Grace and Peace to you.
After three days they found him in the temple.
—Luke 2. 46
At Christmas time we think of the “Christ child,” though we know nothing of Jesus’ childhood. But there is this: Luke says when Jesus was twelve, when his family went to the temple in Jerusalem they accidentally left him behind. After three days they found him, in the temple.
Insert your own funny family story here of the kid being left somewhere (ours is a gas station). But wait— three days? Clearly, this is not a biographical story, but a symbolic one. It’s a story about losing and finding, being with and without, separation and reunion. In the Bible three days is not chronological time, it’s symbolic time: Abraham and Isaac on the mountain… Jonah in the whale… Jesus in the tomb. Three days means loss and transformation, death and resurrection. And it comes at Christmas time.
Because Christ comes to us to be with us in our death. Christ comes to us because we are broken hearted. The peace and joy of Christmas is not just for fun, but because we need it. We need the healing for our sorrows, the mercy in our terror, the company in our wanderings. Christ comes to be with us because we are lost, and searching, and alone. Sometimes, like his parents, we feel like we have lost the Holy Child with us or within us. We feel death’s shadow. But the good news is that we haven’t lost God; we are not alone; death does not have the last word. The light of Christmas shines on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
For many people the ribbons of Christmas are braided with sorrow. And this year it has been for us, too. My wife Beth’s youngest sister Paula passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last weekend, two days before Christmas. Family is gathered, yet sundered, both lost and united. We have been more aware than usual that the promise of Christmas is not happy times; the promise is that God is with us, even in the sorrowful times. Sometimes we have to search for three days to know it. But when we return to the sacred center, we find that it is we who have wandered, who have not seen the presence of God. We are not alone. And death never has the last word.
There will be sorrows and fears; there will be times when we feel without God. But “after three days”—beyond the appearances of time and space— we will be reunited with the Beloved, and we will find ourselves in a holy place.
This Christmas pray for all those who do not yet see light in their lives, who are in sorrow, or searching and feel alone. May God’s presence enfold them, God’s love and hope be with them always.
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