Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas 2 of Series B (Luke 2:40-52)

“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our Sermon this second Sunday of the Christmas season is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, sometimes our memories can be quite selective. Last month, I was teaching the fourth graders at Zion Lutheran School about a rebellion against the authority of Moses. “They were violating the fourth commandment,” I told them, and then I added innocently, “what is the fourth commandment?” Five minutes passed as these very bright children wracked their brains in a vain attempt to remember what they had learned only a couple weeks before. I told them, half joking, that I knew of a kindergartener who recited that very commandment to me earlier in the day, and that I would bring him in to tell them all. Well, lo and behold, this little guy happened to be walking through the gym at that very moment. After overcoming some shyness, he told those ‘big kids’ exactly what the fourth commandment was: “Honor your father and your mother.” I guess it probably isn’t too surprising that those fourth graders forgot that commandment- we all have had personal experience with selective memories!

The parents of Jesus were probably thinking that this ‘special’ child had the same problem as those fourth graders. Luke tells us the story: “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” I’ve been making the point in the last few sermons, though not from this pulpit, that Mary and Joseph were good, law observing Jews. They were faithful to God’s word and commands. But on this journey, taken once again in obedience to the law, something happened that no parent wants to experience. “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.” I’m sure that we can all imagine what Mary and Joseph felt like. Losing a child, even momentarily, is a terrifying experience. I’m sure that deep down beneath the fear and anxious worry was the thought that Jesus had selective hearing. He most definitely did not seem to remember the Fourth Commandment!

Luther teaches us the meaning to the Fourth Commandment in the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” If it seemed that Jesus was in violation of this commandment, how much more have we had ‘selective memories’ in regard to this command from God? Loving and honoring parents means different things at different stages of life, it includes a variety of different responsibilities. For children, this includes obeying mom and dad, listening to them and giving them the respect that they deserve as those placed into those roles by God. For those of us a bit older, respect and honor still remain, as well as working to provide for our parents as they age. You notice, too, that Luther does not restrict this commandment simply to parents, but to all authorities- that includes all placed in authority over us, from the state trooper at your window to your president in Washington. So often we do not give our authorities the respect they deserve, we speak behind their backs, we do not show them honor privately or in public. Our sinful human selves simply want to be independent and free, the notion of ‘authorities’ who deserve respect is something that does not come naturally to us. On the other hand, those who are in a position of authority are called by this commandment to live lives worthy of obedience, honor and respect. Those of us inn authority also have a great responsibility, a responsibility to honor our calling from God and not giving an opportunity for others to fall into sin.

Mary and Joseph, placed in authority by God over their children, searched earnestly for their firstborn. And they found Him in a place that they did not expect. “After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished.” This twelve year old boy was giving an education to Jerusalem’s teachers! He had not been running around the city chasing little girls, He had not remained behind to make mischief, but instead He was at the center of God’s presence, learning and teaching! No wonder the people were amazed! From the very night He was born in Bethlehem, people have been in amazement at this child. A miraculous birth, heralded by a star, shepherds, angels and all the rest, it is simply too much to get our minds around. Even Mary and Joseph, the very ones who should’ve known better, were still confused about this child. Who was He? What had He come to do? This question would haunt all that came in contact with Jesus throughout His life. The Gospels are simply accounts of people seeking blindly after Jesus, attempting in vain to understand Him. Things have not changed much in two thousand years. Our world tries to fit Jesus into almost any mold, new Jesus’ are invented daily, the world still seems to be seeking blindly after Jesus, trying to figure Him out. In our text for today, no one is searching more blindly than those who had spoken with angels.

Mary gets to the heart of the matter- she calls out Jesus for His violation of the Fourth Commandment. “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.’” But Jesus knew that it was only because of the Fourth Commandment that He remained in the temple. “And He said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Here at twelve years old, with His first recorded words, Jesus affirms His identity. He, just as the angels said, is the Son of God, His Father is Yahweh Himself. He is calling to mind the beauty of the Christmas story, the tapestry that Luke weaves so well, a picture that points to Him as true God, as God in the flesh. This child of Bethlehem was no ordinary child, but He who was born of a virgin spoke with the teachers in the temple as God Himself. He was Mary’s son according to the flesh, and as we read later in our text, He was submissive to His earthly parents, but yet He was Mary’s Lord as well as the Lord of heaven and earth. Jesus remained in the temple in obedience to the Fourth Commandment, in obedience to His Father.

But Jesus’ obedience to His Father required much more of Jesus than a three day vacation in the temple. “Did your not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus had a divine necessity to fulfill, the ‘must’ of our salvation. His submission to the Father’s will meant that it was absolutely necessary for Him to be in the temple that day, and it meant another journey was yet to come. With these words, the boy Jesus alluded to His final journey more than two decades in the future, a journey that would take Him once again to Jerusalem, this time not to educate the teachers in the temple, but to be condemned by them. The divine must of God was a must of salvation, of our salvation. Our sin condemned us, it declared us guilty in the sight of God for transgressing His holy Law, including the Fourth Commandment. With the incarnation of Jesus that we celebrated just days ago, God acted to restore us, He acted in love for our salvation. It was for that reason that Jesus needed to become man, and as He sat in the temple that day, He foretold His final fulfillment of God’s love. For when Jesus traveled back to Jerusalem, He was moved by the ‘must’ of our salvation, the necessity of His suffering and death to atone for our sin and the sin of the whole world. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The sacrifices in that temple, the house of Jesus’ Father, prefigured His sacrifice, for His journey in obedience to God ended upon a cross. There He shed His blood for you, me, and all people, there He poured out His blood for our salvation, to fulfill the divine ‘must’ of salvation. But Christ’s mission did not end there. Just as Mary and Joseph searched for three days for the boy Jesus, so that same Jesus laid in a tomb for three days. And just as His earthly parents found Him in astonishment, so several women came to the tomb that Easter morning and in astonishment found it empty. For Christ was found, the divine ‘must’ of our salvation also included resurrection, Jesus’ and ours!

This answer, filled with all that we need to know about Jesus, still did not convince Mary and Joseph. They who knew the whole story, who had heard the prophesies from the lips of God’s messengers, still sought blindly for the mission of this child. “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” This is really no surprise, for none could fully grasp the mission of this child until it was accomplished. It is only with the resurrection of Jesus that our eyes are opened to see Him as He truly is, the Savior of the world, the one born that men no more may die. At the moment of the cross, at the moment of the resurrection, all finally becomes clear, the puzzle comes together, and we know that Jesus came to fulfill the divine ‘must’ of salvation, of our salvation. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Since that Easter Sunday, the Holy Spirit has been working to open eyes to the truth of who Jesus is and what He has come to do. He opened the eyes of the disciples, and He worked to open your eyes when you first came to faith, working within the Word or the washing of water with the Word. It is only through His work that we can come to faith, and it is only through His work that we can grow in that faith. May the Lord work through His Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith in our crucified and risen Lord each and every day until His resurrection becomes yours, Amen.

No comments: