Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the first Sunday after Epiphany 1/10/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Epiphany1 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the first Sunday after Epiphany, click here.
I’m not ready yet to dedicate a sermon to what happened this last week in our Nation’s Capital. I’m telling you this because I don’t want to diminish whatever anguish you are feeling over it. I’ve certainly had a lot of anxiety over it, but I haven’t had the space to deal with it spiritually. I truly wanted to find a connection in our Gospel text, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t. I won’t see the big, beautiful, obvious connection until I’m halfway from the pulpit to the altar.
This is not a text that pastors get to preach on very often, and I wasn’t willing to lose it by forcing our crisis on the text.
As a perverse consolation, the last year has taught us that the agony is not over; so, rest assured that we’ll have plenty of time to deal with it. I do care about it, and I know you do, too. So, if this has got you really messed up, I’m sorry for not addressing it today. Reach out to me, and I’ll make sure we deal with it together.
If there is any connection point that I’m aware of, it is fear. If you are a parent, then you know that there are few things scarier than losing your child.
Recall for a moment the terror that came upon you when you realized that one of your kids was still in the van after you’d been inside for ten minutes, wondering why it was so quiet; and then all the horrors that occurred to you in the six and a half seconds it took you to sprint out to the driveway. Think of the dread when you saw that you left grandma and grandpa’s house with less people than when you came; and that they’d be asleep by now, leaving the open pool unguarded. Remember a Sunday morning in the summer, eating Jello in the courtyard, when you recognized that your toddler had toddled 100 feet up Berkeley Street.
Imagine that for a whole day you hadn’t given a second thought to where Jesus was; but as you lay out a mat for Him to sleep on, He isn’t there to sleep on it. You look around, but He’s not with his Aunt Elizabeth or playing with His cousin, John. He’s not running around with friends or gathering sticks. He’s gone. He’s gone because you, O favored one, blessed among women, have left Him behind.
What awful things went through her head, as the sword prophesied by Simeon began to pierce her heart? Is it happening already, that fall and rising of many in Israel? Would the root of Jesse rise up to be no more than a sprout?
How fast could you run to find out? Could you sleep for even one minute of the search?
But then, in a moment, it’s over. Finally, after three agonizing days and nights, filled with fear and panic and bitter tears and great distress, you see your 12-year-old Boy at the temple sitting and talking with the teachers, as if nothing at all is wrong, and everything is just as it should be?
Mothers, what do you think? I know there’s some relief to be sure, but what else? As you break down in exhaustion, something else rises up in you.
Son, why have you treated us so?
Behold, Your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. verse 48
Do you think those are words spoken in perfect calm and with graceful composure?
Make no mistake. The Blessed Virgin is indeed blessed among all women. But she is still a woman. She is still a mommy. And this cannot be taken away from her.
But something can be taken from her. And that is what Jesus is doing.
Mary’s sin is being taken away. The fault is hers. She is responsible. She was neglectful. And she responds the way people respond. She pushes the blame to someone else, to Jesus.
This happens every day, and there’s nothing special about it. Certainly, there’s nothing good or redemptive in projecting blame onto others. But there is something special about this.
Jesus is not to blame. He has committed no sin. Mary should have known where He would be.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t actually say that Jesus was supposed to be in His Father’s house. Neither does it exactly say that Jesus was supposed to be about His Father’s business; though both of those things can be inferred. The text says that it is necessary that Jesus be among His Father’s things. As Samuel slept before the flickering light of the lampstand, Jesus was to be there among those holy things by which His Father delivered salvation.
The Feast that had just been celebrated was the Passover. Fresh in everyone’s memory is the smell of blood and fire and smoke and sacrifice. Jesus is there among His Father’s things: the Word of God, the furnishings of the temple, the altar, the incense, the teachers, all of it.
Jesus is among His Father’s things because that is where He belongs. He is not only one of His Father’s things; He is the great and holy thing: the Christ. He is the Word made flesh; He is the perfect, atoning, sacrificial Lamb; He is the Teacher par excellence. He is the fulfillment of all His Father’s things; there, in His Father’s house; about His Father’s business.
His business is to actually take the blame. Mary accuses Jesus of the guilt that is actually hers. Jesus was where He was supposed to be, and she was supposed to understand that.
But Jesus does not desire this one sin. Jesus wants all of His mother’s sins, and all of Joseph’s, and all the teachers’, and all of yours.
He wants her and them and all of you to understand, that this is why it is necessary for Him to be there with His Father’s things.
But they don’t understand. Luke tells us that explicitly. And since we know the investigations that informed Luke’s Gospel, it stands to reason that Mary told him exactly that – that she didn’t understand. But she treasured up all these things in her heart.
It is very possible that between Christmas Eve and this very morning, that you have misplaced this Child, this little Boy entrusted to you. Actually, forget possibilities. You have. You have lost track of Him, even if only for moments at a time. You already know the pain of losing your own children for a mere moment. And so you know the danger is real. In once case, it is the child who is in danger. In the other, it is you.
The danger is that you become so used to the absence that you never search Him out; or, that you blame Him for not being in all the places you thought He should be.
Why was the temple not the very first place Mary looked? Why have you sought peace anywhere other than where God said He was to be found? Why have you confused your own comfort and happiness with God’s good pleasure? Why have you expected to have Jesus anywhere else than among His Father’s things?
Cast worldly treasures out of your heart, and make room for this treasure: it is necessary that Jesus be among His Father’s things. He is, in fact, about His Father’s business – reconciling the world to Himself.
Mary did not understand at the time, but as her Son grew in wisdom, so did she. Treasuring up the Word of God in her heart, she was prepared for that time when Jesus would go missing again; three days in Jerusalem that certainly felt like constant night.
He was cast out of His Father’s house, but He was still about His Father’s business. There with His Father’s people, drawing them all to Himself – His mommy among them.
He caused Himself to be found three days later, again, where no one had thought to look: among the living, just as He had said.
He is still here; not as an idea, or a philosophy, or a movement. The same Jesus that Mary found in the Temple is here where He said He would be: in the pages of Scripture, in the preached Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, under Bread and Wine – in your hearts, yes; but also in your ears and mouths.