Sunday, January 8, 2012

Homily for The First Sunday after the Epiphany


Luke 2:41-52; Romans 1:1-5; 1 Kings 8:6-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

If you are like me, most evenings you watch the 10 o’clock news on FOX 5 New York. And, if you are like me, you watch FOX 5 news, not because it is better than other news programs on other channels, but simply because it is on an hour earlier than the 11 o’clock news, and you’re tired and you want to go to bed. And, if you watch the 10 o’clock news, then you have undoubtedly heard these famous words which serve as a public service announcement at the beginning of the news program each evening: “It’s 10:00 pm, do you know where your children are?”

In mental response to that question, I often find myself answering, “Yes I do. I do know where my children are. In fact, they’re in bed asleep, right above me, right now.” Now, it may seem a bit simple, but there’s no small amount of comfort to be had in answering the question, “Do you know where your children are?” in the affirmative: “Yes, I know where my children are. I’ve done at least something right as a parent. Tonight, right now, my children are all safe, asleep in their beds. Of that much I’m certain. They’re not lost.”

However, standing in stark contrast to my 10 o’clock parental reassurance is the story in our Gospel lesson today about the Holy Family’s visit to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was twelve years old. Mary and Joseph lost their child. They did not know where their child was, even a full day’s journey from Jerusalem on their way back home to Nazareth. Yes, that’s correct, they had traveled a full day’s walking distance before they even began to look for Him amongst their relatives and acquaintances. However, you shouldn’t be too shocked by that particular detail. After all, it wasn’t too many years ago that children roamed the neighborhood from home to home from dawn to dusk. That’s how it was for me growing up; on the weekends or when school was out, I left the house in the morning after breakfast and I didn’t return home until dinner time. And, when I was older, I am certain that I came back well after 10:00 pm. But the world was different then, wasn’t it? Somehow, safer? Or, were we just na├»ve? Anyway, in first century Judea, families and clans of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would travel together along with other families and clans from the same town. The children moved freely from family to family and nobody feared for their safety, knowing they were among relatives and acquaintances.

Nonetheless, you should take note that the stories in the Bible always have a bit of an edge, even the ones about Jesus and the Holy Family. We tend to sanitize them and to remember them and the characters in them as holy, perfect, and beyond reproach. But, consider the lies and deceptions, the treacheries, adulteries and fornications, denials and betrayals of such important figures as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and David, and Peter and Thomas, not to mention Paul. These people all made mistakes, disbelieved, and showed their weakness and frailty, and yet they are heroes of the faith and they examples for us of humility and repentance and of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon them through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the Bible is filled with sinners and outcasts in need of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness: prostitutes and tax collectors, adulterers, lepers, the sick, the dead, and the unclean.

And thus, you should take note of the edgy details of today’s account of the Holy Family, for they literally beg you to examine them and to dig a little deeper. For instance, it should surprise you that Joseph and Mary lost their child and did not know where He was. It should surprise you that Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without His parent’s knowledge. It should surprise you that He was lost for three days before they finally found Him. It should surprise you that Joseph and Mary seem not to understand whose Son Jesus truly is. It should surprise you that Jesus answers His concerned and astonished parents with perplexing questions of His own. It should surprise you that they seemingly still didn’t understand who He was and what He must do. It should surprise you that He then became submissive to them and returned home to Nazareth where He seemingly lived as a normal young adult until He was approximately thirty years of age. It should surprise you that His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And, it should surprise you that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. What does this mean?

Indeed, this well known and beloved story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple is so filled with unexpected and perplexing details that it literally invites you, even begs you, to probe deeper into its mystery. For, it is a mystery, a mystery concerning the identity of Jesus, a mystery concerning the epiphany or manifestation of His divinity, then veiled in human flesh, breaking through in such a way so as to draw you closer to Him and deeper into Him, that you may treasure all these things in your heart.

