Have you ever been lost? How do you feel when lost or you lose something or someone? Several years ago, in our first Christmas in a new home, we returned home on Christmas night – to a very quiet house! The problem was that there should have been friendly faces at the gate, barking and jumping with delight to see us home. Normally our two dogs, Naomi (x Collie) and Nehemiah (Golden Retriever), would hear the car and run around to the gate. Perhaps they had fallen asleep on the other side of the house or ventured underneath the house out of the heat? We quickly took the tired children inside and unloaded the car. My grandmother was with us and as we looked around the yard and called the dog’s names, she put the kids to bed. We discovered a gate open and no sign of the wild beasts we were expecting to greet us.
We quickly told Nan of the situation and for her to keep the fort whilst we went looking. One drove, the other walked the neighbourhood looking for roaming dogs. After an hour or so we had found Naomi, and she seemed relieved to be taken home and fed. We plodded the streets for a while longer but could not find the missing Golden Retriever. He could be anywhere!
We went home and went to bed, concerned, worried about the beloved, young dog. Sleep was not easy to come by but eventually we slid into exhausted slumber. We arose in the morning, wondering where Nehemiah was now. Was he been completely lost and wandering aimlessly? Had he ventured onto a main road and been hit by a car? Did someone find him and lock him up to take to the dog pound? As we were pondering his where-abouts, Susan opened the front door and there he was sleeping on the door mat. We let him inside and he drank a large quantity of water then went back to sleep. We have no idea where he was or what he got up to – except there must have been food associated with it because he was not hungry!
To us, the dogs were lost. They were not where they should be and we, the owners, didn’t know where they were. I’m not sure how you read the minds of dogs, but I can’t help wondering if they experienced a sense of being lost? Did they always know where they were and where home was? Did they experience their freedom as something natural and an adventure that would finally return them home?
I don’t know the answers to these kinds of questions, but I do know that the sense of being lost can be disorienting, confusing, scary and can engender deep concern. I know that losing something or someone can be an experience causing deep worry, anxiety and even fear. If the person/object stays lost, then sadness and grief prevail.
Being lost feels strange. I have had the experience of not knowing where I am and having no landmarks to help me. I remember one night returning home from a meeting in a place that was unfamiliar. I set off home on the reverse route to that which I’d taken to get to the place. All was good for the first 10-15 minutes and then I was confronted by an intersection that looked different from this direction and in the dark of night. I chose one path and after several kilometres realised I wasn’t where I thought I should be. In fact I didn’t know where I should be – nor where I was. Should I turn around and try to retrace my ‘steps’? Should I just keep driving until I recognised something – surely there would eventually be a familiar sign or landmark? It was the days before mobile phones and Google maps and voice telling you where to go. I thought about the street directory but I was on a main road and couldn’t stop – should I turn off, stop and read? As the minutes went by, I felt deepening desperation and anxiety, such that I didn’t think very clearly.
Finally, I took a deep breath, calmed down and recognised that I needed to head to the left because that was the direction I should be going. I found a major kind of road, turned left and found somewhere to pull over and tried to look at the directory. It was dark and hard to read but I got a sense of the neighbourhood I was in and the direction I needed to take. I found a main road to follow that would get me to somewhere I knew and I could go from there. Eventually I found familiar territory and made my way home. I was lost before I realised I was lost and when I realised it I began to panic and feel overwhelmed and confused, concerned and anxious. When I calmed down, I realised I was heading in the wrong direction and needed some guidance. Eventually I recognised familiar places and was able to get home.
This week’s gospel (Luke 2:41-52) comes after the stories of Jesus’ birth and the wonder and joy of this news. His parents have gone through the religious traditions of dedication in the Temple and cleansing rituals. This story ends the cycle of Luke’s introductory section and is situated in Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus’ family and relatives have been in Jerusalem for the religious festival of Passover. Following the festival, they are part of the large caravan of travellers returning home to the region of Galilee. After a day’s journey Jesus’ parents realise Jesus is not with them. They search the caravan but to no avail – he is missing, lost! They were filled with fear and anxiety and returned to Jerusalem to search for their lost son. After the third day (do you get the reference?) they found him in the Temple and his mother gave it to him!! Every parent of an independent teenager knows how this goes – ‘Why did you do this to us? We’ve been looking for you everywhere!’ Jesus is perplexed because, for him, it seemed obvious he would be in ‘his father’s house.’ The story tells of how he is listening and asking questions, making observations and decisions and everyone in the Temple is amazed.
The story seems simple enough until you realise that the theme of being lost reverberates through the narrative. Who is lost? Is it Jesus in the Temple? At first, this is the obvious indication – he is lost from his parent’s perspective. But as the story evolves, the roles seem to reverse and perhaps it is his parents, religious and devout but lost, whilst Jesus finds himself in the space of God’s Reign.
Throughout the Gospel, Luke will tell stories of being lost – a lost coin, a lost sheep and a lost son (aka The Prodigal Son). He will indicate that the adult Jesus has come to seek and save the lost. This story invites us, in the midst of Christmas hubris, to ponder whether we have found ourselves in the Christmas story or do we remain among the lost of the world, seeking, always seeking but not always realising we are lost.
As the world turns and yearns, zigs and zags and seeks its way, Christmas lingers for a few more days yet, inviting us into a place of life and joy, peace and hope, love and grace. The Christ-child born into the darkness of the world radiates light for all who will look, see and respond. Jesus grew in wisdom and favour with people and God, as he gave himself more fully into God’s grace – the way for you and me as we seek life and hope.