When Herod was dead, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life…”
We have celebrated another Christmas and Wednesday we enter the Epiphany season, both of which instruct us in the identity of Jesus Christ. Today I want you to see the overarching narrative of Jesus’ early life given in the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany and we will do that by looking ahead to the account of our Lord when he was 12-years-old.
So this is what we know about Jesus from the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany: Once he was a little baby, and we know that he was born like all other little babies, and, as our text today instructs us, his parents had to flee to Egypt to save him from slaughter of the innocents. These feast days, from Christmas up to the Epiphany focus entirely on his infancy and we land in the midst of an event that occurred when he was 12-years-old and traveled with his family to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. There in the Temple, surrounded by the teachers of Israel, Jesus speaks for the first time. We know he was overlooked when his family returned home and when they realized that he was missing, they returned to Jerusalem to find him. And they did find him with the teachers of Israel, sitting in their midst “both hearing them, and asking them questions” and everyone was amazed “at his understanding and answers.”
What is so remarkable for us, for the Church? What sets all this apart is not the way he talked and questioned the doctors, nor the way he spoke to his parents and then obeyed them. This is it, this is what is remarkable, this is what makes this important to us and to the world: we know this twelve-year-old boy, we are enamored, because we have privileged, insider information. We know that he grew into manhood and suffered a horrible death and somehow his death saved the world and furthermore, he rose bodily from death.
And we know that he was raised from death and we know that make all the difference because if he had only died, even if his closest friends and followers thought he died for the sins of the world, even if his closest friends really believed he was the Messiah – if he had died and was buried and not raised from the dead then the meaning of that story is that there is nothing to hope for in life. Life ends in nothingness. And if that had been the case, we would not be the people we aspire to be and we would not be here today because that would have been the end of Jesus and his mission.
But we know he died and was raised from the dead and we love him and so we want to know everything we can know about Jesus. This boy even in his adolescence had a grasp on the religion of the Jews that was remarkable. And we know why entirely because of our privileged information: because we know he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The details of the well known narrative become important to us because we believe he is in fact God Almighty:
“And it came to pass that after three days they found him in the temple… and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”
Mary accuses Jesus of betraying his father Joseph and herself – of betraying his calling to be the son of Joseph. Whatever else may be said about this event and it’s reporting, in a day when women were not even permitted to give evidence in court, it is astonishing that it is Joseph who never utters a word. Mary does all the talking, not out of emotion or ignorance, but out of personal knowledge of his full identity, defending to her son, Joseph’s right to be respected by him as his adopted father.
He said to them: “Why are you searching for me? How did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus said, “How did you not know I would be here in my Father’s house?” There is no shaming in this statement, no harsh judgment; only the unvarnished observation of an adolescent male wondering how his parents could have had this oversight. “I thought you would know to come here first,” he might have said. But it is the last two verses that most excellently underline his identity:
“Then he went back down with them to Nazareth and was obedient to them… And Jesus advanced in wisdom, age, and favor before God and man.”
Yes, this account of our adolescent Lord being lost and then found in the Temple links his adult life to his infancy. But this story also underlines some essential orthodox beliefs concerning our Lord’s humanity. It is important to realize that Jesus as a boy and an adolescent experienced physical, sexual, intellectual, and emotional development along the lines of the laws of biology and normal maturation. This is fundamental to his humanity and this text asserts just such maturation:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
One last point: just as Jesus will be found in his Father’s house, so his Bride must follow him into the household of God. The worship of Jesus in Spirit and in truth is as a perfect state of being as we will every know — which is to worship him without utility. He is not a means to some greater end. He is his own perfect end. His glory is being who he is — not in his utility.
And the same is true of his Bride — the glory of the Church is not located in her utility to the world. Not in brokering world peace. Not in bringing about social justice. Not in feeding the hungry. These are all virtuous and wholesome things, and our duty — but the Church’s glory is not in achieving these things. Her glory is knowing her place and that is knowing the pure joy of being in his presence as the perfect end of all being, which is what we know to be the worship of God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit and that is the only expression of our undying loyalty to the resurrected Jesus that will last forever. That is our destiny. That is the destiny of the whole world, of all being itself and our glory, like Mary’s glory, is living privately and publicly in the cleft of the Rock of Ages.