out!

Mary was there three months, probably right up to the birth of John, but no doubt this time spent together involved great joy and blessing for them all.  So what about Mary?

As she travelled from Nazareth to Judea some 130 km away, there may have been the questions: what if they didn’t accept her? Believe her? Want her there? What if they didn’t make her feel at home? Often the anticipation of visiting, the uncertainty of visiting, can be one of the hardest parts, but once in the presence of her kinsfolk, once Mary arrives at her destination, all of that subsides. Elizabeth’s first words are words of welcome and words of blessing.  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!”. And later Mary also sings “From now on all generations will call me blessed”.

To be blessed is to be a recipient of God’s goodness and grace. The word blessing literally means a good word. So when Elizabeth blesses Mary and describes her as being blessed, what she is saying is that God has spoken a good word to her, and begun a good work in her that he has entrusted something good to her. 

From the angel’s message, to Joseph’s faithfulness, to Mary’s willingness, to Jesus’ presence, it all sounds to Elizabeth like good words, blessings, words of joy, words that speak of God’s goodness, and Elizabeth recognises then the source of blessing not simply above her or beyond her, but right in front of her. “Blessed is the child you will bear!”

God’s good word has entered our world, God’s good word, to overcome the many bad words of this world. God’s good word of forgiveness and healing and hope.  To overcome the bad words, of conflict and gossip and anger, that all too often cross our lips.

There is blessing for the host, there is blessing for the guest and finally there is blessing for every home that welcomes him.  Elizabeth says as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy 

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

John the Baptist leaped in the womb, he can’t contain his joy in the presence of his cousin Jesus. John the Baptist is bouncing for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of his cousin but also his Lord—he would later say: “The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me.”

And Elizabeth announces once final blessing on Mary for her faith that God would do exactly what he said he would do, and send his Saviour for her and within her. This is the best blessing, not material wealth, not worldly success, not even physical safety and security and prosperity.  Beautiful Mary and-Elizabeth-like faith at the coming of Jesus into their homes, a good word and work from God.

So what will fill your home this Christmas? People perhaps? Maybe even for longer than you expected! Presents maybe?  Good food, good drink, the smell of ham and honey biscuits.  That’s all good stuff but it’s not the only stuff.

We have a responsibility and a privilege and a joy to keep before our hosts and before our guests and within our homes.  But the most important word and work of all is from the one who is our guest, our host, and our Lord…and the presence for every home this Christmas. Amen.

‘Joyful Salvation’.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Isaiah 12:2
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

            Promise, love, now joy! The promises God fulfills, the love He shows through them, and the joy that is ours because of them. Like how a child, promised their favourite food on their birthday, rejoices as they enjoy that loving fulfilment. Or like a COVID contact, promised freedom and health after 14 days, rejoices as they leave their lockdown. We who are baptised and believe have been promised New Life Everlasting! All Our Heavenly Father’s adopted children are freed from the burdens of guilt, and the power of death! Rejoice! And again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). You who are united with Christ, rejoice that your enemies, sin, death and the devil, have been defeated! You are free! Free to hope, to love, to rejoice, and to be at peace! What wonderful Good News, proclaimed today! God is our salvation!

            The Lord God is our strength and our song, He has become your salvation! All God’s Work through the Old Testemant points toward this singular joyful truth, just as we of the New Testament reflect it back. As Zephaniah proclaims, ‘Sing, shout aloud with the New Jerusalem, that beautiful and beloved bride of Christ, daughter of Zion (Zephaniah 3:14)! The Lord has turned back your enemy, and at that time He will rescue the lame, gather the scattered exiles and deal with all who oppress you; at that time He will gather us and all Christians, those who have died, those still suffering, all of His people; He will gather us rejoicing together, He will gather us home (Zephaniah 3:15-20). He will make straight paths, level hill and valley, and send that prophet out of the wilderness, proclaiming, “prepare the way of the Lord!” (Isaiah 40:3-5). John the Baptist, the prophet of prophets, the new Elijah, proclaiming on the wild banks of the Jordan a baptism of repentance; of turning to a new joyful way of life, the way of Christ’s life.

            John the Baptist, as we heard today, exhorting the people and proclaiming the Gospel on those banks, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Luke 3:18; 7). You snakes, who told you to turn to the One who loves you? Of course, we know just as they did, it was God’s own prophets who told the ancient Jews, the Holy Spirit Himself who drew them to the banks of the Jordan, just as He draws you here today. Now maybe like me, you don’t want to be the brood, the offspring, of a snake, maybe like me you want to be a child of God! And the crowd thought the same, “what should we do?” they cry. And John just repeats God’s Word to all people, from the beginning of time to now, ‘Trust in the Lord God and fear not’.

God is not just speaking to a chosen few, nor to just the respected of society, it is to the hated tax collector and the shunned soldier as well; His salvation is for all. So don’t rely on those other things for salvation. Don’t rely on the things of this life, rather give of your possessions, your food and clothes, to those who are in need; don’t abuse the power given to you, collecting more than required, or extorting or falsely accusing, rather be content with what you receive (Luke 3:11-14). For possessions and power will not save you from death; it is only God Almighty who can defeat all our enemies. For as the prophet proclaims, ‘behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.      

