Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Young Jesus Returns to His Temple

The first image we have of our Lord as a young man, is that He is sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:40-52).  He is not that infant in the manger anymore but one who is growing strong, increasing in wisdom and stature.  As a boy this is the first place we find Jesus, in Jerusalem, the place of his future trial and crucifixion.  He is sitting on the floor at temple listening to his rabbis, likely asking “teacher, what does this mean…please explain this to me.”  I love this because it suggests, at least to me, that our Lord was studying his small catechism, at least the catechism of that time.  He was probably asking teacher, what does this mean?  What does it mean to not have idols?  What does it mean to love God and honor the Sabbath Day.  What does it mean to honor father and mother?  What does this mean? 

As He is asking these questions and hearing their answers, the aftermath of the Passover festival is going on.  The blood of those spotless and sacrificed lambs is still draining into the Jerusalem soil surrounding the temple.  The temple altar guild is cleaning and scrubbing the temple floor, emptying the basins and trash.  The Jewish families are departing to their homes after filling their bellies with lamb, bitter herbs, and wine.  Mary and Joseph, thinking that Jesus was walking with them, journey with the other Galilean families back to their small comfortable dwellings.  But Jesus stays behind in that still bloody temple in Jerusalem.

After three days of searching Mary and Joseph find their boy in that same place, speaking with the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.  He is showing understanding and providing answers.  The young catechism student is becoming the chief catechist.  Yet Mary, being the loving mother she is says, “Jesus why have you done this to us…we have been looking for you…worried sick!”  Part of me wants to believe she pulled his ear or gave him a little spank on the bottom.  As blessed and holy as the mother of our Lord is, I don’t think she was above giving our dear Lord a little verbal “butt whoopin.”  “Jesus, ahh, we have been looking for you Jesus, you worried your father and I.  Of course Jesus lovingly replies, "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be among the things of my Father?"  Jesus is among that blessed blood and that blessed bread and meal.  He is among preaching and teaching.  Jesus says that this is where He is found.  “Dearest mother and father, you will always find me here in this holy place…by this altar…”  Nevertheless our dear Lord obeys his parents.  He picks himself off the floor and, says goodbye to the teachers, and follows his parents back home to Nazareth.  Jesus, as a young boy, knew that he would be coming back – back to Jerusalem.      
What I find especially significant, and what I wish to spend time on is how Jesus responds to His loving Mary and Joseph.  The original text here, says that Jesus submitted himself to them – not just once – but here in the temple and continually.  That is, he was habitually and unfailingly submissive to his parents, without ceasing, his whole life long.  I would like to think that before mother Mary gave her young boy that little chastising among the rabbis, Jesus was asking about this commandment in the temple with His teachers.  “Teacher, how do I honor my mother and father?  What does this mean?”  One of His teachers in one way or another probably responded, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” 

There is an important connection here when we see that our young Jesus attends to the things of His Father in the temple, and then submits wholeheartedly to Mary and Joseph at home.  These things may seem like two different events but they are one.  Because Jesus is perfectly obedient and loves His heavenly Father he submits to His parents, obeying them – loving and cherishing them.     

We cannot fear, love and trust in God above all things if we do not first obey our parents – loving them and cherishing them.  It is impossible to love and trust God if we are simultaneously despising, disobeying and angering our parents.  For our parents have been set over us as God’s representatives.  They are God’s personal ambassadors and our first heralders of the Gospel.  If we want to be Christians and to please God, we do not have to look any farther than the face of our parents, or grandparents for that matter.  Jesus did not love Mary and Joseph for some attributes they held but rather for that honor that God have lavished upon them – simply by virtue of them being parents.  Martin Luther in his large catechism writes:

“It must therefore be impressed on young people that they revere their parents as God’s representatives, and to remember that, however lowly, poor, feeble, and eccentric they may be, they are still their mother and father, given by God.  They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or failings.  Therefore, we are not to think of their person, whatever they may be, but of the will of God, who has created and ordained it so.” 

