I guess the words of my last sermon are a lot more important now:
The end of the year provides us a great opportunity to reflect back on our life. It allows us to look at many of the joys that we have had; at many of our great experiences from the last twelve months; at our disappointments; at the questions of the past year of our lives that we have asked. Our Gospel lesson from today ends with a series of questions. Why have you treated us like this? Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Not a single one is answered. And we’ve all been there before, haven’t we? In a place where we just feel like it is us and God and we ask questions and wait and then…nothing. We feel like we get no answer from God. We sit and wait and reflect on what is going on in our lives and then wait more only to think that our questions and prayers have fallen on deaf and divine ears. Mary’s situation is not far off from that. She is in a crisis situation in her life, at least a situation of great panic; she’s lost her only child and has no idea as to when or where. And upon finding you can almost hear the string of questions that comes out of Mary’s mouth. “Where have you been? Where did you go? Do you have any idea what your Father and I have gone through?” Mary doesn’t get an answer, at least she doesn’t get a direct answer, instead Jesus, the Son of God, the Word incarnate answers much in the same way that any other twelve year old would, “Why are you worrying? Didn’t you know where I was?” It is an interaction that we can all understand (from one side of the conversation or the other) and yet it doesn’t seem to help Mary at all, it doesn’t seem to comfort her at all as she is left to ponder her questions. And it seems that we are at a bit of a disadvantage, if Mary cannot get a straight answer from God, from the very Word incarnate, then how are we to expect to get one from God?
The most that I’ve ever felt like Mary was my sophomore year of college. It was a dark year of my life for many reasons. There were family problems that were almost 150 miles away, I was without direction…not knowing what my major was going to be or what it was that I wanted to do with my life, I was extremely stressed out, I was having conflicts with my roommate and so so much more. As the year went on life became more and more difficult and my multiple prayers, pleads and questions to God throughout the year seemed to go unanswered. I couldn’t wait any long for an answer so I went for a walk. I walked out into the now rainy night and started a tirade directed right at God. I was angry with God with the position that he had put me and my family in. And so I yelled at God. I made ultimatums for God. I said things to God that I would never and have never repeated since. It was a night that I was not proud of but a night that I felt that needed to happen. Now, many years later I can say that many if not all of my prayers were answered, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In times of great trial it is hard to see where God is. When everything around us seems to be falling apart, it is hard to see where God is. And if Mary had issues with this what are we to do? Many of the miracles of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season are not events that we see everyday…or ever any more. I have never seen an angel before. People aren’t sent to barns to stay some place because the hotel is full. Wise men don’t travel halfway around the world for the birth of a child. And finally, it’s not everyday that God comes down to earth as an infant to redeem the world. It’s not everyday that one can converse with the God in flesh and bone. So what can we do?
What can we do when our world falls apart around us? What do we do when we are ill? When a loved one dies? When we lose our job? When we feel like we are out of control? We often become angry. We yell. We ask God, “Where did you go God? Why did you abandon me? Do you have any idea what I have gone through?” “WHERE WERE YOU GOD?!” We are so wrapped up in the crisis of our life that we cannot see God. And justifiably so, when we are asking God these questions it is normally because we honestly feel like God has turned turn his back on us. We wonder why God hasn’t listened to our prayers, to our questions over the many months or even years before we ask these questions in anger and frustration before God. Ultimately we wonder where is God in midst of this life crisis?
So what is the answer? Where is God? I think that God would say something like this, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And although Mary may have had to ponder the meaning of these questions, we know what this means. We know that God has gone no where. God has always been right here. God does not leave us during times of hardship, rather God stays with us. And although we may not see it at the time, God’s hands are guiding us and those around us to help during times of hardship and suffering.
Now during my sophomore year of college I thought for sure that I had been forgotten by God, but I should have known better. Looking back at that year now, I can see God’s loving presence in each moment. I can see working with my friends and family to help me and my family. In fact, looking back at it now I can see God working hard to make his presence known, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
So often when we feel like the prayers and questions that we have laid before God remain unanswered it is because we expect certain answers. I know with my own experience I was expecting multiple miracles from God without having to put forth any effort on my own. I wanted God to miraculously fix each of the, what seemed to be, life shattering problems over night. But that is unreasonable. My family crisis was impossible to resolve over night, my relationship with my roommate was not going to be solved over night and even knowing what I wanted to do with my life was not going to be figured out over night (and that might have been the easiest of the problems at the time). Life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way but we can take solace in the fact that God isn’t going to give up. God is going to stay right beside us as we work through our hardships. God suffers along side us. God is with us in our struggles.
This is the Good News of this Gospel lesson that God will not leave us. One of the commentaries that I read said that it is hard to find any good news in this lesson because of the fact that there is no resolution, no answer to the question; Mary is left to ponder and stew over her brief conversation with her son. But I think that the message is quite clear; Christ is always where he belongs and where he is needed. And he is needed here at Family, here in this building that is our sanctuary, what we call God’s house and here, in our hearts, never leaving us no matter where we go or what we do or what we suffer through. And I know that it may be hard to hear but I hope that if you will not hear it from me that you will hear it from someone because God is with you now and forever. So next time you ask, “Where are you God?” You can know that he is not far, for he is right here and he hasn’t gone anywhere. Amen.