Since we have services on the Octave of the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus at that time. Which opens up Epiphany 1 for the historic reading of the boy Jesus in the temple. And here is the sermon I preached (Almost. I added a couple of explanations at a couple of points. But you get the idea.)
Jesus goes to church. That’s what happens in the Gospel reading, sort of. It’s a little bit bigger deal than that. The goal was to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. For those Jews who lived in distant corners of the Roman empire, you would hopefully do that once in your lifetime. For those living in places like Galilee, only 70 miles north – about a three day walk, it could be a yearly pilgrimage. And, at the age of twelve, Jesus joins his parents to take the trip.
Down they go. Celebrate the Passover, as given in the law of Moses. Commemorates God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. It is one of the major festivals of the year. Like Christmas or, well, Easter. The Passover lamb is sacrificed, and eaten. The people recount the Lord’s mighty acts. In the book of Joshua, when the people finally enter the promised land, God has them build a memorial – a roadside “historical marker” – and he says, “When your children ask you what this means, then tell them, “This is where the Lord… ” and so on. Similar to the Small Catechism, with the constant “What does this mean?” The job of the priests is to teach the people. The job of parents, to teach their children. Not just at church. It is their primary job. Teaching, recounting the works of God is what the people will be occupied with when they get up and when they it down, when they come and go, at all times, they should be thinking, reciting, singing about the mighty works of God.
Of course, we know that it doesn’t always work that way. The people had their idols, their false gods. There was judgment for that idolatry, as their always is. But in Jesus day, the people tried to be faithful to the Law of Moses. Later, Jesus would call them out for the hypocrisy of thinking that following the Law could save. But, for now, Jesus goes with his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. To recount the marvelous deeds of the Lord. To hear again the works of God. A few hundred years later, everything is written down. We don’t know exactly what happened at Passover meals when Jesus walked the earth. But, it’s probably safe to assume that basic forms were in place. If true, the youngest child would ask questions around the dinner table and the father would answer. But not any questions. There were specific questions with specific answers. Like the catechism. And there was a Christmas Pageant sort of feel to it, although on a smaller scale. We are familiar with the Christmas Pageant, where the youngest are shepherds and angels, and recite those important words, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy…” And then the shepherd respond “Let us go not to Bethlehem”. We’re used to it. The children learn the bible passages from the prophets about the Wonderful Counselor, and Bethlehem Ephratha. That’s what they did back then, but with the Passover and the Red Sea. Why? Because it is the story of the Lord’s deliverance. When he saved his people. It wasn’t just a spiritual salvation, disconnected from any real events. It was also the start of their nation. It was both a national and religious holiday. Who they were as a people, and how God had saved them from bondage.
And always, the promise of the Messiah who was to come. These weren’t abstractions. This was God, actually bringing them out of Egypt. Actually bringing them into their own land – as he had promised to their fathers. In celebrating, and commemorating these things, they not only remembered what God had done for their fathers, they brought that salvation into the present.
After all, if God saved their fathers so they could be a nation, certainly he would not abandon them. If he delivered them from Egypt, would he not also deliver them from every evil. Saint Paul says just this thing about Jesus.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This isn’t just Paul hoping for good things someday. This is Paul, the learned Pharisee applying what God had done in the past to the future. Which is how the people of Israel lived their faith. They knew that God was for them, and so anyone who fought against them was bound to lose. Paul just transfers that from an Old Testament framework to a New Testament one.
That’s why Jesus parents go to Jerusalem – not just because it’s the law of Moses and they have to fulfill the law of Moses. They go because they want to hear again the wonderful deeds of the Lord. The same reason we come to church each week – so that we can hear the words and deeds of Jesus, who died on the cross to save us from our sins. Each week, receiving the forgiveness, life and salvation he offers. And it’s because we need that forgiveness that God commands us to gladly hear and learn his word. While church isn’t really optional for the Christian, it is commanded, it is commanded because it is so necessary for us, and so beneficial. God does not command anything that is not for our good. That’s why, when Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he stays in the temple for three extra days, teaching, questioning, the priests and leaders of the people. Because he must be about his father’s business. Now, at the end of the Gospel reading, we hear he goes back to Nazareth and is obedient to his parents – another commandment for our good. And he likely apprentices with Joseph. At least he helps him around the shop. But the business of his true Father is the salvation of mankind. And that’s what Jesus is about. Even as a child.
That’s why, in the temple, talking to the teachers. Still in church. And surprised that his parents would have any trouble finding him. “I must be about my father’s business.”
Epiphany means “revealing”. God reveals his son to the world, first by the star, then by his teaching and his miracles. But today, we see the first time Jesus goes out into the world since arriving in Nazareth a decade earlier. And he brings the word of God. He reveals that word to the teachers of the law.
Jesus is about his father’s business. The Word, where we hear of the death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation is still the business of our heavenly Father. It’s still our business as h is children.