What Resolve?

It’s January so that means it’s time for resolutions. The Top Ten list this year:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Volunteer to Help Others
  3. Quit Smoking
  4. Get a Better Education
  5. Get a Better Job
  6. Save Money
  7. Get Fit
  8. Eat Healthy Food
  9. Manage Stress
  10. Manage Debt

Do any of these sound familiar?  They sure sound familiar to me! If I had a time capsule from 25 years ago, I could probably pull this very same list out of there.

The term resolution means, “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” That’s all we need is a firm decision, right? To quit eating donuts, be nicer, stop smoking, be smarter, work smarter, get buff, slow down, quit buying stuff. Our resolutions show that we are dissatisfied with our ability to curb ourselves and our habits. We are disappointed, so we determine what needs to change.

The U.S. Government website that tracks our resolutions says that we tend to make these same resolutions every single year, and we have a hard time keeping them every year too. Faced with good evidence for why, given links to resources and a firm decision to stay the course, we usually can’t even get through the month of January with our resolutions in tact.

The New York Times says, “recycled resolutions are great for business. Our collective failure to keep our resolutions represents an annuity of sorts for health clubs, weight loss centers, and the self-improvement industry. It’s an industry that thrives on our failure to change; recidivism is good for the bottom line.” Last year we spent $21.8 billion on health club memberships alone. Failed resolutions are critical to the financial success of this industry.

Today our text from Luke talks about some parenting resolutions Mary and Joseph might want to think about making. The main one being, “Don’t leave Jesus in Jerusalem.” The family went on their annual Passover trip with the relatives. After the long weekend, they started for home, not realizing that Jesus is not with them and has stayed behind. When they can’t find him, they return to Jerusalem and search all the relatives’ houses. After three days, they finally find him sitting in the temple with the rabbis. This is a total of 5 days since they have last seen their 12 year-old son. Mary says,“ Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety!”  This passage perplexes me, and at the same time gives me great hope.

First, the perplexing part. Mary and Joseph don’t make sure Jesus is with them before they set out for home! They don’t count the children or make sure everyone is packed. It is a kind of a Home Alone scenario—when the family missed the morning alarm and ran to the Chicago airport, leaving 8 year-old Kevin at home, while they went to Paris. We say to ourselves, “I would never do that! Who would do that? Who would leave their child behind?” Our judgment and scorn would fall heavily on these parents. What kind of parents are they? Five days?

I know if I were Mary, I would have petitioned to have this story left out of the gospel of Luke, just from embarrassment. She and Joseph lost the Savior of the World for almost a week.  Talk about parent guilt!

But this also gives me great hope because deep down I know that I can be the same type of parent— distracted, otherwise focused, thinking about myself, making mistakes. It’s also hopeful because these are precisely the parents that God picked out for Christ to have. God intentionally picked Mary and Joseph, the parents who forgot Jesus for 5 days! Parents who don’t always know what’s going on with their son. Parenting is a hard job and it means that parents don’t have to know everything or make everything perfect in order for our kids to fulfill God’s plan. It also means that maybe I can give my own parents a break. What a relief! God is sovereign even over parenting!

This scripture is also a window into a much larger picture of who Christ is.  Jesus says to his parents, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He is at the age when he will soon become accountable for his actions as a Jewish man— he will be a Bar Mitzvah or literally the “son of the commandment’- subject to the law. The Bar Mitzvah is not a ceremony but a title for a man coming of age. Until the age of 13, the parents are responsible for the sins of the child. As a Bar Mitzvah, Jesus would observe the commandments, could take part in religious services, form binding contracts, and testify in religious courts. Jesus is telling his parents that he is ready to be accountable for his own actions and become a member of the religious community. Jesus is ready to encounter the law.

We also hear that Mary ‘treasured’ these things in her heart. Earlier in Luke 2:19, Mary treasured the things the shepherds said and pondered them in her heart. Strong’s biblical dictionary says that in this verse, the verb used for treasured means kept very carefully in the heart. Mary may not have always had Jesus in her sights, but she carried God’s revelations about her Son carefully in her heart. She experiences God and knows His power.

So how do we relate to this story? We know the story of Jesus’ life and resurrection, but Mary does not at this point. She is walking by faith, living day-to-day; pondering what God is up to with Jesus. We are the same way in our lives. We have days where we react to God the way Mary and Joseph reacted to finding Jesus. “Why are you doing this to me, God? I’ve been searching for you with great anxiety!”  Just like Mary and Joseph’s search, we suffer when we don’t know what is going on and we can’t seem to find God. Like David in the Psalms, we ask, “God, what are you doing?” We plead, “ Why God why? Why would you let me be hurt? Why would you allow this to last so long? Why isn’t this working out the way I thought it would? I prayed for this situation to turn out a certain way and it hasn’t, so you must not be listening to me! Do you hear my prayers at all?”

We sometimes don’t know what’s going on in our lives and we want to know. When a loved one dies. When a child is sick. When a parent or spouse gets cancer. When we lose our job or don’t get a job. When there is infidelity or alcoholism or mental illness in ourselves or our loved ones, we feel like we are stumbling around in the dark. We are struck by our powerlessness. We try and figure it out and resolve to do better. Instead of turning to God, we try to think and think and think of what to do.

We ask God to fix it our way, instead of waiting on Him. We don’t trust in God’s wisdom and love. We rely on our own understanding and what is visible, instead of the unseen.

But as Jesus reminds his parents, and us, He can be found in his Father’s house. Jesus is always about the business of the Kingdom Come, whether we see Him or not. We think of God as a friend or companion, but we forget about His power, majesty and mystery. Look at the book of Job 38. God says to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding? Who determined its measurements? [Where were you] When the morning stars sang together? …Or who shut in the sea with doors… Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” In other words, do we know what God knows? How can we fathom what God’s purposes are? We pray for God to do our will, instead of praying to know His will and giving us His power to do it. We think we know how our lives should look, but we have such a small view of God’s world.

When I was in my dark places, dealing with family alcoholism and not having a home, I questioned whether God was listening to me. I didn’t understand and I thought about it incessantly. Why God why? I had no way of knowing that God was at work behind the scenes, working all things out for good for those who love Him. I was relying on myself to think long and hard enough to understand the spiritual depths of life.  I learned the same thing that Job learned– how to die to self so that I could see the resurrection in me, knowing that it is God and not me who is in charge of my transformation.

Job answers God in Chapter 42, “”I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself and I repent in ashes.”

“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” I think that is what Mary was treasuring and pondering in her heart. She had been told by the ear but she was seeing God at work in her life and she treasured it. Knowing this about Mary, I ponder, too. God has worked powerfully in my life, so when I am afraid and wondering, “Where are you God?” I ponder what He has already done in my life and treasure that.

What does this have to do with resolutions? Well, if our lists look the same every year, it might be because we never get down to the real reason we can’t overcome these problems. Maybe they’re not the problem at all. Maybe the problem is that we think we know what is wrong with us and we really don’t. On our own, we don’t have the power to change ourselves or to even know what to change. Our basic problem is our blindness to our condition—our human condition without power before God. Who has the power? God as Christ. God has all power. We have the equation backwards. Maybe this year we can think, “What is your will for me today God? How can I be of use to you, instead of “Why won’t you give me what I want?” To look for Christ in His Father’s house and be willing to allow God to be God, and give up having to make ourselves better. Happy New Year’s and may the God who made the universe and you rule in your life this year. Amen.