“Now his parent went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast…”
We have celebrated another Christmas and we are into the Epiphany season, all of which is meant to instruct us in the identity of Jesus Christ. 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 his parents fled to Egypt to save him from slaughter. Till today the feasts have all focused on his infancy. Now, Epiphany I, we skip several years and land in the midst of an event that occurred when he was 12-years-old and traveled with his whole family to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. Jesus speaks for the first time. We know that somehow he was overlooked when his family returned home after the feast. They returned to Jerusalem searching for him. They finally found him in the Temple talking with the learned teachers of Israel, sitting in their midst “both hearing them, and asking them questions” and everyone was amazed “at his understanding and answers.” They were not amazed because he had a golden halo about his head or hovered inches from the Temple pavement – he did not. He appeared, like any 12-year-old Jewish boy, except that his grasp of their religion was remarkable. Of course, that is what any loving parents may well have said about their 12-year-old Jewish son. What is so remarkable? Let me say this: 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. So what is remarkable?
Before I answer that question, I want to say a few words about Scriptures and in particular about the New Testament. There are some principles that I want to suggest for us, for our family here at All Saints, as we look now to a year of preaching and study of God’s Word for us. First, there is the phrase, a sort of slogan and challenge to live up to the Texts. What does it mean to “live up to the Texts?” The Texts is the Bible, the whole Bible especially understood through the New Testament. Why is the New Testament superior and the proper text for opening up the meaning of the whole Bible including the Old Testament and the Psalms? Because the New Testament is the climatic and definitive revelation of God’s love to mankind. The texts of the New Testament are not unique as examples of literary excellence though there are certainly some examples of matchless beauty in the New Testament. What is unique about this text is its content and its consequences.
Every event in the full sense of the term has its text. For example, the resolve of the 12 original colonies to be free has as its text the Declaration of Independence. The event of falling in love generates love letters and poems. The event generates the text. This is the point I wish to make: the event of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has for its text the New Testament. This text was generated by this brief but finally climatic moment in human history – the Resurrection of Christ. Stylistic or literary excellence does not set it apart. Its content sets it apart; the text is entirely taken up with that event and the identification of the Resurrected One. Furthermore, the content identifies the life of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ as the normative paradigm of all human life. Now to the consequences: the consequences concern our personal destiny; indeed, the consequences for all human destiny hang on our response to the content of the New Testament. Its unique content and the consequences call us to live up to the text. If we respond reasonably to the truth revealed in the text, it will re-order our whole life. In fact, nothing short of absolute reordering, renewing, rearranging would be a reasonable response to God’s concluding act of love. So to live up to the text means to open up my life to be reordered by the text.
But there is another sense in which we are called to live up to the text and that is to be a worthy reader. All worthy texts call forth worthy readers. The New Testament is to be read like all other worthy texts – attentively, intelligently, and responsibly – and yet we know that the New Testament text differs from all other texts because root and branch, Epistle or Gospel, the whole and its parts belong to the Resurrection of Christ, an event that was so absolute, climatic and definitive that in light of the event everything else in the world, without remainder, becomes provisional. St. Paul declared that all things, the old order has passed away and all things have become new. In light of that, I am called to be a worthy reader, a worthy student of the text.
And as your priest I take that seriously. I promise you. I dedicate my days and weeks to prayer for you and to the study of the Holy Scriptures. Every single day I reach up to the Text and whoever preaches in this pulpit does the same. And those who teach in Wednesday school do the same. This past week in John’s class on the Sacramental Imagination, we had a lovely example of a worthy reading of the texts. A worthy reading requires hours and hours of study and prayer, loving and respecting the text. So, in summary, there are two senses of the call to live up to the Text. The first is to reorder our lives individually and corporately to the Resurrection. Then having reordered our lives, we are called to be worthy readers and students.
Now in light of all that, let’s return to the Gospel for today. What is so remarkable about this Gospel? This is it: What makes this important to us and to the world is that we know this twelve-year-old boy. And we know that he grew into manhood and suffered a horrible death and somehow that death was meant to save the world. And we know that he was raised from the death. It is the Resurrection that especially matters because if he had only died, even if his closest friends thought he died for the sins of the world – if he had just died and was buried, then it is all over because the end of the story is that there is nothing to hope for in life. Life ends in nothing. And if that had been the case, we would not be here today because that would have been the end of Jesus and his mission. His Resurrection gives this narrative its specific Christian meaning. We want to know everything we can know about the Resurrected One. This boy even in his adolescence had a grasp on the religion of the Jews that was remarkable. We know why – because he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The details of the narrative become important for us:
“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.”
This is strong language. The word for “sorrowing” means to inflict great pain – neuralgia. And she 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 its reporting, in a day when women were not permitted to speak, even in the Church, it is astonishing that it is Joseph who never utters a word. Mary does all the talking, defending Joseph’s right to be respected by Jesus as Jesus’ father. Jesus answers her quickly and with perfect authenticity.
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 powerfully 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 nature 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 the boy Jesus had to be in his Father’s house, so his Bride must follow him into the household of God to be with him and there to worship him. The worship of Jesus is without utility. He is not a means to some greater end. His glory is not in our achieving great things in his name. His glory is being who he is. Nor is the glory of the Church 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, but the Church’s glory is not found in her usefulness in achieving these things. Her glory is in her worship of God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit that is her witness to his Resurrection. Here is the fulfillment of our destiny.