Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sermon: Epiphany 1 - 2011

9 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Being the mother and step-father of God has its challenges.

There is a balance to be struck between, first, what Mary and Joseph must do in responsibility for the Son charged to their parental care, and, second, what they must do in obedience to God.

This is one of those things that the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the mystery of the Incarnation makes interesting in our fallen world. For Blessed Mary is rightfully hurt that her Son seems to have disobeyed her. And yet, her Son is God. To obey His parents means to be in His Father’s house, doing His Father’s work, preparing to enter the Father’s service.

And likewise, St. Joseph understood full well that he is not the true Father of Jesus. He may not have been able to wrap his head around the fact that His stepson is God, or that in the real order of things, the Son should be telling the stepfather what to do. But we know this much: Joseph is a good and pious man, who loves his wife and who serves God obediently.

And while the boy Jesus does explain to His mother that He is the Son of God, and that as such, He has obligations that even outweigh His need to obey every wish of His mother, notice how He treats His mother and stepfather: He “was submissive to them.”

This humility is not Jesus just being polite. He knows that the Law requires Him to obey His mother and stepfather, to submit to their authority in matters on earth, and to carry out His unique vocation of the Son of God sent to redeem mankind. Jesus knows that He is also the Son of Mary, born into this world to be nurtured and raised by her and by her faithful husband.

For ultimately, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord’s humility is not about His putting on a good show, or even upholding the Law perfectly (though He certainly does that). Rather, our Lord’s submission, His humility, His placing of every single sinner before Himself, is the very reason He came to earth.

This is our Lord’s salvation at work!

Every aspect concerning Jesus’s humility points to His humiliation – which culminates with His passion and death. Even as Jesus submits to His “blessed” mother and his “just” stepfather according to the Law, so too will He submit to the unjust priests and Pharisees, the unrighteous Herod, and the malevolent Pontius Pilate – all for the sake of going to the cross “for us men and for our salvation.”

In order to win for us the forgiveness of all our sins, our Lord also earns the forgiveness of the sins of all sinful men – even those who have not merely humbled Him, but humiliated Him. That is the perfect submission of the Lamb of God, the One led to the slaughter, and yet who opens not His mouth, the One who suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane because of what we have done in the Garden of Eden, the One who rises again victoriously from the tomb in the garden, “who will come again with glory” to be submissive no more.

We do not like to submit because we are sinful. Our Lord willingly submits because He is sinless. We do not like to submit because we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Our Lord willingly submits because He thinks more highly of His Father than we do. We do not like to submit because we love and trust more in ourselves than in God. Our Lord willingly submits because He is God, and He can trust Himself and His Father – even as He loves us.

For that is what submission is, dear friends: love.

Love is not a warm feeling, a physical urge, nor even profound devotion. Love is not abstract or emotional. Love is submission of the self in the interest of the beloved.

Some women chafe at being submissive to their husbands as the Lord describes married life in His holy Word. It isn’t about power and rights. But rather when wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, they are really being invited to love: to love their husbands, to love their children, and to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Likewise, some husbands will not give up everything for their wives. They may feel that any man who would give up activities and things that they like for the sake of their wives are being weak in their submission. To the contrary, submitting to the beloved one under your authority is not an act of weakness, but rather of strength, of integrity, of love.

For that is the very submissive love not merely spoken about, or even demonstrated, but lived out by our Lord in His submissive love for His bride, the Church.

Our Lord is also submissive in honoring His promise to forgive us all of our sins, to bring to us the magnanimous gift of everlasting life, to hear our prayers, to bring us into harmony with His Father and in His Father’s house through lowly baptismal water, to commune with us submissively in humble bread and wine.

In submitting to His Father’s perfect will and in submitting to the passion, cross, and death according to the twisted will of us sinful men, our Lord Jesus displays perfect love: obedient love for His Father, and heroic, saving love for us sinners. He obeys the Law and takes all of the world’s sin made manifest by that Law upon Himself – following to the letter the perfect will of His Father. And to us, He manifests the Gospel, taking all creation to Himself for renewal, in spite of, and by means of, the imperfect will of His fellow human beings.

Mary and Joseph had an impossible job: to exercise authority over, protect, and teach the already-perfect God. Jesus likewise has an impossible job: to be perfect and yet die as a condemned criminal for the sake of the imperfect world. But with God, all things are possible, dear friends, even our salvation by a God who comes into our world as a child. St. Mary “treasured up all of these things in her heart,” even as she was to watch Her Son, Savior, and God die on the cross. Our Blessed Lord, in humble submission in death, claims victory and dominion over all life.

And this is the greatest mystery of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, dear friends. We have many questions that must remain unanswered in this life, on this side of the grave, but the one answer that we have been given, the answer that trumps all other answers, is in response to this question: “Why did Jesus submit?”

He did it out of perfect obedience to His Father and in perfect love for us, His dear and yet sinful brothers and sisters. He loves us with the love that submits in order to save, that bears sin in order to forgive those who sin, that dies so that we might live – both in this life, and even unto eternity. Amen.

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

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