Dearly beloved saints in Christ:
Almost every parent has had the experience of losing track of a child. You take your eye off for a couple of seconds at a mall or in a grocery store and suddenly they’re gone. The panic that a parent feels when a son or daughter goes missing even for a few seconds is real. Parental instinct kicks into overdrive. When they finally show up again, you don’t know whether to hug them or to scold them, so you do both. You do it out of love. You are so overjoyed and relieved to know that everything is okay. Mostly you’re mad at yourself for not being a better parent, or for not paying close enough attention.
If you feel like bad parents when your son or daughter wanders off for a few moments in a mall, you can imagine how Mary and Joseph felt when they lost track of the Son of God for three days. How does one answer to the Lord for that? They had gone up to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem with the 12 year old Jesus. At the end of the feast they were heading back to their home, but Jesus remained in Jerusalem…unbeknownst to his parents. Supposing that he was with their relatives, they didn’t bother checking on him until they had gone a day’s journey.
Three days later, they find him back in Jerusalem. And what was he doing? He was in the temple, among the teachers, amazing them with his wisdom. Mary’s reaction is quite understandable, given the circumstances. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And here is where we want to pay very close attention: Jesus answers her, not disrespectfully, saying: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
These are Jesus’ first recorded words in the Gospel of Luke, and they are packed with meaning. They tell us something about who Jesus is, and something about the work that He came to do. Mary had said, perhaps without realizing it, that she and his father had been looking for him. But Jesus gently reminds Mary and the readers of Luke’s Gospel that His true Father is God. To use John’s language: “He was born not by the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.”
These words reinforce what was taught earlier in Luke’s Gospel and what we learn every year at Christmas: that the child born to Mary was none other than the “Son of the Most High.” They also reinforce what we have learned in the Christian Creeds and our Catechism: that Jesus Christ is both true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary. He has both a fully human nature, and a fully divine nature. And yet He is not two persons or two Christs, but one Christ, who is both God and man.
This claim is not contradicted by the fact that the boy Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature.” As true God, He certainly is all-knowing, indeed, He is Wisdom itself. But this was not true of His human nature by itself. As true Man, our Lord Jesus Christ could grow and increase in wisdom even as he could feel heat, cold, hunger and thirst, and even sleep. He was “made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.”
Not only do we learn something about Jesus’ divine identity, we also learn from these words something about the work he came to do for us. “I must be in my Father’s house.” Already at the young age of 12 Jesus understands what his role and purpose in this world is: He has come to do the will of his Father, to be about his Father’s business. And that means being in Jerusalem, being in the Temple, and eventually returning to Jerusalem to become the true Passover Lamb for us.
This is what Mary and Joseph did not understand. Indeed, this is what his disciples and so many others did not understand about him. This is why Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem, and why Jesus said: “Get behind me Satan.” It is why all of his disciples abandoned him in his hour of death and refused to believe the women when they said that He had risen from the dead.
They could not understand that His purpose in coming was to become a sacrifice for their sins and the sins of the whole world and then to rise again from the dead. He became man in order that He might suffer His Father’s wrath in our place. His purpose in coming was not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. This is what it means to “be in his Father’s house.”
What is obvious to us was not always so obvious to His earthly parents and his disciples. Hindsight is always 20-20, right? Christ’s words and deeds were constantly met with misunderstanding. But the same could be said for many today. How many today think of Jesus as merely a good teacher or philosopher? How many see in Jesus merely a good example for us to live by? Surely there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about Jesus today, even amongst those who call themselves Christians.
Consider how many people misunderstand his words about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” And yet there are still many who do not believe that baptism saves us. Jesus says: “Take eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood.” And yet how many today deny that Christ gives us Christians his flesh to eat and his blood to drink in the bread and wine? That’s not to mention the misunderstanding and confusion surrounding conversion, the end times, moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality, the role of women in the church, and countless others. Misunderstanding over Jesus’ words abounds today, even within our own church body!
And what about us? Is it all really so obvious to us? Though we know the end of the story, though we know what would eventually happen to the child of Mary, how He would be crucified for our sins and rise from the dead on the third day, how often do we misunderstand his words? How often do we walk away from a sermon or a Bible class in confusion and puzzlement? Are we any different than Mary and Joseph and Jesus’ disciples?
Our misunderstanding of Christ’s words is not because his Word is unclear. The problem is not with Christ’s Word, the problem is with us. Our inability to comprehend the words of Christ is just one of the many effects of sin. We tend to think of sin only as a moral blot on our souls. And this is true. But it has also darkened our minds and our ability to perceive and comprehend spiritual things.
St. Paul alludes to this when he says that the natural man cannot perceive the things of the Spirit of God. The entire world suffers from this malady. For this reason it is necessary for Christ to open our eyes and to enlighten our minds. It is necessary for Christ to give us what we are lacking by nature: the wisdom of the cross. This is the wisdom that is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentile. It is the wisdom that stymies the wise philosopher, for it teaches that man is counted as righteous before God apart from morality—the righteousness of faith in Christ Jesus.
Only when God grants us this wisdom of the cross can we find joy in suffering, strength in weakness, and life in the midst of death. You are certainly not without this wisdom if you are baptized. If anyone is baptized he has been given the Holy Spirit, is an heir of Christ’s kingdom. Like the disciples who were gathered in Emmaus on the evening of Christ’s resurrection, your eyes have been opened by the Spirit of Christ. He whom the world does not know has been made known to you in the breaking of the bread. To know Christ as your Redeemer and Savior from sins is to have the wisdom that surpasses even that of King Solomon.
With this wisdom you are fully equipped to face the challenges and difficulties that come your way in the next year, and always. And yet, you need to grow in this wisdom. Like a garden your souls need constantly to be watered and nourished by dew of God’s Word. This is why it is foolish for Christians to pass up opportunities to study and hear God’s Word. This is why the Church offers Sunday School and Bible Class, and other opportunities to grow in the knowledge of Christ. And don’t say, “I’ve been through Confirmation class. I don’t need to learn anything more about Christ.” Do you not see that even Christ himself “grew in wisdom and stature?” Even Jesus, the Son of God, went to His Father’s house and listened to the teachers and discussed God’s Word with them. Are you more learned than the Lord himself?
King Solomon knew that he could not rule wisely unless God gave him understanding and wisdom. So He prayed to the Lord for wisdom, and his prayer was heard and granted. God gave him a wise and discerning mind, like none before or after him. So we too ought to pray for this wisdom, not the wisdom of the age, but the wisdom of the cross. We can and should ask God our heavenly Father to send His Spirit so that our eyes might be opened. Then we might understand what Mary and the disciples could not: that it was necessary for Christ to be in his Father’s house, doing the business of His Father.
Where is Christ today? Must we search for him far and wide? Must we live in fear and distress like a parent who has lost his child? Surely He is where He has promised to be for us: He is in the Temple of His Holy Church, teaching, feeding, absolving, comforting, washing, and serving. Like Mary and Joseph, we sinners are frantic and distressed until we have found Christ in the Temple of His Body. We are truly harried and helpless and troubled until we find Him in His Word, on His altar, in His Font. And having found him abiding and remaining in His Father’s house, in the New Jerusalem of the Church, we may find rest.
Truly our souls are restless until they rest in Jesus. Our minds are darkened until they are renewed by His Spirit. Our consciences and hearts are troubled until they are absolved and forgiven in His blood. God grant you the wisdom that comes down from above, and the peace which passes all understanding. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.