Sermon: Christmas 2 – Luke 2:40-52

The Second

Sunday After

Christmas

 Luke 2:40-52

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.

 

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Memory Work Sacrament of the Altar Question 4

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Memory Work: Sacrament of the Altar Question 3

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Memory Work: Sacrament of the Altar Question 2

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Memory Work: Sacrament of the Altar Question 1

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Catechism Memory Aid – Office of the Keys – What do you believe according to these words?

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Homily: St. James of Jerusalem

St. James of Jerusalem

Brother of our Lord, Martyr

Lessons:
Psalm 133, Acts 15:12-22a, Matthew 13:54-58

This homily was preached at 6:30 PM October 23rd, 2019 at the regular midweek Divine Service at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer – Columbus, GA.

In the Name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the church rejoices and gives thanks to God for St. James of Jerusalem, brother of our Lord, and martyr.

We all know James wrote one of the Epistles collected in the Holy Bible, however in the Church he is most remembered for his leadership in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. Our lesson shows how exemplary James is for us. He is celebrated for being a unifier and reconciler of God’s people. Hence we prayed this evening, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity.”  (Psalm 133:1)

It’s ironic in a way that James is remembered for bringing unity to the Church. In spite of his efforts his name has been brought up in conflicts. During his lifetime many people claiming to represent James caused division in the church. Paul had to deal with such people in Galatia and in his epistle reprove their error for many had fallen away from faith in Christ to confidence in the works of the law. Then later in the church’s history some Christians, including our beloved Martin Luther, thought James contradicted Paul when he wrote “you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Yet, the conflict is easily resolved when you know that in fact James is using the word faith differently than Paul since for James even the demons “believe.” Both Paul and James were concerned that genuine faith would bring about the fruit of repentance and good works that follow from true faith. James’ point (and Paul would agree) is that without the fruit of good works then your faith is proven to be dead or a sham. You cannot use Christ’s forgiveness as a license to sin or to excuse yourself from loving your neighbor. True faith would never think of such a thing. Paul says as much in Romans 6 and it was of chief concern to James in his Epistle.

James and Paul were one in Christ. There is no record of them having ever been in disagreement. In fact, James saw to it that the Gentiles to whom Paul preached would not be scandalized by too many legalistic burdens in keeping faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At the Jerusalem Council we read him celebrating the Gentiles inclusion in the gracious forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ and then giving instruction to avoid things that harm such faith such as pagan worship and sexual immorality. 

We shouldn’t minimize these conflicts. There was great concern for the unity of the church and the inclusion of the Gentiles, though prophesied, was still “new” to many Hebrew believers. Nowadays which hymns we sing or building and renovation projects can split a church. What trifle things to divide us when we consider what our forefathers faced as they sought to keep the peace within the church all the while they were being persecuted and troubled by the world outside them.

We never hear of James complaining. He faithfully kept the course of a pastor, constantly locked on the single goal of glorifying Christ and His gospel. He wisely listened to others and pondered what the Holy Spirit was accomplishing through them before he made a single decision or gave a single direction. He loved the Lord his God and therefore he loved the church and suffered with her even in the midst of tension and conflict.

The saying goes “You cannot choose your family.” and the same is true of the household of faith. You do not get to choose who is your brother and sister in Christ. The decision is God’s. God has has elected us to be born into His family by water and the Word. Baptized into Christ we are all God’s children, and if God’s children, then we are brothers and sisters forever. In light of that it is best that God’s house not be divided. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that since we will spend eternity together in heaven we better start learning how to get along now on earth.

The Scriptures teach that true unity can only be found among men by the blessing of God. Hence Israel remembered the anointing oil that was poured over the head of the high priest Aaron. That oil would be a sign to them that whenever Aaron interceded for them with prayer and sacrifice God was forgiving their sins and reconciling them to himself. Therefore, the community was reconciled to God and to one another. In the household of God unity is not achieved by men, it can only be received as a gift given by God to His dear children by His forgiveness.

And the happy news of the New Testament and our lesson from Acts today is that gift of unity has been given to all people. The gift of peace and goodwill toward men announced by the angels came down from heaven in the Great High Priest, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus. His head was not anointed with oil, but with His holy and precious blood that ran down His beard as a propitiation for our sins upon the cross. Upon the cross Jesus was winning us and all the world peace with God and the gift that we might be at peace with one another.

“How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity.” This is a unity not of our choosing, but one created by our Savior. The life of a Christian is not one of picking and choosing who is a sibling and who is not. It is one that is created and brought about by God.

Think of the most significant relationships that you have in your life.  More often than not they are not created by a choice, but rather by being thrown together headlong into a particular situation or a particular community with some common goal or purpose.  You may not have even liked them at first. Think of best friends at school who on the first day wondered who that funny looking kid was. Think of two soldiers who in life are polar opposites but grew strong bonds of friendship by risking life and limb together. Think of Christians, who though they don’t see eye to eye on everything look at one another as Christ blood bought and Christ blood blessed brothers and sisters who are one that the world may know the love of God. 

Faith in our Lord Christ is to limit our options to one choice; His blood, His forgiveness, His salvation, making us part of His kingdom, and therefore His family! The Psalm gives us one more glimpse of the beauty of this kind of family, “For there the Lord has commanded blessing forevermore.”  Here in Christ’s Church, in His Zion as the Psalmist calls it, the blessings of our High Priest flow to us through His Word and the Sacraments. Let us rejoice in His forgiveness. Let us rejoice for our forebearers like St. James. Let us rejoice for one another, for God is still reconciling us in forgiveness that we might be one.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

SDG – Rev. Eric M. Estes

 

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