8 January 2023 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
The First Sunday after the Epiphany
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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.
Before proceeding to the sermon on the lectionary text for today, I would like to reflect momentarily on the Epiphany text of Matthew 2:1-12 and how it is supported by a number of historical witnesses. I refer not only to the Star of Bethlehem, but also the broad anticipation of the need of a Savior voiced even by the heathen communities of the pre-Incarnate centuries. Due to lack of space, I will note some results of my continuing research on the matter.
The first witness is that of Socrates and Plato: Four hundred years before Christ, Socrates, in Greece, entertained an expectation of the near advent of some supernatural being to be a teacher of men. He said, “We must wait till some one comes from God to instruct us how to behave toward the divinity and toward man.” A few years later Plato, following his great teacher, spoke his own similar expectation, declaring: “It is necessary that a lawgiver be sent from heaven to instruct us . . . . O, how greatly do I desire to see that man and who he is.” And in his Republic Plato has recorded one of the clearest of the unconscious pagan delineations of Christ in his famous ideal description, “he will assume the appearance of being unjust; yea, he shall be scourged, tortured, fettered, . . . and after having endured all possible suffering, we be fastened to a post, and will restore again the beginning and prototype of righteousness.”
Around the same time as Plato’s remarks, Confucious of China made this prediction: “A new Religion will sometime come from the West. It will pierce to the uttermost parts of China, where ships have never gone.”
The clearest of non-biblical prophecies is that of Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism whose priests are called MAGI. Some have suggested that Zoroaster was a disciple of Jeremiah, from whom he learned of the Messiah, and taught of Him to his disciples. (I Have no solid reference for that last possibility, but the tradition is corroborated by Abulpharagius whom I quote: “Zoroaster taught the Persians concerning Christ. He taught that in the latter days, a pure virgin would conceive, and that, as soon as the child was born, a star would appear, blazing, even at noonday with undiminished lustre.” There is more to his recorded remarks which I shall detail in a longer devotion later.
There is some evidence of that referenced luminous heavenly body in the Samguk Sagi (Tripitaka Koreana) recorded on wood plates in the largest such library in the world at Haeinsa Temple in Korea. Astronomers of Korea sighted such a brilliant star passing over east to west in the approximate year of 4 B.C.
I do not believe the above secular evidences are essential to our faith, but it does encourage some to know that there is external, as well as internal, evidence of the events of the Epiphany. You might take it with a grain of salt, however, the biblical account is true and not subject to the errors of mortal historians.
And now for the sermon for the day:
Have you ever been very close to Christ and suddenly, through your complacency and neglect, found that you are separated, by a vast expanse, from your Lord? Is it even possible for one who is intimate with Christ to become separated? Have you omitted the Daily Bread that sustains you? I am afraid that it is the most common occurrence rather than the exceptional one. Peter once became separated from Christ in the Garden at Gethsemane and lost all courage during the separation. The circumstances may even, at times, be reversed. For example: the men on the road to Emmaus believed that they had been forever separated from Christ while he walked at their very side. Separation from Christ, either actual or perceived, is a failure of faith.
We learn in today’s Gospel text that even the mother, and supposed father (for God was His true Father), of Jesus became separated from their son for three days or more:
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43And 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. 44But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46And 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. 47And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48And 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. 49And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51And 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.” (Luke 2:41-52; all scripture quoted is from the King James Version)
There are a few salient points brought out in this text that are worthy of emulation or note:
1) Jesus attended to his religious responsibilities in going up to Jerusalem every Passover. His parents even set the example for Jesus had He needed an example. It is very important that the young children of the church sit with their parents during worship rather than being separated to a period of silly play-church. When children observe their parents doing their Christian duty, a powerful impression is made – and a lasting one. Jesus and His parents observe the good order, reverence, and customs of the established feasts.
2) Note the relationship of Mary and Joseph to Jesus. In the KJV (Received Text) they are referred to as Joseph and His MOTHER. In the modern versions, BOTH are called His parents which blur the distinction of Christ as Son of God! I.e. ESV, NIV & New American Standard Version: His parents did not know it .
