First Sunday after the Epiphany| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 10, 2010| St. Luke 2:41-52
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
The Epiphany season is appropriately placed in the dead of winter right after Christmas. That makes sense. Christmas is when the Church celebrates the birth of the Son of God. God becomes our brother. He joins the human race as a man. He was born in Bethlehem of Judea as Micah the prophet said.
Epiphany is when the Church celebrates the manifestation of Christ’s glory to the Gentiles. The Wise Men who came from the East were not of the nation of Israel, but they came to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Jesus is not only the Glory of Israel. He is also the Light to lighten us Gentiles.
During the short days of January when there is precious little light from the sun it is good to be able to come to church to receive the light of God’s Word. Epiphany means to shine upon. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He shines God’s grace upon the Gentiles. He grows in God’s grace as a young boy. He reveals God’s grace as he does his first miracle at the wedding of Cana. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of the Son of God to the world. It prepares us for Lent when Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem where he will find glory for us all in his bitter suffering and death on the cross.
The Gospel before us today teaches us the difference between our thought and God’s thoughts. We don’t think like God thinks.
Mary was a pious woman. She was a sincere Christian. As such, she submitted to God’s word in humble faith. When Gabriel told her that she, a virgin, would conceive a Child by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God she did not question or doubt or challenge the veracity of God’s messenger. She said, “Let it me to me according to your word.” God said it. That settled it for Mary.
She was a mother with a mother’s love. God tried her. It was as if he took her son away from her. For three days she looked in vain for him. Where could he be? He should have been with the company. He should have been among the relatives. Where else would a twelve year old boy be? Why would he leave the family? Why would he go off by himself? Has he gotten himself into some kind of trouble? Maybe something terrible has happened to him. What went through Mary’s mind? Was this the sword that would pierce her soul as Simeon had prophesied twelve years earlier?
It doesn’t cross her mind to look in the temple. That’s the first place she should have looked. Where else would Jesus be? Mary, speaking from her maternal heart, chides her holy Son as if he has done her wrong. She says: “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
Your father and I. She appealed to the Fourth Commandment. And how did Jesus reply? “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” My Father’s business. Jesus appealed to the First Commandment. The First Commandment places the Fourth Commandment into proper focus.
We learn from the Catechism the difference between the two tables of the Law. The first table of the Law is commandments one through three:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
These three commandments are summed up in the biblical command, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
The second table of the law is commandments four through ten:
Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may go well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
These seven commandments are summed up in the biblical command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The first table of the law teaches us to love God above all things. The second table of the law teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love God more than we love our neighbor. The second table of the law must bow down before the first table of the law. True love for the neighbor places God’s will before the neighbor’s will. This is why, in each of the explanations of the commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism, we begin with the words, “We should fear and love God that . . .”
The first table of the Law trumps the second. Mary didn’t understand that. She didn’t even understand it when Jesus explained it to her. It’s hard to understand. The fact is that most people trump the first table of the law with the second.
God’s name and God’s word are set off to the side. The sensibilities of men are elevated above the glory and dignity of God. Oh, this isn’t done deliberately. It’s done naturally. But what’s natural is wrong.
Mary did wrong. She looked for Jesus where she thought he must be. She followed her maternal insight. It did not help her. She was misled. Where else would the Son of God be than where his Father’s business was conducted? She looked among the company. Among the kinfolk. She looked in the wrong places. If the mother of God – whom all generations would call blessed – erred in this matter, we should not trust our own feelings any more than we should trust Mary’s.
Jesus put the second table of the law firmly under the authority of the first. And so must we.
Jesus was in his Father’s house engaging in his Father’s business. It was the Feast of the Passover. There can be no doubt that the teachers were teaching about the meaning of the Passover. Jesus listened. He asked questions. He learned. He learned what he would do. For the Feast of the Passover was all about Jesus.
You recall the history behind the origin of this religious festival. God send Moses to set his people free from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt. Pharaoh was a stubborn man. He would not let the children of Israel go free to worship God. He wanted to keep them in slavery. God sent plagues to persuade Pharaoh that he was deadly serious about his demand that Pharaoh let his people go. Pharaoh would relent and then change his mind.
Finally, God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every Egyptian family. The children of Israel were to eat a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts. When the angel of death saw the blood above the door he would pass over that home and kill no one inside. The Passover meal also featured bread without yeast. Yeast represented continuity with the past and God had a future in mind for his people that would set them free from their past slavery.
All of this would be fulfilled in Christ. He is the one who sets Israel free. He is the Passover Lamb whose blood marks our door. His blood cleanses us from all our sin. The angel of death passes over our homes. Death itself is destroyed by Christ’s death and cannot hurt us. We are set free from slavery to sin and to the fear of death.
The forgiveness we receive from God and the peace and freedom that we presently enjoy did not come without a cost. God didn’t simply decree it. Jesus earned it. And at the tender age of twelve years he learned all about it. As true God he was omniscient, knowing all there is to know. But he humbled himself and chose not to take advantage of his divine omniscience. He chose to learn as other must learn. And so he did.
He learned in the temple of the great price he would pay to set sinners free from their sins. We go to church to learn of the great price Jesus paid to set us free from our sins. We go to receive the forgiveness of sins and to eat and to drink the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The Passover Lamb shed his blood for us, is risen from the dead, and gives us the life he purchased for us to enjoy.
Jesus belonged in the temple. We belong right here. Mary thought she knew where Jesus would be found. After all, she carried him in her womb. He lived in her home. Surely Mary could find him. But she kept looking in all the wrong places.
And so it is today. Christians foolishly think they don’t need to go to church to find Jesus. They can find Jesus in their heart. They can think of Jesus now and then and call upon him when life goes sour. But Jesus will not conform himself to our expectations of him. It is we who need to be transformed. As St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle Lesson:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12, 2)
That good and acceptable and perfect will of God is that we find Jesus where Jesus chooses to be. Our minds are renewed by the Gospel that the boy Jesus learned in the temple. So we listen to it. We cherish it. We devote our entire lives to learning it. What Jesus learned he taught. By teaching us he transforms us and sets us free from a fiercer enemy than ancient Israel had in Pharaoh.
Mary didn’t understand everything her divine Son said to her. But she cherished in her heart every word he spoke. We may not always understand everything that we hear in the church service. This does not mean that God isn’t feeding our souls and bringing about spiritual growth. He is.
Jesus fulfilled with perfection the law his Father set before him to obey. By his obedience and death he has covered our sins against both tables of God’s Law. The ancient temple was where God met his people. Jesus Christ has replaced the temple with himself. We find God in Christ. Christ is here in this place. He chooses to be here. That’s why we come to church on Sunday. We look for Jesus where he chooses to be found. Amen