Sermon Notes for 1st Sunday after Epiphany, 8 January 2017 Anno Domini
O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Romans 12: 1-5
I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
The Holy Gospel
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Today’s Gospel text provides a stellar example with respect to youthful inquiry, early learning, and a due respect for one’s elders as represented in the conduct of the young Lord Jesus Christ. The Magi also present an example to us all of older age to be wise in our deliberations and behavior. This is clearly revealed in our Collect for today. The Epistle counsels a holiness before God and man – the same that our Lord represented throughout His life and ministry. Let us examine these one by one.
The Star to which the Prayer of Collect for Epiphany refers is none other than that Bright and Morning Star which leads all, both believing Jew and Gentile, to God. There are no people of God apart from those who have placed their trust in God, the kingdom as a national edifice having been torn from the rulers of the Jews. Jesus told the Jewish rulers: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matt 21:43) Now is that Faith of Abraham joined together into one Church of both Gentiles and Jews who believe. Neither the Muslim, the unbelieving Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu will be received into that Church – for the Door is Christ.
Paul is preaching in the Epistle not only to the Gentiles of Rome, but to the believing Jew as well. Instead of the dead sacrifices of the Jewish Temple, God requires our LIVING sacrifice of love, compassion, and obedience. When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are made new creatures in mind and soul. The process is not only abrupt, but continuing. We are to renew our minds daily to conform to the mind and will of Christ. Our faith, moreover, requires that exertion of action to be added.
Before addressing the particular details of the Gospel found in Luke today, let us first examine what constitutes the nature of the saints of God as demonstrated in Mary, the mother of Jesus, John the Baptist, and others.
Mary inherited a special blessing in being privileged to carry in her womb the Son of God. Jesus is the only Man born to woman who had no earthly father. He was the only Man ever to be born who was also God. He came preaching the will of His Father, and representing His Father in all truth and purpose. No other can ever stand in the place of God because no man is God. The Roman Church pays much reverence to saints and exalts them to a pinnacle of divinity in praying for their intercessions; but the saints are not above the common level of mankind even if they led exemplary Christian lives. They still had shortcomings and sinned. Mary, too, was God’s perfect virgin Lady in a mortal and carnal body that was subject to sin and error. Yes, she was highly favored and blessed of God, yet she was imperfect in nature. In the Magnificat, she prays also for her salvation. “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Luke 1:46-47
Though those who are saints (all who are loyal and obedient to God) are blessed with many graces by God, they are also put through many harsh and painful trials. Consider with me the plight of poor Mary. Being a young lass at the time of Gabriel’s visitation, she had hopes and dreams like all young ladies have. She wanted a loving home, a loving husband, healthy children, and parents that would always love her. She desired to be socially accepted in the community as well, and the Jewish community at Nazareth was small in number of souls, but the number of gossiping tongues and prying eyes were as the constellations of heaven. So when Mary became pregnant out of season, though Joseph was obedient to God in taking Mary as his wife, the tongues doubtless wagged and expressed unmentionable conjectures. The Christian saint of our day must suffer much libel and disapproval, too. The world labels us as freaks and malcontents. So we suffer in smaller scale the same degradations as did the precious young lady, Mary, and too often without justification. But the fruit of Mary’s womb would be a blessing to all peoples and men from the east, west, north, and south would come and sit at the feet of her Son and be blessed equally.
Look at the ordeal young Mary had to suffer when the Child was ready to be born. Circumstances, under the Providence of God, caused Mary to travel at least a three days journey to Bethlehem riding on a donkey. Mothers can scarcely imagine that discomfort she experienced, and men can never even slightly grasp it. Once arrived at Bethlehem, I am sure Mary was anxious to find suitable lodging at which she could rest her head and weary body; but no such lodging was available. Mary must have pondered God’s will in allowing her Child (and His) to be born in a stable among the beasts of the field. What utter degradation in her mind. It is true that those who give their lives as a living sacrifice to God often experience circumstances that always seem contrary to their purpose. Nothing good seems to come without a great struggle and much suffering. We are suddenly and without notice often required to go places where we desire not to go, and live in conditions that are not consistent with our expectations.
