The first day of school for me in first grade did not end how I would have hoped it to. I was so excited to leave kindergarten and move on to the more advanced years. When I arrived home after the first day of class though I was not very happy. My mom asked why I was frustrated and I replied, “I didn’t learn how to read today.” I had expected to learn how to read in one day and even the first day. I did not want to have to learn, I wanted to be given this wisdom by a miracle. I didn’t want to be a student.
Today’s gospel reading is so great for the baptized because it gives us hope when we get frustrated with learning, when we don’t want to be students of God’s word. Comfort for when things don’t always make sense to us, we walk by faith and lean not on our own understanding.
Notice a few things first about Jesus’ family life. Last Sunday we heard how rough it was from the very beginning, the devil hates children and he tried to kill Jesus at every turn. The holy family had to flee to Egypt and finally Nazareth. The family traveled quite a bit. And that’s where we find them again in today’s reading. Traveling was a regular part of their life because that’s what faithful Jews did for the major feasts.
Before we get to the traveling though we hear Luke tell us, the child grew and became strong and filled with wisdom. This is a profound mystery but one that is not too far fetched. IT seems that Jesus when he was born did not know everything. That Jesus who is our brother in the flesh had to learn things. Can you imagine? God, the creator of all things puts aside all his wisdom and knowledge in order that he might know what it means to learn. Jesus was a student, there were things he didn’t know, “the child grew strong” just as Jesus’ body grew from being an infant to a 12 year old so too he grew mentally. This also has partly to do with their traveling.
After Luke tells us that Jesus grew and was filled with wisdom we see where Jesus did his learning, “his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year.” While in Jerusalem part of the Passover is when the children ask the very Lutheran question as part of the Passover in Exodus , “What does this Passover mean?” You are to answer them, “'With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” So Jesus heard the story of the Passover every year. Jesus like us, followed a church calendar. And his parents went up every year to Jerusalem for the major feasts. But you can imagine as Jesus heard the same bible verses and the same teachings on these verses that he was given wisdom on exactly what it means that his cross is the fulfillment of the Exodus. We can’t read Jesus’ mind, we don’t know exactly what he knows when, but we do see that Jesus and his parents regarded teaching the faith and repetition by asking questions as very important.
I think we can for ourselves gather from this the importance of our regular attendance and hearing the word of God. Not only that we learn hear but also that we teach our children at home and if you don’t have children you provide support either by teaching here or by your money. This is a better investment than any stock market or real estate. But don’t we put more effort into the things we can’t take with us into eternal life? Our children are the only gifts we take with us into eternal life.
Jesus’ life was always in danger, even as an infant and yet Mary and Joseph traveled because they lived by faith in God’s promises of his word. Isaiah 55:11 God says his word does not return to him void, without purpose. SO even in the Old Testament God’s people lived by faith knowing that God’s word teaches us salvation. It’s more than about just delivering information to those God gives us to teach and for us to be students ourselves.
I’ve unfortunately heard well meaning Christians say, “I don’t need to come to church or Sunday school, I know everything I need to know.” Today we read that Jesus repeatedly went to learn and that he sat at the feet of the teachers. Jesus wanted to hear the word and be a student to grow in wisdom. Mary and Joseph went through great pains and inconvience to make sure they were faithful parents bring their son up in the word of God. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God and yet they still brought Jesus up as a normal boy who needed to learn. What a temptation though, “Jesus is the Lord of the most high, he doesn’t need to go to Passover this year. He already knows everything. He wrote the scriptures. Let’s just go have a picnic. The countryside is beautiful at the time of the Passover.” No. It is the opposite, the stronger your faith the more you realize you need to learn more. Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew the importance of being faithful Jews who believed in the promise. But this reading is not about the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph but Jesus.
We can imagine the fright that Joseph and Mary might feel. They’ve been having to hide Jesus running from one part of the country to the other because the threats on Jesus’ life and now, “when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 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, 45 and when they did not find him They returned to Jerusalem.”
No angel comes in a dream to tell them where Jesus is. No star in the sky to find him. They search because they know they lost Jesus. An obedient child is easy to overlook. Should we also not search to find Jesus? Do you know that the devil is constantly trying to take Jesus from you? He doesn’t do it in open and obvious ways. And he doesn’t try to do it all at once. Little by little is how I often see the devil work to weaken people’s resolve. Is it not true that we are not as dedicated as Joseph and Mary to hearing the word of God? Do we not also chafe at having to learn God’s word? Isn’t there always some better way to spend your time? Search out Jesus. Don’t look for an angel or star in the sky, where is Jesus found? His father’s house. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Jesus is where his word is. Yes the author is learning his word. At age 12 a Jewish boy could then address the rabbi publicly. This is where we find Jesus. Mary finds Jesus too but misses the mystery of Jesus being born from her own womb. It is necessary that Jesus be in his father’s house.
