Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 3, 2017

Losing Jesus: Reflections for a New Year

“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.”  Luke 2:43

Well, friends, the festivities are coming to an end for us as well. Christmas is over, the New Year has arrived, and this week many of us get back to work or school. We return to the regular rhythms of life.  In the midst of this transition, I wonder if we have a tendency to leave Jesus behind as well?

I’ve noticed an interesting dynamic that seems to take place between Christmas Day and New Years Day. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a savior. We tell a story about our need for God’s intervention in our lives. God is our peace, our joy, and our hope!  On New Year’s day, however, we tend to become self-reliant again.  We test out the capacity of our will power.  We set goals, start diets, plan to get in shape, decide to read through the entire Bible, only to fall back into our bad habits by February 1.

I came across an article in the New York Times that cites a study saying 95% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by February. The writer makes this concluding statement, “Studies suggest, then, that willpower is a limited resource.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in setting goals. As the old adage goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” Goals and plans can direct us in helpful ways. But I wonder if we struggle with our attempt to grow because we are relying on a limited resource.  I wonder if our longings for change fall short because we lose sight of our need to stay connected to Christ.  I wonder if we struggle because we have a tendency to leave Jesus behind.

There are a lot of reasons why Jesus gets left behind. Like Mary and Joseph, we can simply go along with the crowd. We can let those around us set the pace and the direction of life without making sure Jesus is with us. Sometimes Jesus gets lost simply because we allow the rhythms of our busy world to set the agenda. Instead of approaching life with the question, “Who is Jesus calling me to be?,” we begin with the question, “What do I have to get done?” And suddenly the demands of everyday life build up and crowd out our deeper calling.

Sometimes, Like Mary and Joseph, we can lose Jesus even in a religious crowd. They are in a group of devout worshippers who are returning after their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the same way, we too may be busy doing religious activities, thinking Jesus is with us when perhaps we are missing the point. We may be doing all kinds of ministry, but perhaps we forget to carve out space to actually look for Jesus and sit with him in the temple and hear what his plans are for us!

Sometimes, Like Mary and Joseph, we lose Jesus because we assume that we know where he is. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, it says they were astonished. And I wonder – are we ever astonished by Jesus? Are we open to the possibility that he has more to teach us, or that we have something wrong? Are we open to learning new things from him?

N.T. Wright says, “Every time we relax and think we’ve really understood Jesus, he will be up ahead, or perhaps staying behind while we go on without thinking.” This story is a reminder that we need to be careful that we don’t assume we have Jesus figured out.  If Mary and Joseph were caught off guard by Jesus, perhaps we need to be open to the fact that we have more to learn as well!

Sometimes, like Mary and Joseph, the journey back to God will feel like we are going backward. I think of them turning back and finding Jesus. They had walked a whole day and it took them three more days to find him. This was a disruption and an inconvenience. It got in the way of their productivity and their plan. Yet, it was a journey they needed to take.

Sometimes spiritual progress feels like a backward movement. In retrospect, I’ve noticed that it has been those times of hardship, doubt, and disorientation that God has used the most to grow my faith.

Spiritual growth isn’t a straight path. We ought not to be discouraged when we feel like we are circling backward or going over ground we thought we wouldn’t have to cover again. Barry Gillespie writes, “The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.”

Friends, for some of us 2017 won’t feel productive. Perhaps you look out on the horizon and see hardship, sickness, grief, or pain. Maybe Jesus seems distant and you’re struggling to see him or find him in your life. Know that God is often in these times. These seasons that feel like backward movement can be times when God is doing some of his greatest work in our lives.

Like Mary and Joseph, we may question Jesus saying, “Why did you do this to us?” Yet, maybe Jesus is in the disruption, the hardship, the backward movement. Maybe he is actually leading us back to what really matters.

Today we begin a New Year. We step out into the unknown full of hope and longing. But before we embark on this journey of 2017 let’s begin with this question – “Where’s Jesus?”

Perhaps, the starting point for this year is not to forge ahead making big plans. Maybe the starting point for us is to sit with Jesus in the temple for a while and listen to what he has to say. This is what Jesus models for us.  Above all the expectations of the world, he reminds us that first and foremost we need to carve out space to listen to God.

As you look ahead to 2017 perhaps you might bring Jesus into the conversation. You might ask Jesus, “What do you have in store for me this year?,” or, “Where do you want to lead me?” These questions are vital for our hope for the future rests on the continual presence of Jesus in our lives.

As we begin 2017 let’s not leave Jesus behind!



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