A Father who searches
What the passage does tell us about Joseph (and Mary, whose name is also not mentioned in these particular verses) should resonate with any parent.
Almost all parents of twelve year olds (or even younger children) would be able to tell of at least one time when they physically lost track of their children, perhaps even in a group trip such as in this Gospel.
Perhaps, when Joseph and Mary had to make preparations for the trip home, our 12-year-old Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was with one or more of his friends and one or more of their parents (who said they would watch him). Then, as everyone was leaving, perhaps our Lord separated from them, saying something about being with his Father (which the adults would have naturally interpreted to mean he was rushing to find Joseph).
Since there were no cell phones or CB radios in those days, it would be very difficult for the different sets of parents to communicate with each other until they all stopped for the night. Then would have been the age-old dialogue of sudden parental panic: “I thought he was with you.” “No, I thought he was with you!”
Since they were already a day’s journey from Jerusalem and they would be searching as they went, especially when they were back in the city, it is not surprising that they did not find our Lord until two days later.
Most of us can only imagine the panic and terror that would engulf parents whose only child has been missing in a large and dangerous city for three days. What our Lady says when they finally find our Lord seems like an incredible understatement.
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.
The word translated here as “with great anxiety” was traditionally translated as “sorrowing” (“thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”). The root of the original Greek word means “to cause intense pain; to be in anguish, be tormented; to torment or distress one's self”: sentiments that would be familiar to all loving parents who fear they have lost their child.
Joseph was indeed a loving parent, even though our Lord was not his natural child, and so he looked for his son with the deepest passion.
Not all of us are parents and so perhaps we do not have personal experience that resonates with that of Mary and Joseph.
All of us however, in various ways, have been God’s wayward children – and not for any truly good reason.
Christ was separated from his mother and earthly father to be with his heavenly Father.
We separate from our heavenly Father by our sins.
Yet even then and even now, our heavenly Father seeks us and reaches out to us, sorrowing and with passion.
By his grace, may we reach back to our heavenly Father, let ourselves be found by him, and never again be parted from him in the journey of our lives or when he calls us to live forever in his eternal house.