The feasts after Christmas, like Christmas itself, are not a dramatization of Jesus’ life from the time he was born until he began to preach. Even in the infancy narratives, the evangelists were trying to understand the Easter experience. In the story of the boy Jesus lost in the temple, Luke is not simply showing us that the boy Jesus had a supernatural knowledge of his destiny as the son of God. Rather, Luke is finding different ways to understand and explain the overwhelming experience of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, who was crucified and raised from the dead.
Jesus goes up to Jerusalem with his parents as he would later go up to celebrate Passover with his disciples. His destiny lies in Jerusalem, for he knows his life centers on doing the will of the Father. He is lost to his parents as he would be dead to his followers, but they recover him after three days. When Mary tells him of their sorrow, their search for him, he says, “Why did you search for me?” just as the messenger by the tomb will ask the disciples, “Why do you search for the living among the dead?”
If the early listeners of Luke’s Gospel were having trouble understanding the experience of death and resurrection, perhaps they could begin with a simpler story of a child separated from his parents. They could see in the parents’ confusion and searching an image of their own search for belief in the Risen Lord. But perhaps in the child’s simple response, his independence and growth in understanding, they can find an answer easier to grasp than the report of a journey through the unknown land of death into an everlasting glory.
Throughout his Gospel, Luke allows us to overhear as the word is proclaimed to one person after another—Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, John, Anna and Simeon. We have heard these stories throughout the Advent and Christmas season. They will continue throughout the year.
Luke tells us that to be a disciple is to discover ourselves in the presence of God with the other people in our lives. We journey together. Luke proclaims the good news that Jesus is the compassion of God. We’re called to show forth this compassion in our own lives. Compassion and communion are the essence of incarnation. God’s call in our lives can terrify us with a stark awareness of the risks involved. But it always promises life.
While we are on this journey of faith, we will always be searching—for ourselves and the meaning of our lives, for others who share our faith, for the God who is at the center of that faith. The Scriptures and our Tradition will make sure that we’re searching in the right places. The challenge for us is to continue to explore the stories of Jesus. In all these stories, we see people trying to grasp the meaning of the kingdom, of covenant, of everlasting life. If we can understand these stories, perhaps we can begin to understand our own story of the promise as it unfolds in our own lives. At the center of that story is the belief that if we die with Christ, we will rise with him. Only in this way can we be about our Father’s business. Only in this way can we be part of the Holy Family of those who hear the word of God and keep it.