Monday began a new season in the Church Year as we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. On January 6, the Church remembers the coming of the wise men from the East. Though that is the historical event celebrated, the meaning behind it is why we really celebrate. We remember the visit of the wise men because it reveals that Christ is the universal Savior. He was not sent only to save the Jewish people, but, as St. John saw in his vision of heaven, people of every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The wise men from the East are representative of all the Gentiles. The Feast is called Epiphany, because the word means “to make manifest” or “to reveal.” On that day, Christ was revealed as the great Light for the people who walked in darkness and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death (Is. 9:2). And now, through the intervening weeks before we begin the season of Lent, Christ is revealed as God and Man. This time in the Church Year uncovers the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures will lift the earthly veil which hides Incarnate God below. Today we are shown that, even at a young age, Jesus knew who He is and for what reason He came to earth.
The trip to Jerusalem of which we heard was not His first. Joseph and Mary presented Him at 40 days old in the Temple with the sacrifice of two turtle doves as commanded in the Law. He was praised by faithful Simeon and the prophetess Anna as the One promised since the Fall.
Now, at 12 years old, Jesus comes to Jerusalem for His first Passover. His parents were faithful and made this trip annually, keeping the Feast as good children of Abraham. And now that Jesus is old enough, according to the custom of the Feast, He joins them for the annual pilgrimage.
Suddenly the Temple is whole again. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the first Temple, the glory of the Lord filled it when the Ark of the Covenant was put in its place in the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant was where God dwelt, and thus was the visible image of the invisible God for the children of Israel. As the Ark was put in its place in the glory of the Lord filled the Temple with a cloud so thick and so dark that the priests couldn’t perform their duties because it was impossible to see (1 Ki 8:10-11). God made His dwelling among His people. When the second Temple was begun after the return from captivity, the Ark was long gone. Though the Holy of Holies was there, there was nothing to dwell there. People who remembered Solomon’s Temple wept when the foundation of the second Temple was laid because it was without God’s physical presence (Ezra 3:12-13). Now, in the person of an ordinary looking little boy, the Image of the invisible God returns to the Temple, the second and more perfect Ark. Though the Temple did not fill with a thick cloud that Passover, it very well could have as God once again stood in the courts of His Temple. Jesus is where He belongs, about His Father’s business--the studying and teaching of Holy Scripture, the prayers and the incense, and the sacrifices making atonement for sin.
But Mary and Joseph did not understand these things that Jesus told them. They did not understand why their 12 year old Son felt at home in the Temple. They did not understand, but they trusted. Especially for Mary, she was beginning to understand what Simeon meant when he told her that a sword would pierce her own heart.
And this would not be the last time Mary would be worried about her Son in Jerusalem. This would not be the last time she would be without Him there for three days. In a few more years His Father’s business will take Him away during the Passover, but this time He will not be celebrating it, He will be fulfilling it. No longer will a lamb’s blood stain the door posts of the house to deter the angel of death. Now His Blood will mark the hearts of those to be saved. He will be the Passover Lamb who must be sacrificed, whose flesh must be eaten to prepare the true Israel for their journey to the heavenly Promised Land. By His sacrifice, He will become the Temple that lasts forever. He opens the Holy of Holies to all believers. Now we can come into God’s presence, not only once a year, but always.
In addition to fulfilling the Old Testament, the boy Jesus gives us an example of the Christian life by showing us what business we are to be about. When we are marked with His Blood in Holy Baptism, we are joined with Him in His Father’s House as a part of His Father’s family. Do you not know that, even now, you are to be about your heavenly Father’s business? Being marked with Jesus’ Blood and set free from death and sin does not give you the freedom to enslave yourself again to sinful desires. This is what St. Paul tells you in today’s Epistle. You are to present your body as a living sacrifice, not conformed to this world, but living in the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. By the Holy Spirit making you His temple, you are holy and set apart.
How else is this accomplished than through a life spent in the study of and discipline by God’s holy Word? Discernment and wisdom come by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit works through means--by the Scriptures, by Baptism, by the Lord’s Supper, by Absolution, and through preaching. There is not only a renewal of the spirit through these means, but there is a renewal of the heart and mind, because good works flow from faith. And our renewed spirit and mind see that the Law of God is good. Even though it condemns the old man at every turn, it shows the new man those things that are pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit gives everyone various gifts that are given by God’s grace. As St. Paul unpacks, if you have service, then serve faithfully. If you teach, teach the truth. If you have the means to contribute, give generously. If you are a leader, lead with zeal; and if a follower, follow without grumbling. All of these things we do by the grace and gift of God.
But when you fail to use those gifts to the best of their God-given ability and don’t live like the obedient boy Jesus, there is forgiveness for you. Jesus lived the obedient life in your place to fulfill the Law’s demands for you. He lived to be about His Father’s business, which was nothing other than the forgiveness of all your sin. He has manifested Himself as your God and your Lord, the Savior of the world. And just like He dwelt in the earthly Temple, so does He make His dwelling in you through Word and Sacrament. Just as He was faithful to Mary and Joseph, even in their imperfection and sin, so is He faithful to you. He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. He will be with you always to reveal Himself to you as your Savior until you receive the full epiphany as you behold Him face-to-face.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.