Jesus in the Temple
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, January 1, 2023
Happy New Year everyone!
There is a lot packed into today’s gospel reading. It’s a transitional reading, guiding us from the Nativity to Epiphany, with the Feast of the Circumcision tucked in between. The reading begins with the shepherds returning, glorifying, and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.
So, let’s begin with the shepherds: Have there not been for each of us, moments when some experience was so beautiful and so full of loveliness, that we knew we had been touched by an inspiration that came only from God? Do we remember these days, to let their music echo in our recollection? The shepherds saw that their happiness had its source in God, and they also saw this happiness focused on something very simple and very human, a newborn baby boy. Before God had always appeared in terror and awe. He moved among the clouds of Sinai or within the lightning of the seraphim. But here God chose to dwell with us, to come to us, as a little human baby boy, within a humble human family. God will never be found in some strange and distant day if he cannot be found right here in the things that are close to us, in the familiar blessings of friendship and affection, in the daily beauty of patience and devotion, of faith and love. When we recognize this, even in our routines, we too can continue glorifying and praising God just like the shepherds did. The shepherds learned that this little child held in Mary’s arms would be a king, they knew somehow that Jesus was royal, and that his power would increase in spiritual majesty. But they did not know how he would rule our hearts. Even now, we still don’t know how God is developing us in this fractured and broken world that is seething with goodness and promise. But we discover that only in Christ does life find its truest interpretation.
After eight days, he was circumcised, and given the name Jesus, as he was called by the angel before he was conceived. He was named, and although later circumcision was problematic for spreading the gospel, here we see that Jesus himself was circumcised, fulfilling the law, as he said later.
Then we finally see Jesus at age 12 in the Temple. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. These appearances reflect Mary’s own life in the temple as described in the Proto Gospel of James. Here in Luke is the only canonical image we have depicting Jesus as a child. There are other images in other gospels like the Gospel of Thomas, but Jesus appears more like a superhero with the power to turn stones into birds or whither a tree when other children are being naughty or trying to bully him. That's Cool, but it doesn’t really pass the sniff test, therefore, not in the canon.
In contrast, this gospel has all the hallmarks of truth, especially how it depicts the worry of Jesus’ parents when they lose track of him. I know when I’ve lost my child for a few minutes in a busy mall, how anxious I’ve been. It’s hard to imagine losing my child for three days and then finding him placid and serene, criticizing me for not looking for him in the right place. “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” is a particular slap to Joseph. But he was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. This wise-beyond-his-years 12-year-old is all we see of Jesus’ childhood until he shows up again at about age 30 to be baptized by John.
I think one of the most important lines in today’s gospel is the observation that Jesus was not teaching, but rather was listening and asking questions. The young Jesus appears with eagerness, an open mind, and simplicity of spirit. The gospel says that Jesus increased in wisdom and understanding which is perhaps strange for one who is already fully God. Fully God and fully man. What a mystery! Jesus is one with God the Father, but he is still growing and learning. That's strange. It’s also the first recorded utterance of Jesus calling God “my Father.” And the favor of God was upon him. The power and beauty of Jesus’ life were due to a light shining on him and within him. Jesus’ life reveals the unseen, but also shows happy and natural human circumstances. As Jesus’ life moved on with a strong and sure purpose, he encountered bitter and deadly opposition. A little group became his enemies and brought him to the cross. But during most of his life, Jesus grew in the favor of God and men. The common people heard him gladly. (Matt: 12:37). He could fascinate rough men and make them lay aside everything and follow him. Jesus was more than a “man of sorrows.” He was also a man of joy: at the wedding feast in Cana, at the feast with the publicans, at the banquet of Simon the Pharisee, at dinner with Zacchaeus. Some called him gluttonous, a friend of prostitutes and sinners. But as Orthodox Christians, we too can be mindful of our relationships with each other, and to keep them deep and true. Jesus was always giving himself to those whom he loved. He made life brighter for all of us. That is what it means to have found favor with God and man. Let us do the same. We cannot divorce our faith from beauty. If we are like Christ, we will not. Let us humbly and eagerly let the Holy Spirit be reflected in ourselves and in each other. Thanks be to God.