No sooner had Mary settled in a home with the Child then God ordered Joseph, in a dream, to flee into a foreign land – Egypt. Mary had never been further from her home in Nazareth than tiny Bethlehem. Now she must again pick up her scarce belongings and flee into a land of which she knew nothing. No sooner had Mary adapted to the new home in Egypt before the Lord ordered their return to Nazareth. Sometimes, the saint may begin to wonder if the world is right after all – perhaps we are more than a ‘peculiar people.’ Perhaps we are, as the world alleges, freaks. But just the opposite is true. No matter the inconvenience, the pain, the suffering – it is always the very best Way that leads the Way of Heaven.
I love to read the writings of the great Martin Luther. He is quite serious but, at the same time, allows his German disposition to evince itself in his writings. Here is a quote that Luther made about the sufferings of Jesus and John the Baptist: “Thus God reverses the order and acts in a contrary way, deals so harshly and offensively, according to human reason and opinion, with His dearly beloved Son as He would not deal with any man on earth, as if He were not the Son of God, or of man, but the child of Satan! In the same way He also dealt with His well-beloved servant, John the Baptist, of whom Christ says, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt 11:11), and yet upon him He conferred the honor of being beheaded by a knave.” A saint, like Mary and John the Baptist, is a good soldier who obeys orders from God without question – even if those commands make no present sense to him.
Finally, and this happens at the moment of death of many saints, Mary has her heart pierced by a spear at the foot of the Cross at Calvary. What agony was hers as she watched her beloved Son writhe in pain and struggle to breathe while suspended from the Cross by nails. Had not Gabriel warned the young woman of years ago, “(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)”
(Luke 2:35) Imagine her great sorrow and anguish when all hope of life seemed to fade for her Son and, then, at last, a soldier comes along and thrust a spear into His beloved heart. Jesus was already dead, but Mary was not! That piercing wound hurt Mary far more than it did her Son. Evil abounds on all sides in our world. It has never been the will of God that the innocent are violently slain or abused, but the heart of man is full of wickedness and evil. He gave his heart over to the wrong Tree at Eden and rejected God. We must endure that evil, and oppose it always, until we close our eyes in the sleep of death.
Now let us observe some salient points revealed in today’s Gospel. 41 “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.” This was a spiritual duty, and the mother of Jesus, and Joseph, were good examples of a Christian home. They attended the religious services faithfully of their religion. While many today cannot muster energy to travel two blocks to church on the Lord’s Day, these traveled over harsh terrain a three day’s journey for the Passover. Little did Mary and Joseph realize that they carried the future and final Passover with them – “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor 5:7) Many years later, Mary and Jesus would make that same trip to Jerusalem at Passover, and Christ would be the Lamb to be sacrificed.
For these past several years, Mary and Joseph had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, and now Jesus was twelve years old – the age, presumed by religion, to be the age of moral consciousness. Jesus was more than morally conscious. He taught doctors in the Temple! We have, in this account, the only meager remnants of the young life of Jesus. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” Just as He would do some twenty one years later, Jesus enters the Temple at Jerusalem and confronts the teachers of the Temple – this time as a Child, the last with a reed with which he beat the money changers and overturned their tables.
Since the annual Passover journey to Jerusalem was a Jewish national event, there were great numbers in the company of travelers from Nazareth – perhaps all of the village who were able to travel. 43 “And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.” It is very easy to have Jesus in our hearts, so very close as a beloved Child, yet lose His constant fellowship through neglect of attention. “44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.” How do you suppose poor Mary felt? She had been entrusted with a Child that was ONLY hers and that of God the Father – and she has lost Him. She did not lose Him for a few minutes, or for a few hours, but THREE days! What do you suppose went through Mary’s mind and heart? When we are separated from Christ owing to our own neglect to study and love Him, do we not suffer great sorrow? Mary had taken Jesus for granted. She believed He was among all of the other playful children on the journey, but she did not make CERTAIN! We must not take our fellowship with Christ for granted.
