Messy Moments


A sermon based on Psalm 148 and Luke 2:41-52 preached on December 28th, 2014.

Sermon audio 

I love this story. It’s so normal. No matter who you are you can identify with what happens here—with either Mary or Joseph or with Jesus.

Haven’t we all been in this situation before?

If you’ve parented, there’s inevitably been those times when you’re out shopping. Your kids in tow. Dragging somewhere behind you. It’s busy—there’s a lot of people shopping, and for a second you take your eyes off your child. You look back and your child’s not there. Your heart skips a few beats. You glance around corners. Where’s that kid? She couldn’t have gotten far, she was just here 5 seconds ago!

As a child, I remember getting lost in grocery stores and department stores. I’ve grabbed onto legs I thought belonged to one of my parents to find out seconds later to my dismay they belonged instead to a stranger. I’ve been paged in grocery stores before:

Attention customers, if your name is Patrick Ryan, please come to the front of the store, your mother is waiting for you…and she’s not happy!

Messy moments—for parents and for children. We’ve all been there.

I remember one time being left at church one Sunday after worship. My dad had to drive in early for a meeting and my mom stayed back and I went to church with her. Well, you know what happened next…without any of us communicating with one another about who gets home how, both of my parents arrive at home without me.

I thought you had him?

Wait, I thought you had him?

Dad runs back to pick me up. I call mom from church.

You left me at here?! Seriously?! How does that happen?!

Messy moments. They occur often, even to the best of us.


I love this story because when we think of Mary the mother of Jesus, Son of God, Joseph—the holy family, it’s really very easy for us to assume they were something entirely different than our own families. That they existed on a different level of knowledge and sophistication than any other family around—completely devoid of dysfunction. Mary is often propped up to “Mother of the Year” level—“holy mother” some call her. And Jesus never throws a fit. Our hymns imagine that Jesus didn’t even cry when he was born:

The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.

This story gives all that away, doesn’t it? This is the most-of-the-time not-so-holy-family. Like my family and like yours too.


I wonder how we would look at this story if it didn’t come from the bible. What if this story wasn’t about Jesus but just the story of any two parents and their kid? What would we have to say about Mary and Joseph’s parenting or Jesus’ attitude? I think we would want to ask several scathing questions: How does a mother and father go an entire 24 hours before noticing their 12 year-old child isn’t with them? And, after His parents trudged back all that way to Jerusalem, after going to the effort of looking in every corner of that city for Him—doesn’t Jesus get a little lippy with them?

Why were you searching for me?

Jesus says—those are his first words to his parents.

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

I can imagine Mary saying,

Really, Jesus? You really want to go there?! I’ve been out of my mind for 3 days because of you and that’s what you have to say to me? You are so grounded, young man!


We should also allowed to wonder why it took Mary and Joseph an entire 24 hours to realize Jesus wasn’t with them. These days, if a parent was that negligent, Child Protective Services would get involved. An Amber Alert would be issued.

But, before we judge Mary and Joseph too harshly: according to the customs of the day, it was reasonable for them to assume that Jesus was somewhere in the caravan of pilgrims traveling back to Bethlehem after the Passover. It was absolutely normal for them to think that Jesus was being watched over by other adults as they all made their way back home. You can imagine Mary and Joseph’s anxiety when they asked the last adults in their caravan if they’d seen their son and the answer was “no”.

When at last she sees her son in the Temple, after the longest 3 days of her life. I can imagine Mary breathing a huge sigh of relief and saying to herself,

Sorry God, we lost him. But don’t worry, he’s found.

Messy moments. They happen often. Even to the most holy of families.


Jesus wasn’t a member of a perfect family—that we’ve uncovered already. But there’s more in this story than that. I think we attribute extraordinariness to Jesus when scripture sometimes has something different to tell us about Him.

There’s a few phrases here that stood out to me as I meditated upon this passage this week. Verse 46:

 After three days Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Jesus was asking them questions. He was learning from Rabbi’s and not the other way around.

The second thing that stood out to me was the very last verse, verse 52:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Sometimes I think we make the mistake of thinking that as Son of God and Messiah, Jesus came pre-loaded with everything already inside him—everything he needed to know was there from the very start. After all, He was God, and God knows everything.

That’s what we’ve been taught to think about Jesus—that he was something more than human—that He was some sort of an amalgamation of divine and human. And because of that, Jesus was born professional—with everything he needed sort of pre-installed inside of him. But wouldn’t that be bad news for us? That would mean that Jesus’ humanity wasn’t like our humanity—that even though he was a human, his experience in a body was still different than ours. But, just because Jesus was just as divine as God is doesn’t mean he was any less human than any of us are.

Luke’s Jesus had diaper rash. Mary had to comb knots out of his hair. This is Jesus with a childhood much like our own. Jesus played in sandboxes. He had to figure out the hard way why his mother told him to never look straight into the sun. His father handed Him a hammer and he promptly smashed his thumb with it. Playground fights with the neighborhood kids. We know as a teenager he talked back to his mother. He had cavities and acne and his voice cracked during puberty.

And He learned from the Jewish teachers at the Temple—he listened to them and asked them questions—not the other way around. Jesus didn’t school the teachers at the temple. Jesus just stuck around to learn more from them. And through the years, Jesus learned more about everything any other kid learns about—as he grew older, he grew wiser.


Life for Jesus, as well for us, was filled with all the messy moments any other families experience. Normal, everyday, human stuff that happens to every one of us—the stuff of everyday life.

And His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Mary treasured the extraordinary moments and the ordinary moments alike—crazy and frantic and altogether normal, but holy also. This is a story about Jesus becoming human. This is what Luke is trying to convey to us—he’s telling us that Jesus is one of us—he learns and asks questions, he talks back to his mother, and grows, and matures, and just like every other teenager who’s every existed, causes his parents great amounts of anxiety. That’s what being human is about, and Jesus experienced every bit of it.

The good news of Christmas is that we have a God who knows what it’s like to be human—what it’s like to grow—who figured out life as life happened to Him—who trudged through the ups and downs just like we do—who got scolded by his mother—who listened to and asked questions of his teachers.

We have a God who knows about the work of becoming human, whose feet have been firmly planted on the dirt of the earth, who walked around and experienced life in all of its glorious and frightening and wondrous and altogether confounding and ordinary ways.

As one of our Christmas hymns go:

Pleased in flesh with us to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel.

God with us. God one of us. God who, just like us, has experienced his fair share of messy moments.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.


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