Today we may echo what Luther has said and say that the majesty of God is hidden in our very simple parents.  That is to say, God carries out his creative work in, with, and through them.  Parents and teachers are holy vessels of that work, creating, instructing, gospeling, and forgiving.  Or as our Lord Himself says, “all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.”  This earthy authority of the living God is given a mask in the face of our parents.  And in their face we see the holy marks and signs of God.  Tired eyes, and working hands from laboring and providing for children.  Wrinkles on the face bear witness to sleepless nights of prayer and worry for children. 

We are called to fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  But certainly our love has faltered and that honor that was due them we limited in way that we sought rather to honor ourselves.  Our obedience fell short.  Our rebellious acts were more than a couple.  And our precious parents, who are bright brilliant jewels to our heavenly father, we often failed to cherish in that blissful way that we were invited to.  And that love and forgiveness that our parents or teachers lavished upon us was wholly undeserved.  Luther writes in the catechism:

“God knows well this perversity of the world, and therefore, by means of the commandments, he reminds and impels all people to think of what their parents have done for them.  Then they realize that they have received their bodies and lives from their parents and have been nourished and nurture by their parents when otherwise they would have perished a hundred times in their own filth.”

When we were despising our parents Jesus was loving them.  When we were angering our parents He was honoring them.  When we were rebelling against our parents in our young age He was serving them.  When we were being lazy and disrespectful He was cherishing his parents.    

We can never give enough thanks and honor to our teachers and parents.  It is impossible.  From our parents we receive life itself.  And from our spiritual teachers we receive that Word of life that grants us grace upon grace and heavenly peace. 

Our parents take us to holy baptism.  In our arms, they carry us to that font where we are dipped three times into that crucifixion rest of God’s only Son.  And we arise out of those baptismal waters and return to those cradling arms of our parents.  They take us home to our beds and tuck us in, and pray for us - over our sleeping eyes, teaching us that prayer “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  When we awake in the night and cry they run to us and find us.  They comfort us and whisper that love of God into our ears.  As infants they sing to us, singing spiritual hymns or even playful songs.

When we are hungry they feed us.  When we need a bathe they bathe us.  When we are sick they minister to us.  They pray for our healing, and wait at our bedside.  With every fever and sore throat.  With every rash and drop of blood – and with every tear they join their child in that suffering – and bear it too.    

When an infant needs his or her diapers changed a mother or father, bends, down and gets on their knees.  They wipe dirty bottoms, and clean those parts of us which we cannot clean for ourselves.  And such is the love of God that he stoops down that low, to do that dirty and messy work – bottom washing – that is cleaning and sanctifying all those places where we cannot help ourselves.

Particularly in the ways that we have soiled the relationship with our parents (or even between spouses), he has cleaned that whole mess up.  When we failed to walk beside our parents doing all that they commanded, Jesus walked back to Galilee and submitted himself to Mary and Joseph for us.  What does this mean?  He fulfilled all righteousness, fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things – loving, honoring, serving and obeying his parents for us.  In Jesus we may love and honor our parents by turning from our way and turning toward their counsel and love.  In the ways we failed to obey authority, Jesus willingly stood before the authorities, honoring and obeying them unto death.  Because Jesus obeyed His vow to His Bride the church we may repent and honor our vows by doing the same. 

When we are looking to find God and receive His gifts of forgiveness we do not have to search for days on end with no hope.  We do not have to be worried sick about where God is.  We have Christmas every Lord’s Day.  “Did you not know that I am in the house of my Father?”  Do you not know that I am that Passover Feast.  Do you not know that I am that temple doing the Father’s work?  Preaching and teaching – listening and hearing.  The blood which flows from that Jerusalem sacrifice, that spotless Passover Lamb – Jesus Christ – flows out from Jerusalem – as a river sprinkling every corner of the earth.  It washes over every disobedient son and daughter and creates new sons and daughters that share in the likeness of the obedient one. 

What does this mean?  It means that Christmas is just the beginning.  The Christ child is found here and now.  With Him, the Father finds you forgiven; truly loving your father and mother - loving son or daughter.  And he finds grandparents loving all those entrusted to their care.  And he finds us all being fruitful, growing in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man.   May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.        

I have written much more about how Christians respond to authority HERE.

(painting at top by Albrecht Durer "A Young Jesus Among the Doctors" 1506)                

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