45 “And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.” If we place too great a distance between our daily living and Christ, we may not so easily find Him again. Our lives, without Christ, become confused and disorderly and, though Christ is always accessible to us if we seek Him, the weeds may have grown over the trail of that access.
Though the Temple was the most likely place to find Jesus, it was perhaps the last place Joseph and Mary looked for they had been in Jerusalem some hours before they found Him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” Here is an important lesson regarding Christ and our prayers. He not only hears us, but also inquires. So, you want an opulent new home? “Why do you need such when your neighbor is living in a shanty?” Jesus may ask. It was completely contrary to reason that a twelve year old would be dialoguing with doctors of religion – listening to their highfalutin chatter, and then asking of them the meaning.
Jesus will astonish us with His remarkable solutions to our problems if we will only ask in humility. 47 “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” These were all lawyers and doctors of religion – teachers of the law; yet, they were astonished at the wisdom and understanding of a twelve year old Boy. Should we not be even more astonished at the Words and Wisdom of the Risen Lord? All that hear (many will refuse to hear) shall be astonished at Christ. Have you been astonished at His Words?
The human instincts of the mother in Mary overrode her understanding and memory of Gabriel’s message. 48 “And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Perhaps Mary’s feeling of personal guilt at losing her Son caused her to shift the blame to Jesus. But Mary was no unaccustomed to suffering for the Child that she bore by Heaven’s decree.
It has been argued by many errant theologians that Jesus had no sense of identity until His baptism, but this verse disqualifies such a supposition: 49 “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Christ clearly reveals Himself here to be the Son of God!
How often we fail to grasp the higher meaning of the teachings of the Bible! Even though we have read, and seemingly understood, just a while later, the meaning escapes us. Mary had been told by the Angel of Christ and His Life, yet Mary has long suffered many diversions and forgotten, for the present, the whole meaning shared by Gabriel. 50 “And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” If we had a perfect understanding of all of the Words of Christ, how could we ever lose Him. We read the Scriptures through a lens of deception too often. We read and interpret the words of the Bible in such a way as to justify our own selfish notions. How often do ministers and theologians propose and theological doctrine, and then limit their reading only to those parts of Scripture that seem to justify that doctrine?
Jesus was an obedient Son. He knew His mother and Joseph did not understand fully what He was about, so He tarried for the perfect timing of His Father to continue His ministry. 51 “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” But Mary mulled over these events in her mind. Perhaps she began to recall the Words of Gabriel and compared them to her experiences with Jesus at Jerusalem and as He was growing up in Nazareth. Perhaps she even wondered about the sword that would pierce her own heart, but not fully knowing. We see now, as Paul says, through a glass darkly, but one day we shall see face-to-face!
52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” There one thing that God may have not known before Jesus became man – that is, how does it FEEL to be human? Though He knows our hearts well, God had never experienced physical pain, want, hunger, and thirst. But Jesus experienced all of the emotions and sensations of pain and patience we have experienced while in the flesh. He grew in wisdom, for wisdom cannot remain idle. The favor of the Father was showered upon Hi Son more and more as the years passed and the day of His Passion approached. It was undoubtedly a time of great joy for the Father in seeing His Son fulfill the measure of love, grace, obedience and trials of life; but it must have also been an agonizing period for the Father in anticipating the great abuse and torture that His Son would undergo at the moment of that Passion. The thought of all that Christ suffered for us should be a constant source of grief mingled with joy – grief to know that He did all for us, and joy to know that His sacrifice was sufficient even for our own sins. Could we withstand the grief and heartache of Mary, of John? We shall see. AMEN