Epiphany 1 – January 12th and 13th, 2019 – Luke 2:41-52
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
This weekend we get a Stained Glass Window lesson. We do – our Gospel lesson is one of the windows we have, right over there. Boy Jesus in the temple. Oh this was one of my favorite lessons as a kid. But here's the thing – this is a rich and deep lesson, and we don't quite get the fullness of it because we aren't first century Jewish folks. So listen in for a wonderful and profound story that reveals, even in His youth, who Jesus is.
“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was 12 years old, they went up according to custom.” So, what's set up? It's spring time and Jesus' family has made the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover – something they do routinely. And remember something about Passover – it culminates with the sacrifice of the lamb, and then the whole lamb is to be eaten with no leftovers – and if your household wasn't big enough to polish off a lamb in one sitting, you got together with a neighboring house. Celebrating the Passover was communal, normally it would be an extended family celebration. And Joseph and Mary's custom was to head on down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with a lamb not just slaughtered at home, but in the temple – and you'd find a place to hold the meal with your family. Jerusalem had plenty of places for this – years later the disciples rent out the upper room. So it's not just a church service, but it's also sort of like a bunch of overlapping family reunions too, or maybe heading up to a lake house in the summer where everyone descends upon it and suddenly this empty place gets really crowded and fun.
“And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him.” Now, do not be critical of Joseph and Mary here in this slightest. Think of a big family reunion – my dad's family would have one (and still does) in Ohio at my cousin Larry's farm – and my grandma and her 5 siblings would be their, and their kids, and their grandkids – often over 100 people. My parents didn't know where I was most of the time – I was somewhere on the farm with the rest of the kids. That's the same assumption here – Jesus is surely off with His cousins who are all running around and talking and laughing as we make our way back home. It's only at bed time, when it's time to camp, that they see that Jesus isn't there. And that's when they hightail it back to Jerusalem.
“After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Now, this is one where our window gets it wrong, but gets it right. If you look at our window, Jesus isn't sitting – He's standing up, finger in the air, making a point. Well, technically, Jesus would have been sitting, but we miss the point when we hear that. In Jewish culture, you sat to preach or to teach. I'm preaching, but I'm not sitting, I'm standing up here making points. And that phrase “listening and asking them questions” is the description of how a rabbi taught. The closest I get to that today are the times in confirmation class where I'll ask the kids a question, and when they answer I say, “hmmm, well, in that case what about this?” So understand what Luke is describing. Joseph and Mary, after days of frantic searching, finally see Jesus in the temple, and he's there rabbi-ing the rabbis.
And of course, this catches the parents off guard - “And His mother said to Him, 'Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.'” And exasperated mom comes in. We hear this as though it's very formal talk – it isn't. If your mom ever talked at you with her teeth shut and her eyes bulging – that's what Mary's doing right now. That “behold” is probably closer to a “look here, boy” in modern parlance. Mary is both ticked and relieved, and all that well of emotions from the last three days is coming out. However – and this is funny – she comes upon Jesus when He's been in Rabbi mode for a few days, and so He answers her like a Rabbi would – “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” This isn't a kid giving his mom sass – this is precisely how a Rabbi would teach a student. And it goes over Mary and Joseph's head (they're not students; no epiphany light bulb for them yet), but after that Jesus leaves, heads home – He “came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He went along like a good little boy – even though He had been showing to all the teachers that He was in fact the Teacher of Israel, even though He had made a fantastic claim – that He must be in His Father's House.
So then, what is the point for us in this lesson? While there are many things that we can draw from it, I think what should be deemed most important are the first recorded words we have from Jesus – the first red letter words, as it were. “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” So much is said today about people “searching” for God, looking for Him. Our culture today likes to treat religion and faith and “spirituality” as though it's a personal quest – whether it's finding God, or finding yourself – since “yourself” tends to be the most popular god in this country anymore. But Jesus cuts that off. There is no searching to be had. It is no mystery where Jesus is present – He must be in His Father's House. Jesus is present in His Church – and you're not going to really find Jesus apart from the Church. If you want Jesus to be present for you – to teach you and forgive you and redeem you, He's going to be in the Church. And for the times when you can't get to Church, or need Church other than on the weekend – like before a surgery or something – you give the Church a call, and I'll bring Jesus and Church to you. And if you are struggling and wondering about something, a question, a burden – let me know and I will give you Jesus. That's my job. Life and faith doesn't need to be some laborious, dramatic struggle on your part. All that angst is just folly that our culture has heaped on – it's basically watered down indulgences and relics that we recycled and internalized – Luther in the monastery beat himself with whips, we get tempted to think that we have to beat ourselves up inside. That's not what Jesus teaches, nor is it what He wants. No – He is in His Father's house – and that's where He always is. That is where we are to seek the Lord while He may – may – be found. That “may” is a word of permission – Jesus allows Himself and makes Himself to be found for you and for your forgiveness in His Church.
And what sort of Jesus must be in His Church? Well, to be certain, a teaching Jesus. A Jesus who opens up the Scriptures. His teaching is not just lecturing or moral finger wagging – it might behoove us here to think about the last conversation of Jesus' that Luke records for us in chapter 24. Jesus tells the disciples just before He ascends: “'These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” This is the teaching of Christ – that He is the one who fulfills the Law and Prophets and Psalms, and that because He has done all this, because He has died and risen, repentance and forgiveness in His name is to be proclaimed – law and gospel. When Jesus teaches us with His Word, we see our sins and we see our Savior.
But it gets deeper than this – and this is fun. Note – Jesus says that everything in the Scriptures is about Him and fulfilled by Him, and that He must be in His Father's house. What kind of Jesus do we have? Well, let's think about today's lesson – Jesus is there at the temple for the Passover, and then Joseph and Mary find Him again on the third day. That's the Jesus that they find in the temple – a Jesus who is submissive to His parents will. Now, consider a Passover a few decades down the road, where Jesus goes to Jerusalem, where He tells His Father in the garden not My will but Thine be done – and then the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is slaughtered at Sundown upon the Cross, yet on the Third Day, there He is, risen from the dead and proclaiming Peace. There He is, teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to be found in the breaking of bread. There He is among the disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room, preaching His resurrection and peace in the midst of their fear. Of course He is - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house? And even today – His Word of forgiveness and mercy is proclaimed here – even today He is known among us and comes to us in the breaking of bread in His Supper. Even today He comes to us, and the Peace of the LORD be with you always. Of course He does - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?
My dear friends in Christ – the boy Jesus in the temple is not just a cute story (although it is cute, I will grant that). Indeed, it is Christ Jesus openly preaching and teaching, pointing forward to what He as the Messiah would do, and teaching and reminding us not only of what He does for us as our LORD, but reminding us that He is always present for us in His Church, for He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, so that we too may dwell in His House both now and eternally. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +