O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call
upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Collect Ep. I)
In Christmas-tide we directed our mind’s eye to the new birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls. And so now in Epiphany-tide we move out of birth and into clear Light of day, in order that from birth and infancy that same Light might begin to instruct and teach us about the nature and character of the new life which God desires us to live. Epiphany comes to us from the Greek word, επιφανεια, and it means manifestation or striking appearance. And in the Eastern Churches Epiphany is called also Theophany, meaning the vision of God. So this season is all about contemplating the Light of God in Jesus Christ, which is the manifestation and striking appearance of His vision and understanding of human life as it was meant to be, from God’s perspective, and according to His plan and purpose for us.
Today we have jumped from Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Christmas narratives and the Epiphany visitation of the Three Wise Men to the only record of Jesus’ adolescence, where we find Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. I should say that we know nothing of the period between Jesus’ birth and his sudden appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve, and then between today’s manifestation and the beginning of His adult ministry. St. Luke, alone, chooses to record this singular event from the period between Jesus’ birth and His reappearance in adult life. But let us see how much is revealed and manifested in this brief but informative encounter. It will help us to understand the vocation and calling which each of us has by way of incorporation and perfection in the Mystical Body that Jesus is beginning to form and create out of Himself.
In this morning’s Gospel we read that Jesus’ parents 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. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. (St. Luke ii. 41-43) St. Luke is in the habit of identifying Joseph by his first name, since he was the foster-father but not natural Father of Jesus. Jesus’ natural Father is God the Father, as we shall learn soon from Jesus’ own lips. So the family had traveled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. That his foster-father and mother did not realize that Jesus was missing as they began their return to Nazareth should not surprise us. Ancient Jewish families included the many members of an extended clan who customarily traveled together. The adults often entrusted their young ones to elder cousins as they made their respective pilgrimages. Yet still there is something of a spiritual symbolism in the fact that His parents did not know that He was absent from the traveling clan. Did His parents understand and see where Jesus truly was even when He was safe and secure under the roof of their own home? Could it be that His spiritual whereabouts were as yet hidden and concealed even from those who had first-hand experience of the Angelic Prophesy of His nature and destiny?
At any rate, only one day passed before Mary and Joseph realized Jesus’ absence. We read: But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. (Ibid, 44,45) Again, His parents’ assumption that He would be safe and secure amongst their kinfolk is natural enough. There is no real surprise in this way of thinking, for His parents were concerned about His physical whereabouts. They might even have intuited that He might have bee about His spiritual business, but their natural inclination and disposition led them to assume that His spiritual business would first and foremost involve his blood relations. Surely if their Son was to be great…called the Son of the Highest…the heir of…the throne of His father David (St. Luke i. 32), He might be expected to respect and honor His family first, as all good Jews did, and so begin His ministry with kith and kin.
But, as we know, such was not to be the case. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem and spent three days trying to find their child. Evidently – by reason of the time it took them to find Him – they did not know where to look. Truly they did not know His whereabouts, because they had never really known where Jesus was spiritually. And this would be in no small measure due to the religious vision and knowledge which circumscribed those pious convictions, reinforced by the doctors and scribes of the Temple. Thus, finally, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. (Idem, 46, 47) Jesus was where the Jewish people claimed to know and serve God best. And, being but a child, He humbled Himself in hearing them out. But that didn’t stop Him from questioning them, and thus provoking those questions which elicited amazement at His understanding and answers. Jesus had come into the midst of the scholars and doctors of theology, and then called them down and into His seeming insignificance and anonymity in order to reveal God’s wisdom and truth.
Mary and Joseph were amazed at their son for different reasons. The last place where they expected to find Him was in the Temple dialoguing with the scribes. Their amazement is soon followed with an emotional scolding. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (Ibid, 48) Jesus retorts with a gentle but firm rebuke: How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) In other words, Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that I must be involved with my Father’s affairs? His earthly mother and foster-father are wholly confused with His answer: they understood not the word, which He spake to them. (Ibid, 50: Wycliffe) All are astounded, bewildered, and perhaps even unhinged by what this child Jesus had to say. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 51,52)
Where is Jesus? is the question that confronts us on this First Sunday after Epiphany. But perhaps the question is best put the other way round: Where are we? This is the question that Jesus comes to ask of all those who will follow Him. He was about His Father's business and that might take Him anywhere, as here it took Him to the Temple. He claimed that He remained behind in the Temple because where He was, was the wrong question to ask. His question to the scribes and doctors of the Temple was: Where are you spiritually? The same question was implied in His answer to His mother: Why did you seek me? For you should have known where I was and always am. That His parents did not understand His answer is part and parcel of every man’s need to discover what Jesus is doing and where we are in relation to Him. Jesus doesn’t move; we do! He is where He has always been, with the Father and doing His work. He was with God from before all beginnings as the Word through whom all things were made. (St. John i. 3) He was with God from the moment of His human conception until His Ascension to the Father, revealing, manifesting, and disclosing the Father’s will as He wrought the work and labor of our salvation. He is with the Father today in our Gospel lesson, preferring His Heavenly Father’s business to the expectations and demands even of His earthly parents. He is with us today desiring to incorporate us into his youthful excited passion to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, that only thereafter all other things [might be] added unto [Him and us]! (St. Matthew vi. 33)
So where are we spiritually today? Are we looking for Jesus in all the wrong places? Do we expect Jesus to be where we are, at our beck and call, being subject unto us before He surrenders Himself to the Father’s will for us? Do we expect to find him in those places and spaces where we do what we darn-well please? Do we assume that Christ is blessing our endeavors because we feel so? Christianity is not about feelings; it is about facts. And the facts of Christ’s real presence have been tried and tested for two thousand years. The facts lead us to Christ’s life, what Christ is doing, and what He is doing is always being about His Father’s business. You see, salvation doesn’t begin and end with us. It begins and ends with Jesus. This is why St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle tells us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service. (Rom. xii. 1) For, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Rom ix. 16) It is only when we depart from where we are and enter into what Christ is doing that we can be sanctified and saved. Should we choose to be conformed to this world, and not to be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, that [we] may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God, (Ibid, 2) we all shall perish.
Dear friends, today let us enter into the labor and work of the young Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. Let us, in conformity to Christ, attend [to our] Heavenly Father’s business, and to make all other business give way to it, (Comm. M. Henry) that we may both perceive and know what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same. (Collect) And should we fail to acquire immediate answers and solutions to the confusions and perplexities that accompany our journey in Christ, with the Blessed Virgin Mary let us with deepest faith and trust keep all [His] sayings in [our] heart[s], (Ibid, 51) until, through Him, [we] shall [increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 52) Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons