Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sermon: Epiphany 1

10 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52 (1 Kings 8:6-13, Rom 12:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Luke records only this single event in the later childhood of Jesus. And it is based on the same idea as the old Home Alone movies. Only there is nothing funny going on here.

When Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not in their travel party, one can only imagine the panic. This young man Jesus was the miracle baby foretold by the angel Gabriel and mysteriously implanted into Mary’s virgin womb by God Himself. He was visited by shepherds who were themselves visited by angels. He survived Herod’s murderous rampage thanks to an angelic message delivered in a dream, and He was worshiped as God in the flesh by the gift-bearing magi. The Book of Revelation makes it clear that Satan is obsessed with destroying this Jesus.

And Mary and Joseph think they have lost Him.

If we’re to believe only in His divinity, we could just shrug the incident off. But this young Man is not merely God, He is also miraculously human! He is capable of death, and this is likely what is flashing through St. Joseph and Blessed Mary’s aching minds in their frantic search.

In fact, Mary’s tension comes across even in St. Luke’s rather journalistic account of the incident: “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been searching for You in great distress.” The Greek reads in a very literal sense: “Your father and I have been torturing ourselves.” And though Blessed Mary relieves her tension by scolding her perfect and sinless Son, her use of language reveals that her source of anguish is really self-inflicted.

Our Blessed Lord, having been teaching the teachers in the Temple, replies: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

It would be easy for us to criticize Jesus and accuse Him of backtalk – but this is not the case. Far from it! Mary’s holy Son offers His beloved mother comfort in the form of trust in God. He gently reminds her that her very human Son is also her very divine Son, that His dear and devoted stepfather is not His true Father. And the adolescent Christ also reminds both of them that He has a mission. He is growing up, and His hour will come. And yet, that time was still some 18 years away. And so, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”

It isn’t easy being the mother of God. It would surely have been less of a burden for St. Mary if her Son were an ordinary sinner. For the distress of three agonizing days of believing Him to be lost and wondering if He were dead would be repeated at the cross, a stone’s throw from this same place, 21 years later, as Mary would once again be in great distress hoping once again to see her Son, who on the third day would emerge from death, again in the Temple of His own body, teaching, preaching, and about His Father’s business for eternity.

There are certainly a few lessons St. Luke has for us as the Holy Spirit inspired this piece of our Lord’s childhood to be recorded. For Jesus is in the Temple. He is physically present where the Word of God is being preached and taught. He is present in flesh and blood in the proximity of the altar. He is bodily present in the presentation of the sacrificed flesh and blood for the benefit of those covered by the Blood of the Lamb.

Dear Christians, we know where to find Jesus. Unlike the Blessed Virgin and the Lord’s sainted Guardian, we have no reason to be shocked to learn that the Lord is physically present near the altar, in the holy places around the world where His Word is read, preached, and taught, and where His true body and blood are delivered for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life!

The Lord continues to ask people today: “Why were you looking for Me?” People are seeking God in all sorts of places, in the smug esoteric teachings of conspiracy theorists who join forces with novelists and filmmakers. Others seek God in ultra-hip religious fads that suck in Hollywood actresses, or cults fronted by a-list actors. Others go hunting for God in “alternative scriptures” because the ones that have been revered for centuries as the Word of God are not trendy enough. Still others seek God in money, drugs, fame, thrill-seeking, violently controlling others, or even in entertainment.

But most people seek God on their own terms, in ways that are conveniently self-serving. But Jesus continues to ask, His face set like a flint: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?

The Son is never apart from the Father who was well-pleased at the Son’s baptism, nor ever disjointed from the Holy Spirit, who even as He hovered over the waters of creation “in the beginning,” likewise hovered over the waters of re-creation in the beginning of the Lord’s ministry in making all things new.

If you seek the Father, you don’t need to hunt for Him in vain in a spiritual fantasy. You don’t have to create some made-up religion that is bogus anyway. Rather you can, and you do, still find Him in His physical reality, the flesh-and-blood Jesus, who abides in the Temple of the Church, where His prophetic Word is preached and His miraculous true body and blood of His Supper are freely given to freely forgiven sinners.

And just as finding the young Lord Jesus was a great relief to Mary and Joseph, so too is our encounter with the risen Lord Jesus a great relief to us as well. His Word assures us and comforts us; it teaches us who He is, and what He does for us. And Jesus carries this out by His same mighty Word and by the same holy Presence that filled the Ark of the Covenant “in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.” Just as it was a great mystery how the limited space and time of the Temple could contain God Almighty, we too have the promise that He is present with us, in Word and Sacrament, until the end of the age. And what a great joy this is, dear friends!

And according to these “mercies of God,” St. Paul describes us as priests of a New Covenant, offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” – not the dead flesh and blood of animals that of themselves are powerless, but rather we offer ourselves as thank offerings because of these “mercies of God.” In response to the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord on the cross, the holy apostle exhorts us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Rather than being conformed, literally “molded” to the darkness, we are called to be transformed, literally “metamorphosized” in the dazzling light of the glory of the Lord, the same glory that “filled the house of the Lord.”

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, the same glory is here for you now, calling you to a new and better priesthood, to be partakers of His nature and witnesses of His glory, renewed in the mind and discerning of God’s will by testing. For Mary and Joseph did not lose Jesus. They found Him where God promised always to be. We are blessed to continue to be “amazed at his understanding and his answers.” We continue to hear His Word of forgiveness and assurance, and to take comfort that He is in the Most Holy Place near the altar, in flesh and blood, sharing not only His teaching with us, but offering us His very self, even to the end of the age. Thanks be to God! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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