Today is the 1st Sunday After Epiphany. Most years, because we usually celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on the Sunday following the Feast Day proper, we don’t read today’s Gospel and Epistle. After all, like the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, Epiphany is an 8-day feast, or an Octave. You may recall that we talked about a connection between the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles and the Church’s Feast of Epiphany in the eyes of the early Church. You may also recall that we talked about how the ancient celebration of Epiphany covered numerous events in our Lord’s early ministry, but the Western Church eventually spread these events over the post-Epiphany season, focusing on the Lord’s Epiphany, or Manifestation, to the Gentiles for the feast itself, via the visitation of the Magi. We talked about how Tabernacles had a connection in the Prophets to the Gentiles worshiping the Lord and the Messiah alongside Israel.
Of course, the main thing Tabernacles commemorated was the Israelites 40-year journey in the wilderness after the Exodus, and specifically how God’s presence led them, provided for them, and protected them, residing in the Tabernacle when they were camped. The Tabernacle was built by Moses at God’s direction and was something of a mobile worship site. You can read about this in minute detail in the latter third or so of the Book of Exodus. Many generations later, King Solomon would build a permanent house for the Lord, he would build the Temple. At the dedication of the Temple, the Lord’s presence came upon Solomon, the priests, and the people, filling the building like a cloud of smoke to the point where they had to stop the service! The Temple was to be the authorized place for official in Israel, where the priests would minister, the choirs would sing, the people would pray, and the sacrifices would be offered. Indeed, when we look at Old Testament worship, the primary feature is that of sacrifice. Often animals would be sacrificed, but grain and wine were also offered at other times. Some sacrifices were made daily at Evening and Morning. Others were done monthly during the New Moon. Others were done for the various feast and fast days prescribed in the Old Testament. And others were done on an as-needed basis to deal with individual or corporate sins, individual or corporate thanksgiving, or a host of other occasions, all laid out in detail in the Torah, especially Leviticus.
Unfortunately, Israel was not faithful to the Lord, and often went after other gods with their bizarre and hedonistic worship practices, that we won’t discuss here. Though the Prophets continually called Israel to repentance, Israel persisted in idolatry, until the point that God kicked them out of the Promised Land and sent them into exile. But not only did the people go into exile; God himself left his home as well. Ezekiel Chapters 10 and 11 show God’s presence leaving the Temple, never to return in the Old Testament. Eventually, the Temple itself was destroyed, though God also promised that the Exile would not be forever. The people would repent and be brought back, the Temple would be rebuilt, and God’s presence would eventually return. We concluded last week with one of these promises, written in Ezekiel 37:
My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.
Now, as we get to the final books of the Old Testament, we do see the exiles return. We see the Temple rebuilt. But we never see God’s presence return. No, we must wait for the coming of Christ in the New Testament for the Lord to visibly return to the Temple. But while the coming of God’s presence was overt and glorious when Moses dedicated the Tabernacle and when Solomon dedicated the Temple, his return to the House of Lord in the person of Jesus was much humbler. We see it happen twice in the Gospel according to St. Luke prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The first time was when our Lord was presented as a baby, commemorated on Candlemas in early February. The second time is commemorated in today’s Gospel, when Jesus was twelve. In both of these instances, it is barely known outside Jesus’ immediate family, and even his family may not have understood the significance. Let’s look at today’s Gospel from Luke 2:41 (Page 110 in the Prayer Book):
Now [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.