That’s a fine translation but I like this translation better, “Do you not know it is necessary that I am doing my father’s business?” Jesus spoke this same way at his baptism when John the Baptism didn’t want to baptize Jesus. Jesus said, “It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” There are things that Jesus must do and being in his father’s house being taught and teaching the teachers is that very thing.
This is the great thing about this text today, where we sin and just can’t seem to always hunger for God’s word as students, Jesus does. Jesus is the perfect student and teacher on our behalf! When we might get bored in church or Sunday school, Jesus never did. His desire was to succeed where you have sinned.
Jesus’ life was lived perfect in every aspect so that he may give his life to you. His righteousness in your place. Jesus was patient even in the face of not knowing everything. Jesus even admitted he didn’t know all things when he was asked when the last day was Jesus said only the father knows. Jesus was ok with not knowing all things and being a student who lived by faith. Even for us, when we don’t exactly understand God’s word, rejoice in being a student. Rejoice that Jesus has purified your ignorance by baptism. Rejoice that salvation and the assurance of our salvation does not depend on how good of a student we are but on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That he was perfect. He earned your place in heaven. He was an obedient child to his earthly parents Joseph and Mary. This was all being about his father’s business. God is in the business of saving you.
There will be then another three days when everyone thinks Jesus is lost. That death has claimed him, that sin and the devil had won. But today’s reading is a preview that another Mary will find Jesus 3 days later, raised on Easter and as Mary pondered the events of today’s gospel so too we should ponder in our hearts and continue to learn the completeness of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. Your sins of laziness in learning God’s word, your losing patience as a teacher, your teenage years, all of it is forgiven in Jesus. That we too would not avoid being students but would with Solomon daily ask for wisdom. For wisdom is none other than Jesus himself. Jesus submits to Mary and Joseph, they lost him but he forgives them and he forgives you as well. It's not so much that Mary found Jesus, but Mary as she pondered these things was found by Christ. He didn’t die in vain, he has guaranteed that he has found you.
Have you ever asked God for a sign? By a sign I mean something that happens that you have attached special meaning to. Like God if I should do the dishes make a ufo crash in my yard. Have you ever bowed your head in all seriousness, settled your thoughts in your head, really focused and said, “God if I should take this job, give me a sign?”
Or “God if I should ask this girl out, give me a sign?”
Sometimes in life it can be hard to make decisions. Whether it be because we’re nervous or maybe we don’t feel like we’ve had enough time to reflect on certain decisions. We humans love certainty. Who can blame us in a world full of such uncertainty. Joseph surely thought he had his life on somewhat a certain path. He had found a woman who was marriage material. She was even of the lineage of David, royalty you could say.
You can imagine how happy Joseph was when Mary’s parents agreed to the marriage arrangement. That was Joseph’s certainty and answer to his question and probably prayers to God, “Should I marry this woman?” God gave him a sign by their faithful parents agreeing to the marriage. Now Joseph had a set amount of time to establish a home for he and Mary before they were fully married in the eyes of God. Joseph now had to show his worthiness to take Mary to be his wife. This was a sign to Mary and her parents that Joseph was a good man. A man of certainty. A man who was truly just.
Just when life was certainly going to go one way, Mary is found to be with child before they had come together. Now Joseph’s certainty had gone out the window. What he was certain of now was that Mary had been unfaithful. He was certain what his next steps in life were going to be. He didn’t need a sign to know what to do, divorce., he had God’s word. Sex outside of marriage is a sin and Joseph knew Mary was now not what she appeared to be.
There was no question Joseph was to divorce Mary, but what he finally decided was that he was going to do it quietly. You see Mary’s parents had given their approval, they gave a sign to Joseph, a promise with money attached to it that their daughter was a virgin and that they wouldn’t marry her off before giving Joseph a chance to prove his faithfulness and that he could provide a stable home. If they did allow Mary to marry someone else after this agreement, or Mary committed adultery, Joseph would get the money and Mary’s family name would be scorned. Joseph would have the right to publicly shame Mary’s family for their unfaithfulness.
