+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 2:49
Theme: From the Manger to the Temple
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Holy Spirit always nurtures the faith He conceives. And though it involves mystery, He doesn’t do it magically because it never happens independently from the truth about Christ. That is, our faith is never nourished autonomously, never through our own ingenuity, never without His means. As our appointed readings transition us from the manger to the temple let us be mindful that our faith only matures as it follows Christ, never when it settles in the place of our choosing.
The evangelist Luke moves us quickly from the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem to the family residence in Nazareth. Aside from the family’s flight to Egypt, and their evasion of King Herod and his murderous plan as recorded in Matthew, we know virtually nothing about the childhood of Jesus. Our lone insight is the material of today’s gospel. At age twelve Jesus accompanied his parents to the annual Passover Feast in Jerusalem. One of the three great celebrations on the Jewish liturgical calendar it was expected that faithful Jews within reasonable distance would make the journey. The family of Jesus was no exception.
The Passover celebration reminded the Jews of God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. In the final plague God sent the angel of death to strike down the firstborn of both men and beasts. Only those were spared who had the lamb’s blood over the doorframes of their houses. To be held in perpetual remembrance the Passover’s meaning was meticulously taught to each new generation. It was a central part of the identity of God’s people. This history was the background for John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”1
Joseph and Mary are now served notice about the future of their maturing son. “Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”2 Remember that Mary had been pondering all these things in her heart.3 Still, the Bible says, “They did not understand what He was saying to them.”4 Even Jesus’ parents needed time to begin to really appreciate the destiny of their son. We have the hindsight of history and do we fare better? Is the temptation to make Christmas mainly about us not stronger than ever? Christmas doesn’t eliminate the need for repentance but lends to it hope and purpose.
Will you leave go of those things that are not really gifts, but idols? Do you see that you are not really owners of all your possessions but stewards- including your time and talents? You are custodians of God’s blessings meant not for abuse but for the well-being of your neighbour. Do you realize our most entrancing idols are often not physical objects but ambitions of the will? Whether it involves pride, or image, or control the sinful nature seeks to unseat God from His rightful place. Our picture of sin often involves obvious transgressions- immorality of all sorts, dishonesty, theft, slander, violence- yet these are the symptoms. The source is our insistence of having our own way. Perhaps more of our repentance should be aimed at our attitudes as opposed to the obvious offences?
So do not underestimate the stubbornness of your own will. Our agendas, spiritual and otherwise, become quite intractable- but we don’t see it. Believe that it is something you don’t have the power to correct on your own. It requires the Holy Spirit. It requires the superhuman power of God’s Word. Egotism is recognized only in the mirror of the law. Whenever our sins become trivial in our own eyes we can be certain they are very major to God. The more trifling our view of sin the more compromised our spiritual condition. Pride is not a sporadic problem that is easily brushed aside. It is endemic in human nature and has pathological symptoms.
But just when you think your repentance is good enough- you’ve wrestled with anguish of conscience. You find out that absolution isn’t at all contingent or proportional. Now we must be clear, the stubborn and ungrateful heart forfeits God’s grace. For the unrepentant there is only one message: turn from your sin because you are under God’s condemnation. The door to heaven is locked. Grace is a gift that cannot be acquired on our own terms.
But the conscience that trembles with fear over sins great or small never fails to find mercy at the throne of grace. The person who fears he can never be good enough; she can never impress God; the person who despairs of his or her own spiritual merits- this person can be assured the grace of God is meant for them. The forgiveness of Jesus Christ is freely offered with no strings attached. You are declared righteous completely independently from your input. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of the Emmanuel. There is no power of darkness that can finally prevail over you.
And these truths have consequences. St. Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.”5
What a privilege it is to know we need not be enslaved to the agendas and mindsets of the world. We have confidence that in His time and in His way God looks after our every need. He cradles us in the infancy of our physical and spiritual lives and He carries us through the grave.
Today the boy Jesus has gone from the manger to the temple. He is already questioning the scholars. Yet is He any closer to being the image prophesied and so clearly referenced at Christmas: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?”6
Jesus would go to the temple again. He would overturn the tables of the money-changers. He would rebuke those who turned it into an opportunity for profit, for self-interest. Yet when He offered up His own life for the forgiveness of sins the holy of holies was not in the temple but at the cross.
Dear friends, as His body was rent in death the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The door to heaven was now open. The Israelites consumed the Passover lamb. It was their communion with God and assurance of His blessing. Marked by the blood of the Lamb we also consume it as our source of life. We receive spiritual and immortal food. By this means the Holy Spirit nurtures our faith. By this same means He leads us to eternity.
One of the dangers of Christmas is that Jesus becomes not an object of worship but of magnetic charm. This is both the power and liability of cuteness in infancy. But faith must mature with the maturing Christ. The miracle of Christmas would come to fruition only after Jesus was no longer cradled by the wood of the manger but fastened to the wood of the cross. His mission was not to perpetuate a ‘cult of infancy adoration’, but to resolve the very mature crises of life and death. He came to face the power sin and hell head-on. His resurrection gives the title ‘Immanuel’ new meaning. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday After Christmas
30 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 1:29
2 Luke 2:49
3 See Luke 2:19
4 Luke 2:50
5 Colossians 3:12-14
6 Isaiah 9:6