Though this is hardly the point of today’s Gospel, I want to point out the piety of Mary and Joseph in this passage. Despite the notorious corruption of the Temple system in those days, despite living far away in Nazareth of Galilee, Mary and Joseph kept the Passover in Jerusalem, as per the Law of Moses. Indeed, Mary wasn’t technically required to make the journey according to the Law, but she did anyway. At age 12, Jesus wasn’t required to be their either, but Mary and Joseph brought him. Parents, follow the example of the Holy Family: bring your children to church. Kids will pick up on our priorities. They’ll pick up whether worship and fellowship are important to us. And when we do bring them into God’s house, they pick up on many of the external things of our faith, even if they don’t fully internalize them. I must confess that I have not been very faithful in leading my family in devotion time at home. But I’ve seen that Leah, even when she was as young as two, has picked up the Lord’s Prayer and other things just by being in church. And when it comes to songs and hymns, she picks them up better than I do! It’s OK if the kids get fussy in church. We don’t mind. Even in the fussiness, they’re learning about the Lord. When we baptize them, we promise to raise them in the faith; at the very least that means bringing them to church.
Let’s get back to the story with verse 46:
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The Church Fathers make much of Jesus listening to the teachers in the Temple. After all, as a minor, as a mere boy, this is his proper role among his elders, even though the Temple is his Father’s (and by extension, his) house. Jesus, who is God-in-flesh, God-with-us, the Royal heir of David’s throne, prophesied to be worshiped in and reign from the Temple, has humbled himself to listen to the teachers, asking them questions, and taking the position of a learner. But he’s also answering their questions, giving them the spiritual wisdom that they need, even though they hardly would expect a mere boy to be able to do so.
Notice also, Jesus’ answer to his mother when she finds him: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” If you want to find Jesus, look for him in God’s house. Look for him in the places where he’s promised to be found.
One of the strange things about our culture is that folks often think they can dictate terms to God, expecting God to meet them where they want to be rather than going where God is. We think we can shape God into our image rather than being shaped in his. “I don’t have to go to church,” you may have heard. “I can find God in the fishing boat, or on the hiking trail, or at Starbucks with my friends.” And while it’s true that God is everywhere, good things like fishing, hiking, or coffee aren’t the same as meeting God in his own house.
You see, there are three ways Jesus has promised to meet us in his Father’s house.
First, he meets us in the assembled body of Christians, the body of Christ, who gather together to worship him and represent him. Most of us know Matthew 18:20 that says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” But did you know that the context of this passage is the Church meeting to exercise its judgement as Christ’s Body. Here’s the passage in context:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Do you see how this implies an organized group of Christians with structure and actual spiritual authority? This isn’t merely a bible study group. This isn’t me-and-Jesus going it alone. No, this is the Church, gathered as Christ’s body, which has the promise of his presence.
But we also see Jesus present through the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of God’s Word. This is the second way in which we find Jesus’ presence in Church. There is something powerful about the teaching, preaching, and reading of God’s word by God’s people who are gathered to meet him. St. Paul writes in Romans 10:13-17:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 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 without being sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Third, we have the Sacrament of Holy Communion, in which we receive Christ’s body and blood when we come to him by faith with thanksgiving. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:16-18:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one brad. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
Indeed, just as the Israelites met the Lord in the altar of the Temple, so do we meet Jesus at his Table in Church. And note how humble all these meetings of Jesus are: Jesus present among his imperfect people: Jesus’ people fall into the same problems as the rest of the world, we’re just as silly as everyone else. Jesus present in the reading and preaching of the bible: the bible is the most printed and easily bought book in most places, and preachers are everywhere! Jesus present in the bread and wine of Communion: especially in times past, no fare was more widely eaten than bread and wine. Yet, in all these things Jesus meets us in special ways, all of which are to be found in his Father’s house. All of which are found in Church.
We, too, humble ourselves when we come into God’s house. In our Epistle, St. Paul exhorted us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” Or, as we pray in the Communion, we offer to God “ourselves; our souls and bodies.” We don’t come before God insisting on our own way, but following the example of Jesus, who humbled himself for us, become like a servant so that we could be exalted with him.
This is why we come before his table kneeling. This is why we make ourselves small before our Lord, remembering that he did the same for our sakes, coming as a humble baby, coming into the Temple has a mere boy, reminding us that we, too, are mere children before God. Small, learning, but nevertheless, co-heirs with God the Son, adopted into his family, brought into his house.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.