December 31: Expect without Expecting

LUKE 2:41–52

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he meant.

Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

Consider This

Before we leave the early temple stories, Luke jumps from preschool to preteen Jesus. My mother, who raised two boys, once said, “Do you know why the Bible only has one story from Jesus’ adolescence? Because Mary didn’t want to talk about it.”

Passover was the big annual festival in Jerusalem, when the city would be overcrowded with out-of-towners making the pilgrimage. As a parent, I can empathize with the horror Mary and Joseph must have felt when they realized they had lost Jesus and had no idea where he was in that party-packed city.

Except he wasn’t lost. He was right where he was supposed to be, in his Heavenly Father’s house. Luke doesn’t tell us what he was saying to the teachers in the temple. The details must not be important. What is important is Mary’s dumbfounded classic mom question, “Son, . . . why have you done this to us?” (v. 48).

Mary stored this story in her heart, but I wonder at what level of ambition and anxiety. Joseph and she knew who Jesus was, but no one else did. “God, what have you gotten me into?” I can hear her asking.

When she got engaged, she didn’t expect an unwed, virgin pregnancy. She expected to have children, but she didn’t expect giving birth to the Son of God. She expected raising a son, but she didn’t seem to expect to find him keeping pace with the temple teachers. What could she expect in the years to come?

That’s the funny thing about expectations with God: we don’t get what we’re expecting. John the Baptist expected to see the Lord but didn’t expect it to be his cousin. The people expected a Messiah, but they didn’t expect he’d be from Nazareth. The disciples expected Jesus would conquer their enemies, but they didn’t expect he’d win by losing on the cross. They expected he would establish his kingdom, but they didn’t expect he’d do it by sending them out of Jerusalem.

We’re still in the middle of Christmas, where we celebrate that the world expected a savior, but didn’t expect him to show up as a baby. But on our wall calendar today is New Year’s Eve, which begs the questions: What expectations do you have for this next year? What are your personal mission goals? What expectations do you have of God?

Maybe the key is to expect without expecting. That doesn’t mean don’t dream, don’t plan, or don’t work. But it does mean that we leave all the expectations of our ambitions and our anxieties in the home and hands of the Heavenly Father.

So let’s end the year with the poem-prayer Jesus’ great-plus grandfather, King David, wrote when he took the same pilgrimage to Jerusalem:

God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.
Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope.
Hope now; hope always! (Ps. 131:1–3 msg)

So come, let us adore him.