Text: Luke 2:41-52
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Exodus 23, 34, and Deuteronomy 16, the Lord says that all Jewish males must appear before him three times a year: the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. St. Luke writes in our Gospel reading for today that the holy family did just that. Mary even accompanied Joseph and Jesus even though she wasn’t required to be there. So devout were Mary and Joseph in their faith. For we know that while the Lord made such a requirement for his people in the Law of Moses, rarely was there a time in Israel when the Law was kept by even close to 100% of God’s people. Most of the time Israel lives up to its name, struggling with God the whole way. Mary and Joseph, though, are found among those devoted to the Lord God and desiring to keep his Law. They go to the temple because that is the place where God has said that he will meet them. Why would they not go to the place where the God that created them and continues to sustain them has promised to meet with them?
While Jesus’ family made this trip each year, Luke writes, this year would turn out to be different. We know very well—and Mary and Joseph did, too, for that matter—that Jesus is no ordinary 12-year-old. Jesus is not just like every other preteen boy traveling with his family to Jerusalem and to the temple. Jesus is true God and true man. He’s not half God and half man, though. He is all man and all God. The doctrine of the two natures in Christ, that is, that the fullness of both the divine and the human are contained in Jesus, plays a large part in this reading as we will see as we go on. That, however, is not what makes this trip to Jerusalem different. What makes this trip different is the fact that Jesus doesn’t go with Joseph and Mary when they start to travel back to Nazareth. According to the text, they don’t even realize that Jesus isn’t with them at first. They assume (as is reasonable in their situation), that Jesus is simply with someone else in their traveling group. After all, while it is unlikely that ALL of Israel was obedient to the Law of Moses that required this annual pilgrimage, there were still a number of who would have been observing the Law just as Joseph and his family did. Many of their extended family and others who they knew well would have been making that return trip to Nazareth. They trusted that Jesus was simply with one of them instead. When Mary and Joseph realize that Jesus is not with them, they turn around at once and go back to Jerusalem to try and find him. As it is with everything that is lost, they find Jesus in the last place they look: the temple.
And what is Jesus doing there? He’s sitting among the teachers. He’s listening to them and asking them questions. It would be one thing if this were one adult man discussing theology with other adult men, but this is a young boy talking theology with a group of adult men. This is why we call Epiphany “Epiphany.” During Epiphany Jesus reveals himself. The fact that he is true man is clear for all to see, but his divinity is another matter. No, speaking intelligently about theology is not a divine attribute, but Jesus shows wisdom beyond his years here. It is a wisdom that was given to him by his Father above. While he certainly would have learned plenty as a Jewish boy growing up in a devout Jewish household, the fact is that Jesus, as true God, possesses the full knowledge of God already. It is only because he is in the state of humiliation—that is, he is not always using his divine abilities—that he doesn’t knock the socks off of everyone he meets with his knowledge. On this particular occasion, though, he does just that. The people are amazed at his understanding and his answers. What was he discussing with the men in the temple? While Luke does not tell us, he was almost certainly speaking with them about the promise of the Messiah. He would not yet have revealed himself as the fulfillment of the prophecies of the scriptures, for his time has not yet come, but Jesus always makes it clear that the prophecies of the Old Testament point to the Christ. That is what he will do during the course of his ministry that is yet to come and that is doubtless what he was doing here as well. It’s not obvious them, by any stretch of the imagination, that this young boy who is speaking with such wisdom is the Son of God, but it’s clear that there’s something different about him.
Mary and Joseph are not as impressed with Jesus’ actions in the temple. They’re more concerned about his physical location and the fact that he did not leave the temple when they left the temple. You can certainly understand Mary’s reaction when she finds him. She says, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” While no words of Joseph are recorded here (or anywhere else in scripture, for that matter), he certainly felt the same way. Why does Jesus treat his parents this way?
This is when we must remember that Jesus is not just true man. He is also true God. According to his divine nature, he needn’t submit to anyone. He is true God. No one ranks before him.
The vocations of father and mother are given great honor in the holy scriptures. Parents are God’s representatives on earth given to us for our benefit. The Fourth Commandment teaches us that we are not to despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but we are to love, honor, serve and obey our parents. One might look at Jesus’ actions in the first half of this Gospel reading, it sure looks as if Jesus is angering his parents. He is not where he should be as far as they are concerned. The reason, though, that Jesus is not breaking the Fourth Commandment is because he is obeying his true Father and doing his will.
Notice that Jesus parents searched for him for three days before finding him in the temple. Jesus question to them is a convicting question. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They could have saved a lot of time and stress if they simply had gone to the most logical place to find him: in his Father’s house. In the temple.
The Father’s house, that is, the Church, is likewise where we go to find Jesus. People waste all kinds of time looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. Yes, Jesus is, in one sense, everywhere. This is what he promised in Matthew 28 when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus is always with us. But he specifically gives of himself and locates himself in the means of grace. That is, the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Holy Word, delivers to us the gifts that Jesus won on the cross for us. The place where God’s Holy Word is proclaimed and heard is in the Church. We, like Mary and Joseph, will finish our search for Jesus by going to the place where he promises to be: in the Father’s house. Nothing should keep us from being in the Father’s house. Not even the will of Mary and Joseph, his parents on earth, would keep Jesus from being in the Father’s house. For it was the will of the Father that he be in that place at that time. Likewise, let us not allow even family to keep us from the Father’s house. Let us highly treasure the gifts that Christ gives us in this place. Let us exclaim along with Jacob, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” For that truly is what this place is. It is the gate to heaven. It is the gate to heaven because just as Jesus was found in the temple by Mary and Joseph after three days, Jesus rose from the dead after three days of being “lost” in the tomb that we who died with him in our baptism, might be raised with him on the Last Day.
According to his divinity, Jesus did not need to submit to Mary and Joseph. That is shown by his staying behind in Jerusalem in this text. But according to his humanity, Jesus did have to submit to Mary and Joseph. And he does just that. He returns to Nazareth with them, puts himself under their authority, and, as Luke writes, he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Why not just stay in the temple that day and never go back home? Why not just reveal the fullness of his glory in that moment? His time had not yet come. Jesus took on human flesh so that he could live the life that we live. We don’t just flip a switch and suddenly become filled with wisdom and understanding. We learn and grow into full spiritual maturity over time. Jesus does the same. The time will come for him to reveal himself fully as the Son of God, but his hour has not yet come. In the same way, we suffer in this world knowing and anticipating the glory that is in store for us in the life of the world to come.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.