Joseph though does something odd. He resolves to divorce her quietly. Quietly meaning though Mary won’t confess the truth of her supposed unfaithfulness he forgives her. He forgives her but will not marry her. He though will not punish her for her sin. Notice when he resolves to do this, before the angel comes to him and gives him a sign. Joseph is a just man. He is not a weak man, he still is faithful to God’s word, the divorce must happen. Joseph desires to be faithful to God’s word however he will not put Mary up for scorn. Maybe it’s because he thinks Mary might be telling the truth. He was a just man after all, a Christian, someone who believed God would send a Savior from the house of David of royal blood. Could Mary be telling the truth?
Before he can act though God gives Joseph a sign. Joseph didn’t even ask for a sign and God gives it. How gracious and merciful God is, giving so often before we can even ask. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” God’s word attached to something, a sign.
Perhaps part of the reason we are so willing to ask for signs from God is because we have a yearning to connect with God in real ways. In a world of uncertainty to have something certain. Something to grab onto, something, if you will to be the object of our faith. What sign would you ask for to tell you, everything is going to be alright? Don’t worry.
God has given signs all through history. There was the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden. God attached his word to that tree, “Do not eat, you will die.” There was also the tree of life.
God gave a sign to Adam and Eve, “Your offspring will crush the head of the serpent.” A sign with a promise attached.
There was the Exodus and Moses asking God for a sign that he should go to pharaoh. God said, “Throw down your staff.” And it turned into a snake. Put your hand in your cloak, it turned leperous.
God gave the Israelites a sign that he was with them, the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud by day and fire by night.
This brings us to our OT reading. You even hear the word sign. God tells King Ahaz, “Ask me for a sign.” God is inviting Ahaz to ask for a sign! And God puts no restrictions on the sign. As high as heaven, as low as Sheol. God has promised Ahaz he will bring them through these hard times the kingdom is facing. What does Ahaz do?
Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern kingdom. God had told the kings of Judah and Israel, “Do not look to foreign kings for protection. Live by faith in my promise to protect you.” But Ahaz would rather not live by faith. Ahaz wanted the securities of the other foreign kings. It wasn’t that Ahaz didn’t live by faith, it’s an uncertain world you have to believe in something, but what was the object of his faith? What did he want to trust in? He trusted in the kings, the power of his political posturing, he trusted in what his eyes wanted. Don’t we do the same? Isn’t it the things and powers of this life that allure our attention?
When the uncertainties of life rear their ugly head what is the temptation?
The temptation is to doubt God’s provision. To not hear God’s word, like Ahaz. To find signs of certainty in ourselves or in riches. To doubt his signs. God even gives Ahaz the chance to name the sign. God gives Ahaz the opportunity to hear the gospel! Ahaz should’ve asked to hear again the promises of God that would come true because God always keeps his word. But Ahaz didn’t want to hear that God is reliable. God is more trustworthy than any gift you will get this year. He is more dependable than anyone you’ve trusted in life. He will be good to his word.
This life is full of uncertainty. I’ve felt it and I know you have too. Many of you express your frustration, your uncertainty. You have shared with me the struggles, the uncertainties. The devil is active. He hates you. He hates God. He wants you to be uncertain. He wants you to not hear the word of God. He wants you to think you don’t really need God that there are more reliable things, like sleep or what you can buy or drink to deal with your uncertainty. But those are all uncertain in themselves. Or to repay hate with anger. To pretend like you have not caused uncertainty for someone else. WE’ve all done it.
But the thing for you to know is that you are not alone. Joseph wasn’t alone. Mary wasn’t alone. Even Ahaz was not alone. God is with his people and he loves to give signs. So what sign would you ask for? To know that everything is going to work out? To know that all your struggles all your stress. All your uncertainty? To know you are not alone. What sign from God would you ask?
Are you Ahaz? No I don’t want a sign. I’ll find my own false god. Well imagine that even before we have asked God has given a sign that he will not forsake you. The sign is not in the shape of a dollar sign. It’s not in the shape of power or might or the comforts in this life. The sign of God is the cross.
There is the sign for the whole world that God is merciful. That in Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world the uncertainty of sin and doubt is gone. Jesus was dead but is now alive.
In a world of uncertainty there is one thing that is always sure, God loves you. He gave his son to show you. The sign of the cross is that Jesus is true man and true God giving his life for your forgiveness. certainty that stands over all time and space.
What sign would you ask for to know that everything that God desires you to have he gives to you. Even before you ask for a sign? How about baptism? How about the Lord’s Supper?
This is why in all generations where uncertainty has shown it’s wickedness, the church runs to kneel at the altar of her Lord and asked the Lord for a sign of forgiveness. Knowing that God has not forsaken you. For the forgiveness of your sins. That is certain! Why doubt him?
God cannot lie. His faithfulness is to all generations. His faithfulness is to you!
