Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon: Epiphany 1 – 2014

12 January 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  And typically, those two realms stay separated.  Or as St. Augustine put it, there is the City of God and then there is the City of Man.  There is the perfect existence of God’s creation, and then there is the broken and corrupted creation that we now inhabit.  There is the eternal and the temporal.

And when these two worlds collide, weird things happen. 

This “weirdness” is why Jesus often had to resort to parables to teach us what the Kingdom of God is like.  And when we see the divine meet the human, the eternal meet the temporal, the immortal meet the mortal, we see things that just don’t add up in our tiny minds.  Sometimes, these things even cause debates to happen in the church.

For when God took flesh in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the two worlds collided in a cosmic and universe-changing way.  The omnipotent and omnipresent God became a microscopic fertilized egg.  He grew into a boy and then a man.  He died, then rose.  And the world has never been the same.

Look at how this taxes our minds, dear friends!  Does the eternal and timeless God have a mother?  Yes!  Did God die on the cross?  Yes!  Are we sinners also saints?  Again, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  Did God increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man?”  Yes!
For consider also the paradoxes of God being a condemned criminal on the cross.  Or the Word of God being documents written by the hands of men.  Or bread and wine being the true body and blood of the Lord.  Think of the dead rising again, of sinners being declared perfect, of human beings outranking angels.  All of these mind-bending miracles happen because the divine met the human, and in the case of Jesus, the divine became fully human, and the human remains fully divine.

The incarnation of God into human flesh taxes our minds and stretches the bounds of logic.  But even more importantly, this incarnation was God’s plan to save us by the forgiveness of sins, a rescue operation undertaken by God Himself in a sacrificial atonement that does not reduce the holy to the profane, but rather elevates the common to the holy. 

When Jesus, God in human form, was twelve years old, this confusing incident happened that demonstrated the collision between the human and the divine.  Here we have a woman who lost God, and who scolded God for doing what God came into the world to do.  And we have a young boy teaching the teachers and correcting his mother.  We have God acting in a submissive way to His mother and step-father.  And we have God increasing “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

Dear friends, what makes us so uncomfortable with this intersection between the divine and the human is not that the divine is out of place with the human, but rather we humans are out of place with the divine.  And the reason for that, dear friends, is “sin.”  The “weirdness” is solely ours.  We are uncomfortable with the man Jesus because He is the only man who is truly what a man, a human being, was truly meant to be.

Look at what we count as “normal.”  There is an old saying, “To err is human.”  But this is not true!  Jesus is human, but without error.  Sin does not define humanity, but rather distorts it.  Jesus is the ideal man; we are caricatures of true humanity.  We speak of the “common cold” and “every day aches and pains” – as though sickness and pain are an integral part of being human.  But God did not create Adam and Eve to be sick or to suffer or to die.  The things we count as normal are in fact abnormal.  How often are we told that “death is natural” and is just a “part of life.”  How absurd, dear friends!  For in dying our death and overcoming it, Jesus revealed the fact that death is not a natural part of the human condition.  Jesus remains human, and He has been resurrected to eternal life – even as we who believe and have been baptized are promised to rise again in Christ’s name, by Christ’s mercy, and through Christ’s power. 

Indeed, when the divine meets the human, “weird” things happen, and thanks be to God they do!  For they only seem weird to us in a world where sin, sickness, suffering, and death are all treated as normal, natural, and by many people, even good and beneficial things!

And even before the birth of Jesus, the Lord God would break into time and space to physically be with His beloved people.  The ark of the covenant did what makes no sense at all: it contained the very presence of the omnipresent God.  And God was to dwell in a house that by definition could not contain the glory of God.  And yet that glory was permitted to be seen by mere sinful men as a cloud, a sight that made it difficult for the priests to minister before the Lord.

Dear friends, our Lord is even more available to you than He was in the days of the ark and the temple and the priests and the sacrifices.  For your body has become the ark and temple of His body and blood.  His divinity is contained in your humanity in Word and sacrament.  In your baptism, your own flesh has been given a spiritual rebirth, and you have been given a priesthood and the glory of God in your flesh.

“By the mercies of God, your bodies [are] a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

This is how it is, dear brothers and sisters, that we can live in the world and not be of the world.  St. Paul can exhort us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

The Lord Jesus came into our world to raise it up, to reign in space and time so that we might reign with Him in eternity.  He has come as God to men so that we men might stand in the presence of God.  He was put to death by sinful men, so that sinful men might rise with Him to be “put to life.” 

Let us, like the teachers in the temple, be instructed by the Lord Jesus.  Let us hear Him, and be amazed by Him.  Let us join Him in His Father’s house, and let us too be submissive to our Father who is God and to our mother who is the Church.  And even as the Lord Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man,” let us in Christ receive His wisdom, stature, and favor. 

For these two worlds have collided.  And glorious and wondrous things beyond all imagination have happened, namely, forgiveness, life, and salvation!   Amen.


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