Monday, January 3, 2022

Where do you belong?

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas, preached on Sunday, January 2, 2022.

Lets be honest.  Every parent has lost track of a child at some point on that child’s journey to adulthood.  And the easiest child to lose is the one who is obedient.  An obedient child begs to be neglected.  A disobedient child begs to be noticed and desires all the attention a parent can give.  So give Joseph and Mary a break.  Jesus was the perfectly obedient Son that everyone of us wish we had and so He did not test their patience or defy them or break the rules or talk back.  He faded into the background like every good kid does and He was the perfect Son.

Mary, however, was chastened by the guilt and shame of having gotten part of the way home before anyone noticed that Jesus was not with them.  She was hurt and wounded not simply by Jesus staying behind when the family left but, as any good parent, why she been preoccupied with other things and did not miss Him.  In that light she asks Jesus rather tersely, “Son, why have you treated us so?”  It was not so much a rebuke as an honest question.  “What happened to my perfect Son?”  And Jesus is not insolent in His response.  “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know where I would be?”

Jesus loves His mother.  Mary loves Him.  But Jesus has not come to be simply an obedient Son but the obedient man for men.  He has come to do the business of the Temple, to offer sacrifice – the sacrifice of His flesh and blood on the altar of the cross where her sin and the sin of the whole world would be taken away.  Mary – the same Mary who pondered all these things in her heart and mind – should have known this.  But what mother would want to know this?  What mother would welcome her son’s sacrificial death on a cross for the sake of undeserving sinners?  Mary knew this from Simeon’s prophecy.  His words aroused an even greater protective concern for Jesus.  But Jesus insists.  He must not be distracted from the Father’s saving will and purpose.  More words for Mary to ponder.

And what about YOU?  Have you pondered all these things or have you tried to sidestep a Gospel which compels nothing less that the death of God’s Son so that you and I might be His sons and daughters.  Have YOU been about your Father’s business, making this Temple your home and caring for the temple of your body with the means of grace?   The Gospel seems rather tame and easy unless you admit that sin and death are the terrors of conscience and life.  But to those who ponder what sin has done, the Gospel is the greatest power and sweetest gift of all.
Our God is not tame but He is merciful.  The great temptation is to presume upon His mercy as if sin were no big deal and death was not a real enemy.  Our Lord was 12 years old and about His Father’s business of saving sinners like you and me.  Can we be about anything less as the recipients of His grace and those for whom He lived obediently and died willingly?

The work of salvation is complete.  But the working of saving sinners continues.  God calls us from our comfortable corners of life where we hide our sins and make peace with death.  The Lord continues to deliver to us the fruits of His sacrifice in the Word that bestows faith, in the water that gives new life, and in the bread and wine that feed us heaven’s food of Christ’s flesh and blood.  The Spirit calls this to our remembrance so that as we listen, remember, eat and drink we might witness this salvation and proclaim His death to the world until He comes again.

To the surprise of Mary and Joseph, Jesus is where He is to be, where He must be, doing what He alone can do.  He is about His Father’s things and the things of the Father are saving and redeeming you and me.  Does that surprise us as well?  Are YOU where you need to be where you must be, to receive the things of God won for you and to manifest the life of God in you?  Every Sunday Christ is here.  In this Word preached.  On this altar in bread and wine.  And this is where He bids us come, that He who has done all things for us upon the cross, might here bestow upon us the fruits of His death and resurrection — forgiveness for our sins, a clear conscience, comfort in trial, hope in despair, peace to pass all understanding and life that death cannot steal.

By the way, there is a little detail that Luke tells us that ought to have piqued your curiosity.  When did they find Jesus?  On the third day.  On the third day.  We live in that wonderful third day when death has been undone, when the grave has surrendered its victory, when fear has had its back broken, and when the Temple of the old covenant in Jerusalem has been replaced with the Temple of Christ’s body.  And even greater, your bodies have become the Temple, where the Spirit lives, where the things of God live, where sin no more accuses and death no more reigns.  And it all comes together when the temples of our bodies meet in this place the Temple of Christ’s body in this holy sacrament.  There the Savior delivers to us the things of the Father that we may be about them as He was and is.

It might also be good for us to remember who was lost.  Though Mary and Joseph were the ones looking, Jesus was not lost.  He was where He was supposed to be.  We are the lost who must be claimed from sin and its death.  We are the lost to whom the Lord calls with the voice of invitation and promise.  We are the lost who must be rescued and washed clean in the waters of baptism.  We are the lost who must regularly be reclaimed from sin’s power, guilt, and shame by the voice of absolution.  We are the lost who must be refreshed from hunger, thirst, and want by the Body of our Lord and His Blood in the bread and cup of this Sacrament.  We are the lost who must be reminded God is here.

Like Mary, we are always getting it mixed up.  We fear the Lord is hiding from us or lost to us when this things of life go wrong.  We are the lost ones and God is always where He has promised to be – doing what He has promised to do.  Jesus got it exactly right.  In His Father’s House.  Around the Word and Table of the Lord.  God is here.  And we rejoice to meet Him.  

How strange it is that people who think they have been mistreated or ignored or forgotten by their pastor or congregation, stay away as if to punish them.  But they are the ones who lose by being absent.  How odd it is that we act like church is not essential to being a Christian when Jesus shows us how important it is to be in the Lord’s House.  The reality is that if we can get past hurt feelings and anger and bitterness, the obedient Son will lead us home to our heavenly Father, to the gift and blessing of forgiveness and eternal life, and to the treasure of His grace and mercy to ponder and rejoice over it forever.  Amen.

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