We’ve closed a decade and come to another. News magazines and pundits have recapped the year and decade past and made predictions for 2020. Whether there will be any wisdom in their words may be determined or not. Our modern attention spans rarely look back further than a few years anyways.
This morning we look back 2 millennia. It was around 8 AD when the boy Jesus entered the temple. What was on the mind of the world then? What marked the headlines? What were the worldly wise concerned about? The good news in Rome was that General Tiberius had won a battle defeating the Illyrians in Dalmatia. Otherwise there was a lot of scandalous tabloid-like reports regarding Caesar’s household and court. Vispasian Julia, the eldest granddaughter of Emperor Augustus, was exiled by her grandfather for having an affair with a senator. The Emperor ordered the baby to be left on a mountainside to die. In that year he also had Julia’s husband Lucius Aemillus Paulus put to death for conspiracy against him. The poet Ovid possibly had knowledge of the plot against the throne and the adultery of his granddaughter so Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis for his transgression.
It’s during that same time that Luke records that, “The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) There were no headlines accompanying this happening. Augustus, Ovid, Julia, Lucius, and the rest of the world had no clue there was a Hebrew boy who was more favored than any other. And most anyone before this day who saw the boy Jesus would have looked right past him. He looked like any other child; inconsequential, unimpressive, normal.
We shouldn’t let that disturb us. We should in fact find comfort in it. Christmas has revealed to us that indeed this child, born of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit is Immanuel, “God with us.” He is God in the flesh, however he spent much of his life living like we do. He grew up with other children, his sisters and brothers, and the others in the village. He had parental expectations, learning the trade of his father, and helping his mother with the daily chores. He even observed holidays like the rest of us as we hear this morning. He went with his parents for the annual trip to Jerusalem. Almost 13 it was the custom that any man over the age of 12 would go to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Imagine that, 12 years old, and he was considered on the cusp of adulthood. Adolescence as we define it did not exist in Jesus’ day.
Why should all of this comfort you though? It means you have a God who understands you better than you could ever hope or dream. He’s not distant from everyday life. He’s familiar with the fatigue after a long day of work. He knows what it is like to learn and to play and perhaps what it was like to put up with the neighborhood bully. He knows what it’s like to be lost in the obscurity of humanity, just one child among many others. He understands what it’s like to be you, day to day, in your vocations with daily demands, living a normal life.
He lived that way for 12 years before the world ever got a glimpse of what made him exceptional. Before that and about 18 years following it, his life was pretty mundane. Average is the best way to explain it and that’s likely why we don’t have any more information about those years of Christ’s life.
What we learn today is exceptional though! Before this in all of the gospel accounts the Word made flesh has not spoken a single word. Of course, he spoke before age 12, but none of them are recorded. We put a lot of emphasis on first words. We love to hear what a little child may have said: “mama”, “dada”, “baba”, it doesn’t matter, we just love to hear that a child is finding their voice. We certainly don’t place a lot of weight on those first words though, but in Jesus’ case his first recorded words hold a gravity that carry the weight of the entire world.
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In those short phrases Jesus revealed to his parents and those listening who he is and his purpose. Mary and Joseph should have understood, but their weariness and frustration about searching out the boy got the better of them. Had they forgotten his miraculous conception announced by the angels and that indeed Jesus would be called the Son of God? Of course, they remembered, but they still did not understand exactly what that would mean. Already, Mary was learning what Simeon meant that her soul would be pierced as a result of this child. She’s learning that her child doesn’t belong to her alone, that though a faithful child, his fidelity to God will always take precedence and he in fact belongs not just to her and Joseph, but the entire world. Indeed, he was beginning to show them he is the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And this child, the Son of God the Father says, He must be in his Father’s house. This is a difficult spot for translators. That’s one way of reading it, but you can also read it as “I must be about my Father’s things” or “I must be about my Father’s business.” Either way, he’s saying He’s about God’s will and God’s action in the world. So, Mary finds her child Jesus three days after the Passover teaching the learned and wise in his Father’s house.
Little did they know that this young man sitting before them was preparing them for one great Passover, one that would be sealed with a New Covenant in his blood. Jesus came to be the final Passover, the fulfilment of all the promises of God of which everything before was a foretaste and foreshadow. Jesus’ mission is to be the Paschal Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. After that final Passover he would be lost in death to his mother by dying on a cross only to be found again after 3 days later risen from the dead. You see, you can’t really understand Jesus’ first words until He has died for your sins and risen to bring life and immortality to lighten the entire world.
Then and only then, do those words, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” ring with the gravity they deserve. For those words carry the weight of the wisdom of the prophets of old and they bear the responsibility for the entire human race. People like Emperor Augustus and soothsayers like Ovid will come and go just as the news that causes us so much anxiety and the people who we think are so important today are forgotten tomorrow. However, the words of the One we hear this morning is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is true wisdom. He is the true favored one of God.
And you dear Saints have found his favor. Not because your life is anymore exceptional than any other and certainly not because you are perfect or without sin. Rather, you are favored by grace and therefore you have wisdom that transcends the millennia, you have the wisdom from above, Jesus Christ. He was born for you, speaks for you, died for you, and lives for you. And now he comes into your ordinary lives and does extraordinary things. He covers you with the love and favor of His Father. He’s about his Father’s business, giving you the heavenly things of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Word, the water of Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Holy Communion of his body and blood. 2020 and the decade ahead may hold many things for you, but not a thing can compare to what you already have this day. So with Paul we may bless the Father for what he has done. “Blessed be the God and Father of Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even has he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph. 1:3). In Jesus’ name. Amen.