And after three days they found Him in the temple
sitting in the midst of the teachers.
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Where is Jesus?" This is the first question you should ask when looking at any Scripture. Jesus is there. What is He doing? What is He saying? Where is He?
Now, on most occasions in Scripture when we hear about St Mary and St Joseph, we can take them as examples. When Mary is pondering and treasuring things up in her heart, we would do well to imitate her. When Joseph is being a righteous man before God by faith, rather than a righteous man before man by deed, we would do well to imitate him. The Holy Family, as they are called, are good examples for us. But not in our Gospel reading for today, at least not at the beginning of the story; St Mary and St Joseph lost sight of Jesus, they didn't bother to ask: “where is Jesus?”.
For us, the meaning of this goes beyond parenting. As important as it is for us parents to take seriously our God-given responsibility as protectors and providers, there is One thing of greater importance for us, and for our children, and for every man, especially for every single individual in our congregation: We must never lose sight of Jesus.
44. Know what that is? That's the number in attendance on Friday night; on the church calendar it was the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, a major feast in the life of the one, holy, apostolic Church. Only 44, perhaps because on the secular calendar it was New Year's Eve. Are you a congregation, a gathering of God's people or not? The church doors were open, some in the congregation were gathering, most of you were not.
Granted there could have been very good reasons not to come. Someone may have been sick and so you had to attend to them (in that case please let us know so that we can pray for them also). Or you or whoever brings you may have had to work that night. Or you may have been out of town visiting family. And I'm sure there are other legitimate reasons as well.
But only 44? And it wasn't just Friday evening. Advent services averaged about 65, even less on Christmas day. There are about 230 members on the roster here at St John. What could have been more important than receiving Jesus' Body and Blood on Christmas morning? What can be so pressing as to keep you away from singing with the angles and archangels and the whole host of heaven? Don't you have sins that need forgiven?
“But it's just not our tradition.” Since when does your personal or family tradition trump the tradition of Christ and His Church? “It's late and the kids need to get in bed.” The kids need Jesus, especially in their tender years. If the time is a stumbling block, then perhaps we'll need to have a congregational discussion about that.
Be honest, search your conscience and take this opportunity to ask yourself: what is more important to me than hearing my Savior speak to me in the Divine Liturgy of Word and Sacrament? What do I consider more pressing than the forgiveness of my sins, eternal life, and salvation? Have I lost sight of Jesus?
Repent. Just as Jesus calls His parents to repentance, so He calls you to repentance. “And He said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that it is necessary for me to be about the things of my Father?' And they did not understand the word that He spoke to them.” Do you not understand either; what is the one thing needful? Repent.
Now the goal of repentance isn't to create some spark of guilt in you. That's useless, or at the most guilt only serves as temporary motivation, we all know this by experience. No, repentance preaching is for the purpose of driving you back to your Savior. Helping you to 1)recognize your need and 2) show you where that need can be met, can be answered; and that only in Jesus your Savior, who is full of mercy and eager to lavish grace upon grace upon you.
Just as Jesus was found answering the questions of the teachers in the temple, so also Jesus is your answer. He is always faithful to forgive you completely and ask no questions. So neither will I, your pastor, Christ's under-shepherd. Repent and let me lead you to the green pastures where forgiveness is lush and abundant. Take and eat, take and drink. You have sinned, individually and as a congregation. Not just once or twice in the last few months, but continually throughout your 142 years of existence as a gathering of God's people. And this is not simply because you made a few mistakes; it gets deeper than that. You are sinful. You have a condition that you have inherited from your parents, and your parents inherited from their parents and so on all the way back to Father Adam and Mother Eve. It is a condition of sin. And God hates sin. So He sent sent the Cure, the Answer, Jesus. Let Him forgive you now. And be changed, each of you and you as a congregation. Do not lose sight of Jesus, that is, receive Him in preaching and Sacrament often. That's why I'm here, that's why He sends pastors to you, to give you Jesus often. And I'm eager to do it often.
But I will not force it upon you. St Luke writes, “and Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”
Jesus was submissive. What He was doing in the temple was for their good. But He did not force goodness on them. So it is with you. Jesus' Divine Liturgy of Himself in Word and Sacrament today is not to be forced upon anyone. If you do not recognize it or you do not want it, He will be submissive. But know this: that He is always eager to heal you, to comfort you, to give you peace, to give you strength, to love you, to give you the answer, to give you Himself. You are His bride, after all, His people, His brothers and sisters by faith. He loves you more than you can ever imagine. Want proof? He died for you, and He continues to bless you with His death every time you hear His Word and eat and drink His holy Body and precious Blood. He is so good that He has preserved in this old congregation and building, the preaching of the old Truths of Scripture and the correct use of His Sacraments.
Come, take Mary as example (at the end of the story that is) and treasure up all these things in your heart. Repent, believe, receive your Savior; be cleaned, forgiven and renewed often.
“Where is Jesus?”, we should ask. Where He promises to be. Jesus is the Sacrament, the holy things. Where He is, let us be also, every single one of us, every single day. God Grant it.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]