            My strength is not in food, in health, in house or home. My song is not in money, in respect, in family or friends. These wonderful gifts of God are not my salvation; if I trust in them, I will be afraid of loosing them. The pregnant woman has been given a wonderful gift, yet if we trust in that child, we fear losing them. Yet the Child of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God, the lover of mankind, He has defeated death for us, and on the last Day He will gather us all to our everlasting home together. He is with you according to His promise, He loves you and He does not lie. With Jesus there is nothing to fear for He more terrifying than all that terrifies us, your own sin, death and demonic attack; He is stronger than all that oppresses us, and He has won the victory, in Him we are free. Yes, still you suffer sin, guilt, death and attack in this life; yet you are joined to Christ; in Him you are already dead and live by His life, His Resurrection is already yours, His Ascension is already yours and His coming in All Glory is the final revelation of your salvation. We commend ourselves to Him. As Isaiah sang and prayed this passage, The Lord God has become our salvation, with joy we draw living water from the deep wells of His salvation; never ending refreshment in Christ even in evil times; for we know what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do for us. He has promised us everlasting love for all creation, and in this certainty, we can rejoice!

            And as we await, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, from now until He brings us all home. Amen.

A lovely Prayer

Philippians 1:9-11
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

            Last week was Promise, this week is Love. The love expressed by God in His promises to His people. A love given to all His people, and inspired by the Holy Spirit St Paul expresses that love here in prayer. He doesn’t just say, ‘Hello, I love you’ he tells us not just that he prays for us, yet also what his prayer is for you. Not just a love in words, but also in action. And this love of God, expressed in prayer changes both Paul and those he prays for. Yes, teaching us something of God’s love, yet also transforming those who pray this prayer; for where the written word is there the Holy Spirit is at work. So let’s have a bit of a look at this prayer.

This prayer of St Paul, for you. And inspired by the Holy Spirit; this is The Spirit’s prayer for you too. Over and above the groanings that words cannot express (Romans 8:26), here is a clear expression of God’s love for you. God’s love for you and all His people. To pray this prayer together with Him, indeed to pray any of His prayers; it’s an action that God willing is of blessing to those we pray for, yet also an action that transforms you. Because where the written word is, there the Holy Spirit has promised to be at work (1 Timothy 3:16-17; John 16:13). And in our praying to God, especially God’s own inspired written words, the temptation of pride is defeated. That arrogant desire to make life all about me, to make me boss and all to submit to me. Instead, in praying to God Almighty we act out our trust in Him that He is above us and not our slave; and when using His own words, those words inspired by the Holy Spirit, we submit to what He Himself desires for us, we learn His love for us, and our own words, our own ways of speaking will be transformed by His words of love. So try praying this prayer for those in your life, and as I pray this for you, and we pray for each other, let’s see if God’s love abounds more and more.

After all God loves you (John 3:16; 1 John 3:1; Ephesians 2:4). He wants the best for you, and so in His Word He reveals what is best for you and for all people. Here today He tells you that Saint Paul, and God Himself, the Holy Spirit, prays that your love may abound more and more. That your affection and service grow and overflow to all those around you; your family, friends, all the people that you meet, whom God has put into your eyes. To love in word and deed, yet not a love without focus. Not a love that is a doormat, not a love guided by others desires or deceptions; rather the love of God which abounds eternally.

He prays that your love grow with knowledge and all discernment. Love coupled with truth, or we can say, the only True Love which is of God. We know there is love that is destructive, there’s love that is entirely self-centred, we call that Narcissism; there is love that just enables one’s bad habits, even affirming them down dangerous paths, giving the bottle to the alcoholic; then there is love which lives for the benefit of the other. Christ lived, died, rose and ascended for those who hated Him, He loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). And now God prays that you continue to listen to and live alongside Christ who is God’s Righteous Wisdom and the discerning Judge of all (1 Corinthians 1:30).

And He prays that your love grow with right knowledge, so that you approve what is excellent; that you approve God’s Love, His Word and Work, His Law and Gospel. That your love, guided toward the true, good and beautiful, recognises Christ, God Almighty, as the source and pinnacle of truth, goodness and beauty. For He is excellent, the greatness and love of His Word excels all others; the wonder and love of His Work excels any other saviour. Jesus has defeated death, bound the devil, and dealt with the sin that separates us from Him (2 Timothy 1:10; Revelation 20:1-3/Mark 3:27; 1 John 2:2; John 19:30). That the Father excels all other builders, gardeners, creators; the Holy Spirit excels all other advocates, guides and gift givers. The Triune God excels all else, He is excellent, Glory to God in the Highest! and I pray we all approve and receive Him.

Him who prays that your love grow with right knowledge, to approve the excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the Day of Christ, filled with the fruit of His righteousness, to the glory and praise of God! It’s not just that you love, not just that you’re guided by the truth, not just that you receive Christ Himself; yet also that you would be ready for the Day of Christ, prepared for Christ’s birthday yes, but more so for the Final Judgement, the Day of the Lord. That you be filled with the fruit, the produce, of His righteousness; that you serve others by His strength in His love. This is the place of ‘good works’ in our lives, flowing from the love, truth and excellence you receive from God, not damming and storing within yourself, rather abounding and overflowing that others may glorify and praise God because of you. This is the prayer of Saint Paul, and it can be our prayer too.

Heavenly Father, fill us with your love that our loving abounds and overflows, with knowledge of You and all discernment; so that we approve what is excellent, what excels; and so be pure and blameless for Christmas and the Final Day of Christ, filled with the fruit that flows from His righteousness to your glory that all in our lives might praise you. We pray this with Paul, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now unto the Day of Christ. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.