Yet, it is often said that the devil is in the details. And, indeed, the devil has worked much mischief and harm by tempting the faithful to get caught in a web of symbolic interpretations of details in the Holy Scriptures. Thus, let us not consider foremost the details, but the One who lies beneath the details, and what is manifested for us through the revelation of the mystery of God in the flesh. That it was Passover when the Holy Family visited Jerusalem is an important detail. The Holy Family was in Jerusalem to make a sacrifice and to eat the Passover as commanded by the Law of God. Most families would have either brought a sacrificial lamb with them or they would have purchased one in Jerusalem. The Holy Family brought Jesus. That Jesus was twelve years old is also an important detail because that was the age of spiritual adulthood for a Hebrew male, the year of his Bar Mitzvah making him a Son of the Commandment. This age indicates that Jesus was now recognized as an adult who could make decisions for Himself. Thus, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus, circumcised on the eighth day of His newborn life to fulfill the Law and Command of God, now recognized by men as having achieved spiritual maturity and adulthood, presents Himself as the unblemished Passover Lamb of God in a foreshadowing of the self-sacrifice that He would make in Jerusalem during the Passover twenty-one years later.

Likewise, it is an important detail that Jesus willingly stayed behind in the temple and that He demonstrated there His wisdom and knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. For, He did not merely demonstrate that He understood the Word of God, but He permitted the teachers in the temple and you a small glimpse and epiphany that He is the Word of God in their midst, and in your midst, by the questions that He asked and the answers that He gave. And, that Jesus was seemingly lost for three days is also an important detail, for, in the Holy Scriptures, and particularly in the parables of Jesus, being lost is likened to having died, and being found is likened to being made alive again. Indeed, even the question Jesus asked of His parents when they finally discovered Him in the temple seems a portent of the question asked by the angel at Jesus’ tomb when the women came expecting to find His dead body: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” and “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

It is an important detail that Joseph and Mary did not understand what Jesus meant. For, how could they not understand? Both of them were visited by angels proclaiming who their child was. They had heard Simeon’s and Anna’s prophecies concerning the child. They heard the testimonies of Zechariah and Elizabeth as well, not to mention their own faith, knowledge, and trust in words of the Prophets. Certainly, they believed and knew that their son Jesus was the very Son of God. Then why, why did they not understand Jesus’ meaning that He must be in His Father’s house? And, why was that not the first place that they looked once they came to realize that He was not amongst their relatives and acquaintances? Perhaps their confusion was precisely because they did believe and know who He was. That is to say, perhaps Joseph and Mary so believed and trusted in Simeon’s prophecy that their son would be for the rising and falling of many in Israel and for a word spoken against that the first place they ventured to look was not the temple, but the morgue! Perhaps they believed so strongly that their son was destined to die as God’s Passover Lamb for the sins of the world that they, like Eve, who believed that her first born son was the one promised to crush the serpent’s head, were anticipating the fulfillment of His destiny now, even at His young age. But, whatever it was that they did not understand, nevertheless, Jesus submitted to their parental authority, honored and obeyed Joseph and Mary, and returned home with them to Nazareth. And, from that point on, until He formally began His ministry at the age of thirty, the Scriptures are silent, indicating that Jesus lived and grew as a son and as a man, increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with both God and men.

Jesus’ very first words are misunderstood, a theme for His entire life. As Simeon had prophesied, Jesus was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel; were Joseph and Mary the first to stumble over Jesus and the cross? It is a mystery! That is exactly the point. A mystery draws you in deeper. You, children of God, you Christians, are Mary during this Epiphany season, invited to ponder the mystery of Jesus in your heart. Why did the Magi present an infant boy with gifts fit for a prophets, priests, and kings? What was the significance of Jesus’ changing water into the finest of wines at the wedding in Cana? What does it mean for you that God is pleased with the man Jesus and that to Him heaven has opened and that upon Him God’s Spirit has rested and remains? What does it mean that creation continues to respond to and obey His Word as it once did in the beginning? These are but some of the questions for you to ponder during Epiphantide that you may grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.

In the Word made flesh Jesus Christ, God has returned to His temple. As in the tabernacle of old, so in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, so now in the flesh and blood of Jesus, God dwells amongst His people to bless them and keep them in Holy Communion with Him until the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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