Monday, January 14, 2008

Epiphany I

The Holy Gospel is written in the 2nd Chapter of St. Luke, beginning at the 41st Verse.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

I’ve always liked television games shows. When I was a boy, one of my favorites was To Tell the Truth. Remember that one? It came on once a week in prime-time. In my house growing up, the whole family would gather around the TV, watch To Tell the Truth, and eat the popcorn that my mother had cooked in a pot on the stove. Each week, three people would sit behind a desk each claiming to be someone who had accomplished something special. These three would be questioned by a celebrity panel, usually consisting of Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Tom Poston, and Peggy Cass. (If you’re under 30, don’t worry who these people were. Trust me, they were famous.) The celebrities would then attempt to guess which one of the three was the real person and which two were the imposters. The pivotal moment would come after the celebrities had cast their votes and host Bud Collyer would then dramatically ask, “Will the real John Q. Public please stand up?” And at that moment, the true identity of the person of special accomplishment would be revealed. It was a great show and, believe it or not, has a lot to do with our Gospel reading today.

You know today’s story from the Gospel of St. Luke. It’s the story of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin Mary had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. As they headed home, they realized with some alarm that Jesus was not with them. Panic-stricken they searched the group that they were traveling with. Not finding him there, they headed back to Jerusalem to continue their search. Finally, they came to the Temple and found Jesus there listening and questioning the doctors, those learned teachers of the Temple. And here is where the story gets interesting. But before we can get to that, we need to understand one very important piece of information.

In this story, St. Luke identifies the Lord Jesus as being 12 years old. This is one of the few times that Jesus’ age is mentioned and it is highly significant in this case. When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 12, he is considered in many ways to have reached manhood. He was placed under the Law of Moses at his circumcision when he was eight days old, but now at age 12, he was considered to be a “Man of the Law.” The young boy at that age would come to the synagogue and read the Scripture and recite passages from memory. This coming of age, known today as a “Bar Mitzvah,” was as significant for the Jewish male as Confirmation is, or should be, for the Christian. In each case, the boy becomes a man and validates for himself the promises that were made for him by another when he was just a baby. So keep that in mind, that in this story, our Lord has just come of age as a man.

And what happens when his parents find him in the Temple? His mother Mary approaches him and says, “Son, how could you have done this to us? Your father and I have been worried sick about you.” And the Lord turns to His mother and says, “Why did you worry? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” Now note this carefully. Mary says, “Your father and I have been worried sick about you,” referring to St. Joseph as Jesus’ father. Jesus responds differently, telling his blessed Mother, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business,” referring to his real Father: God the Father. In this moment, the child who had lived in the quiet of Joseph’s home and carpentry shop stood up and identified himself to his parents. In this moment we have the first indication of Jesus’ acknowledgement of his divine nature in the Scriptures. It couldn’t have been plainer if, all of a sudden, a game show host had said, “Will the real Son of the Living God please stand up?” But this isn’t the really interesting part. That comes next.

Immediately after his own acknowledgement of his special relationship with the Father, Jesus returns home obediently with his parents and grows in wisdom and strength. Now I think this is absolutely fascinating and it tells us quite a bit about God. Notice that Jesus does not at that point assume his throne and accept the accolades of the people. Instead, he returns to his home, and grows in the same way as anybody else, with the exception of sin. What tremendous humility is shown by our Lord. Rather than exalt himself, instead he lives in perfect humility with the earthly parents into whose care God has given him and he shares their life growing a bit here and there and finally reaching maturity just like you and me.

And this is the point: As we end our Christmas and Epiphany season it’s good to recall this about the Lord. In coming among us as a man, Jesus did not want to escape or be denied any truly human experience. He wanted to know the experience of birth, he wanted to understand what it means to earn a living, and – in order to save us from our sin – he had to know what it was to die. This was truly “his Father’s business.” This giving of himself to every aspect of life is why the Lord came down as at this time for us, to pitch his tent in our camp, to live and die as one of us. As our unusually brief Epiphany season draws to a close, maybe we can take just a few more moments to worship at the manger, to adore with the wise men, and to give thanks for the God who became one of us.

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