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LSB Christmas 2C Sermon – Luke 2:40-52

January 4, 2016

January 3, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.”

The trip to Jerusalem at Passover was a solemn yet joyous journey. Pilgrims went to keep the festival that the LORD instituted when He delivered His people out of Egypt with mighty acts performed by His outstretched arm. This great event was foundational to the identity of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Psalms sung on the way to the Holy City, sacrifices performed in the Temple, and eating of the Passover Meal with family proclaimed the people’s redemption by the LORD.

That is what the Holy Family were experiencing in Jerusalem. The Gospel Writer tells us that this was the usual course of events for Joseph and Mary: “Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” They kept this festival in Jerusalem, making the long trips from Nazareth to do so. This was an expression of their piety to do this. Not only did they participate in the rituals connected with the Passover, they went beyond what was required, as Mary also went along on the trip. Both would experience the retelling of their redemption by the LORD.

In the event recorded by the Gospel Writer, something different occurs. Joseph and Mary are joined by Jesus: “And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” Jesus makes the trip to Jerusalem alongside Joseph and Mary. He was experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the Passover in person for the first time. In this way, Jesus was being incorporated into the long line of individuals who would share in the LORD’s redemptive work.

But as you heard in the Gospel Reading, the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem does not fully go according to plan. Or perhaps, we might better say, the return trip to Nazareth doesn’t: “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.” Jesus remains in the city as Joseph and Mary and the others from Galilee began to travel their way home. Jesus stays, though “His parents did not know it.” That leads to the frantic search for Jesus that Joseph and Mary perform in the city: “They returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. After three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

Jesus’ presence in the Temple surprises Joseph and Mary. His activity in the Temple also surprises the teachers: “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished.” But this astonishment and amazement should not be such reaction of surprise. Jesus’ response to His parents’ reveals why: “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” or better translated: “Did you not know that I had to be in the things/affairs of My Father?” 

This interaction between Jesus and His parents provides another revelation of His identity. It explains His presence in the Temple at the Passover. Jesus is there not just as a faithful Israelite keeping the festival, remembering how the LORD brought redemption to His people. He is in the Temple because He is how the LORD is bringing redemption to His people. Jesus stands in the Temple as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He teaches in the Temple as the LORD’s Word-in-the-flesh. He dwells in the Temple as the Father’s obedient Son, with whom the Father is well-pleased. Yes, it may surprise people that a 12-year-old boy does these things. But when those identities that Jesus possesses are known, then the astonishment and amazement turns to wonder and worship. The words and works of Jesus are treasured up, just as Mary did in her heart.

As you hear about this event from Jesus’ childhood, the LORD bestows wisdom to you. You are given to know Jesus’ identity. You are shown your Redeemer. You have the way of salvation revealed to you. It doesn’t all come at once from this event. With just this event known, you can be like Joseph and Mary: “They did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.” But as the identity of Jesus is unfolded in the Gospels, then you understand exactly who it is that stands in Jerusalem’s Temple that day. You see what is foreshadowed by Jesus’ presence and statements as a 12-year-old, which He fulfills about two decades later when He again travels to Jerusalem at the Passover Feast.

For what will Jesus do? He will be about His Father’s things. He will bring the promised redemption of the world. It will happen again that the teachers of Israel are amazed at Jesus’ understanding and answers, even as they condemn Him for it. It will happen again that Jesus’ mother will see Him and be astonished, as she witnesses His beaten and bruised body hanging from the cross. It will happen again that Jesus’ companions will be in great distress, separated from Him for three days,  even seeking the living among the dead as they don’t fully understand what He has said about His death and resurrection. But they will be reunited with Jesus as He accomplishes His Father’s business and appears as the Living Lord.

This is what you have come to know and believe about Jesus. This is the wisdom that has been given to you. It leads you to make the same confession about Him that Paul did: “In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [the Father’s] grace, which He lavished upon 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.” That is what Jesus brings to you.

So how do you obtain this redemption for yourselves? The apostle notes what the Father made you through Jesus: “In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Blessing comes to you as you are made the members of the divine household. Blessing continues to be given to you as you are in the things of Your Father.

The reason for coming to the LORD’s house is to be present among His things. That’s what takes place in this gathering. As you hear about Jesus’ identity and His work done for you and as you participate in the rites that Jesus instituted—Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament analogues to circumcision and the Passover meal—redemption is given to you. This is the point of Paul’s statement: “In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” This is the wisdom that comes from above, so that you are made wise to salvation.

That is why coming to church is a solemn, yet joyous journey. You are present among holy and divine things—the things of your Father. Hearing about Jesus in the Scriptures, praying the psalms and singing spiritual songs, being washed with water and word, eating the Eucharist: all these proclaim your redemption by the LORD. They take what Jesus has done and apply it to you. And what happens as this is done? You grow and become strong, filled with wisdom. You have the favor of God upon you. It is foundational to your identity, for this is how you are adopted into the divine household and how you live within it.

So in this new year of grace that the LORD has granted, let gathering in the LORD’s house and being involved with His things be your custom. If it your presence hasn’t been so frequent, let this be the year that it becomes so. If it has been the norm for you in past years, let it be so again this year. For you have been incorporated into the long line of individuals who share in the LORD’s redemptive work, from whom you have obtained an inheritance of everlasting life.

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

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