Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sermon: Epiphany 1 – 2012

8 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Did you not know that I must…”

The word “must” may well be the most extraordinary word in today’s Gospel. Of course, the fact that Jesus refers to God as His Father is also extraordinary. He is God’s Son. He knows it. He confesses it. And His mother and step-father must to come to grips with it. But that little word “must” when Jesus says: “I must…” easily misses our notice.

For what does it mean that Jesus “must” do something? He is the King of the Universe. He is God. Isn’t it a contradiction to say that Jesus “must” do anything? Isn’t this a little like the question: “Can God make a stone so heavy that He can’t lift it?” Is Jesus bound by the word “must”? “Must” God do anything?

We all understand the word “must.” We must all do all kinds of things we would rather not do. We all have responsibilities and chores and things we don’t like. There are things we must do because others depend on us. And when we must do something, it also implies that we have no choice or control of the matter.

So, how can Jesus, as God, also live within the confines of “must”? How can He really be God at all?

Well, dear friends, this “must” is the very love of God itself. For love always acts against the self-will and self-interest. Mothers and fathers routinely sacrifice for the sake of their children – out of love. Police, firefighters, and military personnel make sacrifices out of love for country and community. Christians of every vocation have a list of things they must do – which have been collected into our catechism’s “table of duties.” These duties are done out of love for the sake of people who depend on our doing them. They are also our priestly sacrifice to God as a thank offering. As Jesus said: “When you fast…. When you give alms…. When you pray….”

When the 12-year old Lord Jesus said: “I must…” He did not mean that He was begrudgingly obeying an order out of fear or compulsion, but rather He was doing His saving duty out of love for His Father and for His creatures. This love is why He took flesh in the first place, laying aside His glory to live in our fallen world of pain, misery, and death. And out of love He even “must” forgo the pangs of death – not because He has called death upon Himself by His sins (as we have), but rather because it is what He must do to save us.

Jesus must be in His Father’s House because that is what a Son does, that is who a Son is, that is who the Son of God is, and that is what the Son of God does. As the Word Made Flesh, He is found in the flesh where the Word of God is proclaimed: “in [His] Father’s house.”

And this was true when our Lord was 12 years old at the Temple, when He was 33 years old at the cross, and even now, two millennia later as He is still present where His Word and flesh are present – for, by, and with the people He loves, forgives, restores, saves, and gives life.

“I must be in My father’s house.”

One remarkable thing about our Lord’s statement is how often one hears people today make the bold claim: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” What a selfish contrast to the humble statement of our Lord and God: “I must be in My Father’s House.” If Christ must be in His Father’s house, why would Christians not be?

For to be a Son is to have a Father. To be a child of God is to call God Father, to hear His Word, to be where He is revealed, to be where He is. And the Father is most fully revealed to us in His Son. To be with our Father is to be with the Son – and to be with Him is to be where He is found according to both His flesh and promise.

“I must be in My Father’s house.”

Those who disbelieve in the Real Presence in Holy Communion sometimes mock this teaching by saying that God is not called up by priestly magic when a pastor says words over bread and wine – like a genie being conjured up to do our bidding. And that is most certainly true. Pastors do not conjure up God, and certainly have no magic to offer. Instead, we invoke God, call upon Him, as He invited us to call upon Him – calling upon His Most Holy Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, invoking the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and submitting to Him and His Word when He said: “Do this in memory of Me.”

For the Lord isn’t commanded into bread and wine by magic words, rather the Word Made Flesh joins us in the flesh according to His own miraculous Word and promise. For just as God the Son “must be in [His] Father’s house,” so too must the Word Made Flesh keep His promises. And the Lord has promised us: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He must keep His promise.

Indeed, He cannot not be present in Holy Communion within His confessing Church that invokes His Word and uses His own promise-laden words, words which must do what they say. God does not come to us like a captive genie to do our bidding as a reluctant slave, but rather joins us freely as God Almighty, captive to His own love for us, faithful to His own Word in order to save us, His beloved – even taking the form of a slave in order to redeem us in word and in deed.

“I must be in My Father’s house.”

Dear friends, this holy house is the Father’s house – as are all holy houses that bear a Christian altar, a Christian pulpit, and a Christian font – all holy houses be they big or small, elaborate or simple, wealthy or poor – and Jesus “must” be in His Father’s house. It is His promise to us, dear friends.

If you wish to find Jesus, you must find Him where He must be found. You will find Jesus here among your brothers and sisters who confess Him who was obedient to His Heavenly Father and submissive to His fleshly mother and step-father. Jesus has taught us to be submissive and to be present where He is present. For if you want to experience the living God, you must find Him where He is living – where His presence and promise are, where He must be – and where we must be as well – out of love, in His mercy, under the forgiveness of the cross, in the majesty of His Word, in the mystery of the altar and in the presence of His potent words of forgiveness and eternal life.

In His submission He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Holding onto Jesus we join Him in this wisdom, stature, and favor – even as we join the Lord Jesus in His confession and promise: “I must be in My Father’s house.” And concerning the Lord Jesus, who must be in His Father’s house, there is no other name by which we must be saved.

And we join Him not just here, but in eternity. “I must be in My Father’s house,” now and forever, thanks be to God!


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

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