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Sermon for Epiphany I

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ January 10th, 2011

Sermon on St. Luke 2:41-52

Epiphany I

9 January 2011

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.  –  St. Luke 2:52

They’re called “ellipsis points,” those three little dots [ . . . ] that indicate the omission of words or even a lapse in time. Today’s Gospel Lesson is bracketed by two “ellipses” from St. Luke. Just before today’s Gospel Lesson, St. Luke summarizes the first twelve years of Jesus’ life with the following words: “And [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). And he concludes today’s account with this summary of the next twenty[-ish] years of Jesus’ life: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52) Like a grammatical ellipsis, Luke’s summary of Jesus’ life from age twelve to age thirty contains three points that will shape our meditation this morning: wisdom, stature, and favor.

First, Jesus grew in wisdom before God and man. After Jesus’ parents issued an Amber Alert for the greater Jerusalem area and frantically searched the streets for their apparently lost Son, they found Him in the Temple. Here Jesus sat in the midst of the teachers, “both listening to them and asking them questions,” as depicted on your bulletin cover. And what did Jesus receive from the teachers and give them in return? Wisdom. The word wisdom here (sophia) echoes the OT idea of wisdom (instruction, prudence) that we read about in the book of Proverbs. In this book of wisdom literature, we learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (1:7), that the child should hear the instructions of his parents (1:8), and that wisdom is so important that she cries aloud in the streets and in the marketplace, proclaiming the knowledge of God (2:6). In Proverbs 3[:3] we read, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” We call it “catechesis,” instruction in the Word of God. Jesus needed it according to His human nature, and He received in the Temple, the Synagogue, and in the house. We receive the same wisdom at church, school, and home, as we hear the Word of God, pray from the Catechism, and sing from the hymnal.

The alternative to wisdom is foolishness or “folly,” as some translations put it. In Proverbs 9:[13-18], we read that, in contrast to Lady Wisdom, “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by . . . .” Yes, the woman Folly summons men to neglect Lady Wisdom, to ignore Father and Mother, and to go one’s way for the sake of personal pleasure. But what happens to those who follow the woman Folly? Again, from Proverbs, “Her guests are in the depths of Sheol,” i.e., her victims are in the abode of the dead. See how you, O Sinner, have flirted with the woman Folly and repent! Have you placed other things ahead of the Gospel and the sacraments on Sunday morning? Have you been negligent in your church attendance, neglecting and scorning the New Testament in Jesus’ blood by not receiving it? Do you have time to linger in the neighborhood or in the church halls on Sundays, but no time to set foot in Bible study or Sunday School? Are you curiously able to be on or near church property at any other date and time than Sunday morning? See your sin, how you have transgressed God’s Holy Law, and repent! For the woman Folly, though she gives immediate pleasure, ultimately leads to eternal death.

What difference does it make? Your Christian education at church and home (and the day school for some of us) is liberating. Yes, Christian education liberates us from the prison of our own personal likes and dislikes. Again, picture the boy Jesus, sitting in the Temple and asking the teachers questions. See Him reading about His own Self in the Old Testament, and fulfilling it through His own person and work. It’s a snapshot of our own lifetime of growing in the wisdom from above, that we may “perceive and know what things [we] ought to do” (Collect).

As Jesus increased in wisdom, He also advanced in stature. The word stature (helikia) means bodily stature and describes the physical maturity of the boy Jesus. He was growing out of boyhood and into manhood. In modern terms, He would one day be on His own, able to vote, to earn an independent living, and even to drive cars. In fact, there is an interesting interchange of words for “boy” or “son” in Luke’s account. At the beginning of this narrative, we read that the boy (pais) Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem (v. 43). However, when His parents found Him in the Temple, Mary said, “Son (teknon), why have you done this to us?” (v. 48). The first word indicates a boy according to his age. So the boy Jesus, according to the face value reckoning of time, remained behind in Jerusalem. The second word for boy or son means a child in the eyes of His parents. You know how it goes – even long-time members of the AARP are still their mother’s “little boy.” So here we see the boy Jesus approaching manhood, a maturity that will one day culminate in becoming a respected Rabbi, preaching repentance and faith, and leaving His childhood behind to fulfill His messianic role through His cross and empty tomb. It is the same progression God gives to each of us in our own lives, isn’t it? We grow out of infancy, nourish the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and prepare the body for our own death and resurrection.

