Psalm 128, a Psalm of Ascent, was one of the family “songs” that the Israelites sang and chanted as they made their way up to the temple in Jerusalem each year for the various feasts.
Historically, families would make this pilgrimage together, traveling in caravans and convoys of donkeys, sheep, and goats. Add to this lots of children in tow, and a wild type of journey begins to form in your mind, doesn’t it?
Knowing that, Luke 2:41-43 does not seem so far-fetched. It is the story of Joseph and Mary heading up to Jerusalem and, upon returning, discovering they had apparently lost Jesus. It seems odd to us that it took a whole day to realize this but, when you consider the cultural aspects of their pilgrimage, it is not hard to grasp the situation.
When Jesus wound up MIA, his parents probably assumed he was in the crowd somewhere, perhaps with a relative or friend. “No need to worry about Jesus,” Joseph may have said. “We’ll see him at the campfire tonight.” But when campfire time rolled around, Jesus was not there. I wonder if a lump gathered in Mary’s throat as she thought to herself, “Uh-oh — we’ve lost God!”
Of course, the story ends with Jesus still back in Jerusalem, sitting in the synagogue conducting an eye-opening Q and A session with the religious leaders. That is where his parents, who were quite worried, found him, and that is when they re-started their journey back home, this time with everyone in tow.
Just like a typical trip today, complete with both mishaps and milestones, families in that day trekked together, making all kinds of memories along the way. I can imagine each day was filled with lots of surprises and unexpected blessings, as well as normal routines and die-hard traditions. They probably sang songs, played travel games, and told stories of pilgrimages gone by.
All in all, it undergirds Psalm 128 with a genuine family setting that helps the verses connect to us in the 21st century. I find it uncannily like our own patterns and habits. Granted, they had horses and camels and we have Hondas and Chryslers. But deep down, there is a peculiar and attractive unity that ties us together.
Piecing Psalm 128 and Luke 2 together, I have often wondered how they handled other typical family situations that come with children and traveling, like …
… a toddler who had to stop every 30 minutes to go to the “bath-bush”?
… a five-year-old who was new to the family Psalms and could not get a grip on the words?
… a teenager who felt the music was not very cool?
… siblings arguing over how much space they had on the back hump of the camel?
… dads threatening the kids with the infamous line, “Don’t make me come back there”?
Seriously, while we do not have any answers to those comical what-ifs, we do know that at least one non-negotiable was honored: It was a family affair. Yes, even with the bumps and bruises and amid the highs and lows, they journeyed toward God with one another. It was their annual ascent to the Temple, and they climbed together in harmony, both musically and spiritually.