The First Sunday after Epiphany
January 7, 2018
“The Perfect Son”
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously." And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. St. Luke 2:41-52
Christmas falls on December 25. Epiphany falls on January 6. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth. St. John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) God became a man. Epiphany is Christmas applied to all the nations in the world. Jesus was born the Son of David, the King of the Jews. Jesus was born a Jew. The Magi or Wise Men who came from the East to worship baby Jesus were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Judah. They were not Israelites. They were not Jews. They came from Gentile nations that did not know God. They came to worship Jesus. Jesus was born for all people everywhere of every race and tribe and nation. He assumed our human nature. He took upon himself the task of redeeming all of humanity.
In order to do this, Jesus placed himself under the Law. This required him to shed his blood. He did not first shed his blood for us in the Garden of Gethsemane while he was facing crucifixion on the cross. He first shed his blood for us when he was circumcised at the age of eight days.
Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David. In the fullness of time, he was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus was a Jew. He came to deliver the Jews. But he did not come only for the Jews. He came for everyone. The light of Epiphany is the light that shines in the darkness of sin and false teaching. All Christ-less religions are steeped in legalism, superstition, and spiritual blindness. Christ is the Light of the world. The light that shines forth from Christ that brings light to everyone in the world is the light that shines from the cross where Jesus died.
This is why the holy family travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem – a trip of about ninety miles – every year to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They could have ignored the festival. I’m sure Joseph had work he had to do, and travelling across country took time. But Joseph and Mary were God-fearing, church-going people. They attended the public services of the church. They took their family with them. If you want to know how to raise children, do as Joseph and Mary did.
You might think that it would be superfluous for the Lord God who knows all things to waste his time in the temple where his teachers’ knowledge was so very limited compared to his own. But when God joined the human race, he chose to humble himself. He was God. He knew all things. But he chose not to take advantage of it. He chose to learn. He went to church. He asked questions. He was the all-knowing God. He set aside the full use of his divine omniscience. He chose to grow in wisdom and knowledge, relying on the word of God written down in the Bible. The Bible is God-breathed. He who breathed it learned his own words as he asked probing questions of the teachers who were gathered in the temple.
What was the topic of conversation between Jesus and the teachers? They talked about the Passover. The Passover was history with a promise. The history was that God told Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, to let his people go so that they could worship him. Pharaoh refused. God sent plagues. After each one Pharaoh appeared to relent and then he would get his back up again and refuse to let God’s people go. Finally, as the final plague, God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every Egyptian family. In order to save the children of Israel from the angel of death, God told Moses to tell the people to kill a lamb and eat it, and put the blood of the lamb up on their doors so that when the angel of death saw the blood he would pass over that home and spare them.
The promise of the Passover was fulfilled in the twelve year old boy who remained in the temple for three days. Jesus would be the Passover Lamb. He would offer himself up on the cross to face the death deserved by all sinners. Sin pays off in death. Through the prophet God said, “The soul that sins shall die.” Through the apostle God said, “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus, the twelve year old boy, talked with the teachers about his own death, how he would taste death for all sinners everywhere.
This is what we must teach our children. The gospel of self-esteem that has found its way into many churches teaches that no one deserves punishment, but rather needs treatment for this or that malady. This is a false gospel. Look at Jesus in the temple learning about the Passover. What is the Passover about? It’s about punishment! It’s about a twelve year old learning that he will shed his blood to bear the punishment for others.
Sin requires punishment. If God’s Commandments mean anything at all, they mean that God will punish those who disobey them. Serving false gods, misusing God’s name, neglecting and despising God’s word, dishonoring parents, hurting our neighbor’s body, violating the marital bond by sexual sins, taking what doesn’t belong to you, telling lies about your neighbor, and trying to get from him what you have no right to get – these are sins that God punishes.
God punishes sin. Somebody has to pay. There is no forgiveness unless payment is made. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Somebody has to pay. That somebody is the twelve year old boy in the temple. It was his Father’s will that he suffer for the sins of us all. It was his Father’s will that he submit to the demands of the Law, even when those demands required his death. He had to be in his Father’s house. He had to be about his Father’s business. His Father’s business was that he would be the Passover Lamb and take away the sin of the world. Nothing would keep him from doing so.
Mary and Joseph knew enough to know to go to church. The fact that they looked for Jesus for three days before looking in the temple shows that they were a bit unclear about what going to church meant. You may attend church and not quite understand what it means. Keep coming. God will teach you. Mary was confused. She thought that Jesus had been out of line, apparently not caring about his father and mother. She said to him, “Your father and I have sought you anxiously.” Jesus doesn’t deny that Mary and Joseph are his parents. He doesn’t deny them his submission and obedience. Joseph was not his biological father because Jesus had no biological father, but he was his mother’s husband and that made him Jesus’ father. But notice how he answers his mother. He says, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?” Mary appeals to the authority of Jesus’ father, Joseph. Jesus replies by appealing to the authority of God the Father.
This teaches us that parental authority is not absolute. Parents have their authority from God. As parents, they exercise God’s authority over their children. Parents are God’s representatives. God has given fathers and mothers the duty to teach their children. We teach our children God’s law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law is commandments one through three. They teach you to love God above all things. The second table of the law is commandments four through ten. They teach you to love your neighbor as yourself. The first table of the law is primary. The second table of the law is secondary. First we love God. Then we love our neighbor. We cannot love the neighbor if we don’t first love God. The explanations of the commandments in the Catechism begin with the words, “We should fear and love God.”
We are children of God through faith. Holy Baptism makes us children of God because in this sacrament the Holy Spirit draws us to faith and gives us the new birth into God’s kingdom. Jesus is not the Son of God the same way we are children of God. He is the eternal Son of the Father. There never was a time when he was not the Son of the Father. He didn’t become the Son of the Father. He was always the Son of the Father. He became the Son of Mary. He became our brother so that through him we might be brought back to God.
We learn from Jesus what it means to be a child of God. We learn from Jesus how to honor our parents here on earth and how to honor our Father in heaven. Christ’s obedience to his Father is the most important obedience anyone has ever rendered to anyone. It is the righteousness in which God clothes us in our baptism. A baby girl, who can smile but not yet talk, baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is thereby robed in the white garment of salvation, made up of Christ’s perfect obedience and innocent suffering and death. She’s a saint!
Years ago, when I served as a pastor of a congregation with a parochial school, one of the teachers would suggest to me that parents should be required to take classes on how to be parents. I would ask him, “Who would teach it?” He couldn’t answer. Parents: you don’t need to take classes on how to be parents. What you need to learn is what Mary learned. That is where to find Jesus. Jesus is where his gospel is proclaimed. He is here. Bring your children to church with you. Jesus is where his word is read, taught, sung, and confessed. Teach God’s word to your children at home. Then they will know that Jesus lives in their home. Where Jesus lives, there God’s favor rests.
Rolf D. Preus