The alternative to growing in stature, quite popular in our society, is the false teaching that the body is a personal toy that is primarily designed to give us pleasure. You see it all around you: on the TV, in the newspapers, and in daily living. Man quickly discovers that the body, if treated as a personal plaything, can bring temporal happiness. Man flirts with ungodly pleasures, learns to trust in his own desires, and eventually lusts after them until he loses faith in God. This is the gradual fading of the Natural Law from our collective conscience. The Natural Law is the Law inscribed on our hearts, even for the unbelievers. It is the intuitive guide for all creation that says, among other things, that we should lead a sexually pure and decent life. Yet, even the natural instinct to be sexually moral has crumbed in our day, as the foundation of the Natural Law has faded from our collective conscience. See how you have forsaken God’s Law, O Sinner, and repent! Have you been tolerant or supportive in any way of gay marriage? Have you hidden your false belief about gay marriage, living together without marriage, or adultery under the guise of politically correct vocabulary? For example, have you glossed over these sexual sins by calling them “alternative lifestyles” instead of calling them sin, death, and open rebellion against God? In short, have you been impatient with God’s command to lead a sexually pure and decent life and therefore been intolerant of God’s Natural Law? Repent!

What difference does it make? How we treat the body cuts to the heart of whether or not God is God. If the body is expendable, then we have become our own gods. And we poor sinners make second-rate gods! However, in Genesis 1–2, God the Father created these bodies as the crown of His creation. In Christ, He redeemed our bodies through His own body. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit made these bodies the temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul admonished us today in the Epistle Lesson, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” That is to say, rejoice in your body, Dearly Beloved, as you advance in stature. Your body is God’s gift, entrusted to you until the end of days.

As Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, He also advanced in favor. The word favor (charis) is the same word for grace. It says that God’s Son was a gift of God’s undeserved favor. The word “grace” says that Jesus was the icon of God’s grace, His disposition to be good to all men. And in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus fulfills all that was promised under the umbrella of grace in the OT. Today’s OT Lesson promises that the Spirit of the Lord would be on the Messiah, i.e., the Christ. And see how everything promised in today’s reading from Isaiah was fulfilled by this Jesus as He grew in grace. He preached to the multitudes, proclaiming the fire of God’s judgment and the magnitude of God’s favor. He healed broken hearts. He raised the dead. He went to the cross as the ultimate expression of God’s grace, and rose from the dead to proclaim the healing of forgiveness and the final resurrection of all flesh to the ends of the earth. So we, who are otherwise left to the Law, live our entire lives in His grace. For everything that Jesus did counts for us, so that we stand before God as if we were the Son of God Himself: holy and righteous in His sight.

The alternative to a lifetime of growing in grace is the false belief that there is but one “moment of grace” in one’s life, and everything else is left to chance. Confirmation is a case in point. You’ve probably heard the old Midwest pun that the best way to get rid of the pigeons in the church steeple is to confirm them, for everyone who is confirmed in the church is never seen in church again. This is funny, but all too true! The false teaching that lurks within the souls of most Christian parents is the myth that Confirmation is a graduation. One gets a robe, a ritual, a few presents, and is never seen again. One cannot wax long or eloquently enough against this logic. Let us cut to the heart of the matter and simply ask, Why would anyone ever want to “graduate” from the church? Is not the desire to receive the Blessed Sacrament enough motivation to live in God’s favor by hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament? See how you, O Sinner, have neglected God’s favor and need to repent. Do you withhold your children from baptism or neglect baptismal grace by withholding your children from Sunday School? Do you send your children to church for the maximum of God’s gifts or do you ask, What is the fewest number of times I have to encounter Jesus in sermon and sacrament? And does your sacramental piety expire with tuition discounts? Repent!

What difference does it make? Growing in God’s favor for a lifetime cuts to the heart of our identity as church. See the good news that Jesus has for you, Dearly Beloved, from Baptism to eternal life! He baptizes us into His name, making us His own children. Jesus instructs us in the Word, through parent, pastor, and teacher. He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. And through it all, Jesus gives us the save favor into which He Himself grew: the favor of the forgiveness of sins, i.e., the good news we are forever in God’s good graces through Christ.

In summary, there is a lifetime of growth before God and man in Luke’s three-point “ellipsis” of wisdom, stature, and favor. And, as much as we have focused on children this morning, we should also add that liturgy and learning for life is for all of God’s children, from Baptism to the Christian funeral. I recently read where Martin Luther supposedly said that every Baptism, whether for an infant or an adult, was essentially an infant baptism. Through Baptism, God makes us His true children, those who have not chosen their own parents, but who are the passive recipients of God’s manifold grace. And to us He imparts a lifetime of wisdom, stature, and favor – by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. INJ. Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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