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Sermon for Epiphany I

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ January 31st, 2009

Sermon on St. Luke 2:41-52

The First Sunday after the Epiphany

11 January 2009

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

 

and in favor with God and men.  –   St. Luke 2:52

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,

Today’s Gospel lesson is the only detailed account we have of Jesus’ life between the visit of the Magi and His baptism. As for all the years in between, we have to settle for Luke’s summary. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” And so do we this Epiphany! The answers to two questions will guide our lifetime of spiritual growth. First, where do you go? Second, what do you get?

The setting of today’s Gospel lesson helps us understand where we go for spiritual growth. “[Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Recall the three major festivals in the OT. Pentecost celebrated the harvest. Tabernacles anticipated the day that God would tabernacle among us in Christ. And the Passover lived out the good news of the Exodus by killing and eating the lamb. So three times a year, for eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath, the Hebrews went to Jerusalem to receive the gifts of the suffering Messiah. This Passover, however, presented a twist. When Joseph and Mary left to return to Nazareth, the boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. After much panic, “they found [Jesus] in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” In the Temple, the center of Jewish worship life, Jesus learned from the teachers. We call it instruction in the Word of God. “And all who heard Him were astonished as His understanding and answers.”

So where do you go for spiritual growth? The New Jerusalem is the church. Whether in heaven or on earth, in a cathedral or an outdoor mission station, in North America or Asia, the church is the place where Christ is present in His means of grace. Here is holy baptism. Here is the word of absolution and preaching. Here is Jesus’ true body and blood, given and shed for you. Here are the three major festivals: Pentecost, Christmas, and Easter. Here is our new Temple, the Christ. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will build it again in three days.” The Temple that He spoke of was His body. And you, the church, are the very body of Christ. So go to church to increase in wisdom and stature and favor with God and men. And while you’re at it, bring your children that young and old together may praise the Lord (Ps. 147:11-13).

This stands in the contrast to the false teaching that children should not attend the Divine Service. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dismayed in my lifetime to see a progression from children’s sermons to children’s church. It started with a denial of the power of the Gospel to reach young ears. Some folks probably thought their children weren’t getting anything out of the Divine Service. So along came the curious practice of a children’s sermon. Secular objects, from sporting equipment to pieces of fruit, were dragged into the chancel. Then came “children’s church.” Children were actually removed from the sanctuary (and the pastor and the means of grace) to their own service. They were cut off from the fullness of God’s gifts in the corporate liturgy. How different this is from the precedent in today’s Gospel lesson that children come to the same place with the same teachers and the same Gospel.

What difference does it make? The question of whether we gather together for word and sacrament or break down by age groups cuts right to the heart of the cross. Did Jesus die for all people? Yes! And does He invite all people to partake of one and the same Gospel? Yes! Think, for instance, of infant baptism. Babies need not understand theology to believe in Jesus. Christ is doing all the work for them through the water and the Word. Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift! And we have a lifetime to growth in our baptismal grace as we faithfully participate in God’s word and sacraments. Where do you go for spiritual growth? You go to the holy Christian church, where young and old receive one and the same Gospel.

Second, what do you get? Once you’ve gone to the church, what does Jesus give you? After Mary responded as any parent would under the circumstances, Jesus’ replied with His first recorded public words. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Jesus’ Father, of course, is God the Father, not Joseph. And what is the business of God the Father? Going to Jerusalem. Sitting the midst of the teachers. Listening to the preachers. Asking them questions. Understanding the sacred Scriptures. And, in due course, giving His life into death for our sins and rising from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures. So whenever the Word of God is rightly taught, the elect hear and believe. No wonder the teachers were “astonished as His understanding and answers.” As a man, Jesus had to grow in His wisdom and stature, just like you and I do. And even a young boy, rightly instructed in the Word, knows Christian doctrine.

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb 12:22). And what do you get? Our Gospel lesson mentions three gifts: wisdom, stature, and favor. Wisdom is known in the Old Testament as “Lady Wisdom.” She is our mother, and she leads us in the way of life. Stature here can mean age or bodily stature, a reference to Jesus’ physical development. This may seem out of place to some of us, but remember that the body is God’s temple. Today’s Epistle reminds to “present the body as a living sacrifice,” i.e., to treat the body as God’s temple. Set aside for God’s service. Sexually pure and decent. Offered in His service. And we grow in favor with God and man. The word favor is the same word for grace. Our entire life is covered by God’s grace, isn’t it? By grace we are saved. By grace we live. By grace we will die. So from first to last, we grow in wisdom, stature, and favor (grace) with God and man.

This stands in contrast to the false belief that we should get something else out of church. There are numerous false teachings that threaten your salvation and your church membership. Camaraderie. Good feelings. Art for the sake of art. Power for the sake of power. And any other thing that is held above the Gospel as the reason for our church membership. Consider, for instance, church music for children. In my experience, most Protestants who try to lead children’s church music have two foundations for their craft. First, are the children having fun? Second, can the parents see that their children are having fun? Such questions are probably OK for the playground, but they have no place in church. Indeed, Jesus’ cross was not about having fun. Nor is the Christian church the place for any frivolity. Again, anything that is elevated above the Gospel itself is a false god and must be crucified through repentance.

What difference does it make? What you get out of church cuts to heart of the Gospel. Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ is present in this Christian church to bless you with all His gifts. Forgiveness, life, and salvation. Wisdom, stature, and favor. All richly and abundantly given to every age among those who believe. If Christ is making good on His promise to bless us with these gifts, then these riches are quite enough for us and for our salvation. If, however, we don’t believe that He is giving these gifts, then we must flee to camaraderie, fun, or some other false god. But Christ’s promise of the gifts of the Gospel simply cannot fail. Here is the entire Christ and all His gifts.

In this Gospel lesson, then, we see a snapshot of liturgy and learning for life. Where do you go for genuine spiritual growth? To church. And what do you get? The wisdom, stature, and favor of standing righteous before God. So from baptism to eternal life, Christ is with us in this Christian church. And He brings rich and abundant life to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

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