Luke 2:41-52

Let us pray.  Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children. Grant us faith, O Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all creation may sing new songs of gladness. Amen

Surprises can be positive or negative, depending on what the surprise is, and who’s receiving it.

Remembering back to when my firstborn, Leif, was about 2 ½, and we were shopping in a sea of round clearance racks, tightly packed with end-of-season clothing.

I was determined to find the best deals, but Leif was getting restless in the cart, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep one eye on him and one eye on the rack as I rifled through the items.

So, I put him on the floor and asked if he could help me find something specific, like a red shirt, which he did with enthusiasm! But once he found the requested article, he lost interest and crawled under the rack, which began a slightly sophisticated game of peek-a-boo. Leif would poke his delightful little face through the clothes and shout, “surprise!”

This went on for several minutes, and I thought I was pretty clever keeping Leif busy, until, he didn’t pop out. Up until then, he had always stayed right with me.  

I called his name, but got no response. I started looking under the racks around me, but didn’t see any little feet hiding under them. I was getting worried and called his name more urgently. Still no sign or sound – not even a giggle.

I wasn’t sure which direction to look. I was afraid to go too far from our starting point. There was no one around to ask for help, and just as I was about to really lose it, little Leif called out from several racks away, “come and find me mommy, I’m hiding!” I didn’t expect that! So our harmless game of peek-a-boo had become hide and seek, thanks to my precocious toddler and to my chagrin.

I felt extreme relief upon finding him,  concurrently with astonishment that Leif had managed to hide himself and kept silent for those long minutes! When did he learn to play hide and seek? How did I not notice his wandering.? Was this small child capable of such stealth?

Well, since I’d heard his voice I was able to locate him easily, and he jumped out joyfully not having any idea why I would be upset. He was playing and he thought I was playing too. He was developing as children do, generalizing concepts and skills as his world expanded, but it was a wake-up call to me in realizing that he’d continue to grow and develop and I could not assume one day would be the same as the previous. A somewhat scary, yet joyful surprise.

But I hadn’t remained the same either. I was learning to parent this little boy as he developed through infancy and even until today. And his brother too, which is a whole other story!

We aren’t finished being parents just because our children become adults. The growth we can monitor will end – at some point shoe sizes and inseams do stabilize – there will be a final pencil mark on the wall, but change continues whether we observe it or not.  Children become mature versions of themselves, with dreams and hopes and goals that may surprise their families. In the same way, each of us will remain a child in our parents eyes, and in God’s eyes.

In Luke’s gospel, Mary was confronted with the realization that her little boy, Jesus, was becoming more than she had recognized. The infant she nursed, the tears she wiped away, the hurts she comforted, the milestones she celebrated with him, the joy she felt at his delight over simple new experiences had been part of his transformation, as well as hers. Was this event a wake-up call for Mary, a reminder of what her boy would grow into? Perhaps in preparation for the road ahead.

I wonder how Jesus responded to Mary’s question, “Child, why have you treated us like this?”  Was he surprised by their anxiety? Was his response, “Why have you been searching for me?” said in tones of remorse or scolding? Did he comprehend the changes in himself? Was this the first indication of his true calling?

We don’t get many answers about Jesus’s growing up years, but from this one and only story, we know that the infant whose birth we celebrated last week grew to be a walking, talking, thinking person who progressed in wisdom and in years. We know that he was raised in a faithful Jewish family that made the annual trip to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem a priority.

We know that Jesus’s priorities had changed. The will of his heavenly father had superseded the will of Mary and Joseph. Three days they searched for him, and on the third day they found Jesus alive and well in a place that surprised them. Yet their search was over!

And like Mary and Joseph, our search has ended, because Jesus shows us the way to God.  He was born, lived, died and rose to make the way clear for us, even if the road along the way is what we least expect. Our searching ends with new life, meaningful life, the life God intends! Perhaps not what we expect.

And like Jesus, as children of God, we’ll continue to grow in wisdom and in years, in divine and human favor, as we respond to God’s love.  No matter how old we are.

It reminds me of a song written by Chris Rice called, Welcome to Our World. Some of the lyrics go like this:  Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn. Tiny heart, whose blood will save us, welcome to our world.

So wrap our injured flesh around you, breathe our air and walk our sod. Rob our sin and make us holy, perfect lamb of God, perfect lamb of God. Welcome to our world.