Tuesday, January 4, 2011

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

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson I read a few moments ago from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: In our text for today, Luke gives us an account of Jesus’ early life that we can easily connect with. Those of you who are parents can feel the anguish, the distress that Mary and Joseph felt as they searched for Jesus. Many of us have been to big events, carnivals, fairs, concerts, where young children can be easily lost. We can picture in our mind a crying child at the information desk, trying to communicate to the staff who his parents are. We have probably all heard over the speakers the name of a lost child, and a plea for his parents to come retrieve him. No doubt a few of us have been the lost child ourselves. Distress in those situations lasts for a relatively short time, during which so many possibilities go through your mind, all of which are not happy. So we can imagine the anguish that Mary and Joseph felt as they scoured Jerusalem for three days, and then the joy, mixed with frustration, at finding Him in the temple. “And when His parents saw him, they were astonished. 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.’”

What had this twelve-year-old boy been doing for several days in Jerusalem? Luke tells us at the opening of our text that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.” Jesus was in the temple proving just that, demonstrating His wisdom to the intellectual big shots of Jerusalem. They were the ones with the PhD’s and He was a twelve-year-old upstart, a boy genius demonstrating to them knowledge of the law they had never seen in a boy so young. “After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” But Jesus wasn’t in the temple simply to show off; instead He had a much more profound reason to spend time in its magnificent courts. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Mary and Joseph responded to that pronouncement in disbelief. “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.” It is hard to imagine how Jesus’ parents, who had been given more information about this child than anyone else, who had heard from Gabriel, from Simeon, from Anna the testimony to the identity and work of their Son, could misunderstand Him, but they did. They are the first to stumble over Jesus’ testimony about Himself, but they would hardly be the last. Luke tells us that “all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Amazement and misunderstanding would follow Jesus throughout His life, as people tried in vain to grasp after who this child was and what He had come to do.

That is hardly surprising, for human wisdom has a very difficult time understanding Christ. Indeed, that is how the world and our own sinful nature attack faith. How can you believe in God? Have you ever seen Him? Jesus is simply a deluded man! Do you really believe that He was born of a virgin? Do you really believe that He rose from the dead? All the claims of Christianity seem ridiculous in the eyes of the world, based in myth, while science, that is something based in fact, in observation. Sometimes we’re too smart for our own good. We trust so much in our human understanding and wisdom that it seems impossible to believe in miracles. If I haven’t seen it, I can’t believe it. Satan uses others around us and our own human wisdom to inspire doubt. Now at this point I could exhort you and me to ‘just believe’ when those doubts assail you, and to a certain extent that is good advice. But on the other hand, such an approach avoids the fact that Christianity is not irrational. I can teach you how to defend the faith against the assaults of the world; you can learn how to prove the Resurrection of Jesus, how to argue for the existence of God. We don’t simply have to say ‘just believe,’ but we can take on the challenges of the world with good, solid arguments.

But arguing for the faith ultimately falls short where it really matters. I can believe that God created the universe, I can believe that Jesus is who He says He is, I can even believe that He rose from the dead. But even Satan knows those things, and that isn’t going to do him any good. It is one thing to believe the truth of those facts, it is a whole other thing to believe that they have any significance for me. That is where human understanding and wisdom fails. Our minds and hearts cannot tell us that Jesus has anything to do with us; in fact, they say quite the opposite. Our mind tells us that we are too sinful, too corrupted, for Jesus to want anything to do with us. Surely He can’t accept me, surely He cannot forgive my sin. We know ourselves, we know the secret sins we keep hidden from everyone else, we know how we have let others down, how we have let God down. How can God love a person like me? Our hearts accuse us, our conscience constantly brings up past sins and failures; we close our eyes, and we see how we have hurt others, how we have grieved God. Our heart tells us: “You are lost. God does exist, and there is no way that He is going to forgive your sin.” Human understanding and wisdom cannot conceive of a loving God; it is impossible, and so it leaves us with our sin, trembling before the One who punishes it with eternal judgment.

We need a different kind of wisdom, a different kind of understanding. Our sinful human minds cannot make the leap from the facts to the application. Only a wisdom from outside ourselves can do this. Only a wisdom given by God can allow us to truly understand Jesus. This is wisdom and understanding that goes beyond what our minds can comprehend- in fact, it runs completely contrary to what human wisdom proclaims to us. St. Paul speaks of this heavenly wisdom in our Epistle lesson: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to his purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” This is the wisdom that makes known to us the very will of God Himself. His plan and purpose was to send Jesus into the world to win forgiveness for those who did not deserve it, to die in the place of those who had grieved Him with their sin.

Heavenly wisdom grasps onto both the identity and work of Jesus Christ. Heavenly wisdom enables us to understand the pronouncement of the boy Jesus in the temple: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Heavenly wisdom declares to us that this boy in the temple, this man walking the dusty roads of Palestine is God Himself in the flesh, the very Son of the Father sent to dwell among us. He is Immanuel, God with us. But heavenly wisdom doesn’t stop there. It also declares to us what Jesus has done. It proclaims that Jesus would return to His Father’s house on another Passover thirty years later, this time to give His life on the cross. He would shed His blood there in accordance with the will of the Father. We cannot stop there, either, because then we are still left with facts that seemingly have no application to our lives. Heavenly wisdom takes the next vital step. It proclaims to us that Jesus is who He is and did what He did for you! It declares that the love of God for you was so great that He sent His Son to bear your sin to the cross and to do away with it there. No matter what your heart tells you, no matter what your human wisdom claims, God has forgiven you for the sake of Christ. The blood He shed, the death He died, was all for you and for your salvation! Human wisdom cannot comprehend the love of a God who would deliver sinful and rebellious people, who would forgive you and me of even our hidden sins. Only heavenly wisdom can declare that Jesus did it all for you.

Where does this heavenly wisdom come from? How do we attain it? The wonderful message is that we do nothing to earn it, but instead it is a gift of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives heavenly wisdom by creating faith within us through the Word of God, as St. Paul writes: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures make us wise for salvation, the only wisdom that matters. I never want to discourage learning more about God and His Word, but the wisdom that clings to Christ is not simply a matter of facts, it is a matter of forgiveness. Heavenly wisdom is ultimately given to us in the forgiveness of sins. It is the sure and certain Word that God proclaims to us: “For the sake of my Son Jesus, your sins are forgiven!” We can trust that Word, we can cling to it despite what our human wisdom and understanding tells us. St. John writes, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” God knows what earthly wisdom cannot- that Christ has died for you, He has paid for every one of your sins. Only the wisdom given by God applies Jesus directly to you and your sins.

Our Gospel lesson is not the only time in Jesus’ life when He was lost. Some thirty years later, He would be lost again, and those who loved Him would be distressed. But He would be found, again three days later, this time risen from the dead, triumphant over sin, death, and hell. He rose to declare the victory that He won on the cross, He rose so that the message of the cross and empty tomb, foolishness to the world but the wisdom of salvation for you and me, may be proclaimed to all men. He was found that third day so that you may be found, given the faith that makes you wise for salvation. It is that heavenly wisdom that will sustain you this day and every day until you follow Jesus in your own resurrection from the dead. Death has no victory- the foolishness of the cross has defeated it! In the Name of the only Son of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

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