3) Jesus was a model of obedience and discretion, therefore Joseph and His mother Mary were taken by surprise that He did not follow the company back to Nazareth. Jesus was ALWAYS obedient to them, but now a higher obedience was required. It was an isolated instance of His Father’s desire to expose His only Begotten Son before the Temple elders and doctors. Though Jesus was an obedient child to Joseph and Mary, the time would come when He must obey the Higher Law of His Father. I am disgusted at clergy who advise their charges to obey the secular law when that law contradicts the Higher Law of God.
4) Joseph and Mary were accustomed to the ordinary expectation that Jesus would follow them. They were wrong. When religious liturgy of practice becomes too ordinary, we may become complacent in its observance. We may have studied so very industriously for many years from God’s Holy Word, and then decide, “Ah, I have studied enough. I can take a sabbatical from studying the Daily Bread of Life. But now, you are in danger of being separated from Christ. Is it worth the risk?
5) Joseph and Mary sought for Christ among their kinfolk and acquaintances. Need I remind you that no kinfolk, no acquaintance, nor even any ministers, bear any monopoly on Christ. We gain no spiritual favor with God owing to our faith of our family. No one can “bring Christ to us.” We must find Him ourselves. We can show the Chart and Compass to our friends, but they must take the tools in hand to seek His face personally.
6) Christ has an engaging manner of teaching. He hears our inquiries and claims, and then He asks us questions that none other can conceive to ask. He is an excellent listener, and His inquiries fathom the depths of the heart of men and women.
7) “46And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple.” There were courageous and loving women who also sought Christ after three days, and found Him in the Temple of His Resurrected Body. If we earnestly seek Him, we shall find Him.
8) All men were forever astonished at the words of Christ – even His mortal enemies. How often did He put the Pharisees, rulers, and Scribes to shame with His excellent and deliberative teaching.
9) I am sorry to say that I believe Mary’s memory of the great Angel Gabriel’s counsel to her while she was yet a virgin may have lost some of its meaning and luster in her memory. She refers to Joseph as His father even though she knows full well that he is not, or perhaps she merely did so to appease social pressures. She was most often absent during the teaching and preaching of Christ. It may be that Mary did not come to full realization of who her Son was until after the resurrection.
10) Mary feels offended by the presumed one-time failure of Jesus to obediently follow them. One thing Mary did that was right when she learned of her separation from Jesus – she sought Him sorrowing. Every soul that finds itself separated from Jesus must seek Him, not in the pride of familiarity, but sorrowing.
11) One great reason that we need Christ, not only as redeemer and Savior, is that we do not know God the Father well. He does! “49And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” The reason for Jesus’ lingering behind in the Temple was as clear as the Sun to Jesus, but Mary and Jesus could not have discerned the cause. They failed to understand His explanation, but our failure to understand all that Christ has spoken to us is no reason to reject His saving invitation.
12) Though He would become the Savior of His people and the Light of the World, Jesus was an obedient Son and remained subject to His mother and to Joseph. I pray that young people today would be subject to their parents even if their parents are only a carpenter and a keeper at home! Even if the child aspires to some high calling, he should never exalt himself above his parents. If Jesus was subject to Joseph and His Mother, how much more should we be? “51And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” There was something mysterious about this occasion to Mary. She did not fully understand, nonetheless, she kept all in her heart.
13) Jesus continued to grow. When we cease to grow and learn, then we cease to live. His wisdom, too, increased with his physical stature, and He grew in favor and knowledge of God His Father. If we take our eyes off Christ, we may lose Him or be separated from Him for a time. Better to be staid on Christ constantly, than to be constantly returning from our human endeavors to seek Him out anew.
CONCLUSION: It would seem that this incident in the life of Christ, points us to our own responsibilities, in coming of age, to come to Christ! Twelve years old is a traditional and fitting age for a young person to be confirmed into the Church and to begin to grow more vibrantly into greater stature and wisdom. It represents the midline of youth when a fork in the road begins to appear in the distance – a fork which will begin to lead him more directly to the government of God in his life or, au contraire, further away if the wrong path is chosen. Jesus dutifully was brought to the Temple on the eighth day following His birth to be circumcised (a custom that parallels baptism in the New Testament economy). And when of a knowing age (twelve years) He again comes to the Temple to be examined by the doctors thereof. This is fairly consistent with the Church practice of Confirmation at a knowing age.
If we continue faithfully and prayerfully in following after Christ, we shall not lose Him.
In Christ Alone during Season of EPIPHANY,
† Jerry L. Ogles, D.D.
Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide & Chancellor, Faith Theological Seminary