So it is not out of God’s character to give a sign to Joseph. His word of promise. So he still now gives signs of his faithfulness. God doesn’t leave it up to us to ask for a sign, he gives us a sign written with the blood of his son. That’s what we see in this reading, God keeps his word. God keeps his promises and he still promises us just as he did to Joseph.
Ahaz didn’t want to trust God, Joseph did. Ahaz didn’t want hear of God’s promises. Joseph was glad to trust God. God’s promise, the sign he gave to Ahaz and to all who heard the word of God came true. A virgin conceived. What a sign! Would you have asked for a sign like that? Probably not. Too impossible. Too crazy. It’s not possible.
With God all things are possible. But what is even more amazing is the sign of the cross. That sinners are completely forgiven! That you dear saint can be certain. God has forgiven you. That your eternal life is certain. Death is not certain for you but life. That sinners are washed clean in water. Water that has a promise attached to it. That bread and wine give forgiveness of sins! These signs are the certainty of God’s love and mercy in an uncertain world.
Advent 3A – Rejoice for Christ is judged for your sins and you are free in him.
We suffer in life so that we are evermore being knit together with one another and grown in our faith.
Suffering for a crime you didn’t commit is considered one of the worst expiriences someone can go through. Emily and I went and saw the Mr. Rodgers movie, which was great, but in the previews we were shown a movie about an African American lawyer fresh out of law school in the 1980s who took it upon himself to go into the prisons beginning in Alabama and help free wrongly convicted black men. The movie is called Just Mercy and it looks like a great movie. The premise is part of what makes this such a great movie. That the innocent are treated as innocent and the guilty pay for their own crimes.
Today is rejoice Sunday. You’ve maybe noticed the candle we light today is pink instead of purple. Rejoice Sunday is a break in our somber advent reflections to remember that our advent frame of mind, that of repentance and making ourselves right to meet our Savior, is not how we will always be. When we die or Jesus returns, we no longer need to prepare ourselves to meet him. We will have run our race. Rejoice, your suffering is not long but short and what is it compared to the glory that awaits those who believe!
John the Baptist rejoiced when he first met Jesus, well, sort of. Luke says John jumped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary’s voice was heard. John was in utero and was given faith by the Holy Spirit. John hadn’t seen Jesus, he couldn’t he was still in the womb. John was still being formed and knit together grown by God until his birth. John heard, before he even saw, and he rejoiced.
Today our gospel reading is a little bit curious. Again, John is not seeing Jesus because John is in prison. But again, John hears, he hears about the deeds of Jesus. However, John isn’t quite ready to rejoice. It seems John is wondering what is going on with Jesus. Here John is in prison and perhaps he’s wondering if Jesus is the real deal. If Jesus is the Messiah why is he acting so un-Messiah like?
Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?
John had been preaching and baptizing. His advent greeting was not happy advent, happy holidays or even merry Christmas. John greeted folks with a hearty, “Repent you brood of vipers.” John had put his life on the line for preaching God’s word. He is in jail for telling Herod to obey the 6th commandment and not marry his brother’s wife. Herod arrested John and now John knows what is possible to happen to him. He’s basically on death row for following the law. The innocent in prison.
So you can imagine John’s question, “Are you the one to come or shall we look for another?”
Have you every poured energy and time into a project at work or even maybe at home or church for it to just go unnoticed or even not appreciated? You work weekends, you give your time, you tell your kids you can’t play with them or go to a birthday party, you pour yourself into something and the boss says, “Toss it. No good, in fact, you’re off the project.” We think this may be part of the doubt rising in John’s mind in regards to if Jesus is truly the Messiah.
Look at what John had dedicated his life to. He preached repentance. He called folks out to the Jordan to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He dressed in strange clothes. And what had all this got him? Jail and the murmurs that Herod’s illegal wife Herodias wanted him dead. Thanks a lot Jesus, if you are God you sure have a strange way to treat your best preacher. John had dedicated his life to preaching God’s word and look where it landed him.
There is a little comfort in these doubts of John for you and me. If John the Baptist sometimes wondered if God knew what he was doing, that means I’m in good company. You are in good company when you wonder, “Is God really helping me?” “Does God care?” “Is God there for me, because I sure don’t see him.”
Consider how Jesus addressed John’s doubts, the same way he brought John faith while they were both still in their mother’s wombs. Jesus preached the gospel to John, to knit him together, to grow him in faith, faith comes by hearting. Jesus announced to John while he was in prison, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”Jesus preached about his identity just as Mary did when she greeted Elizabeth and John was given faith by the holy spirit. “tell John what you see…” Tell John. Not break him out of prison. Not pay his bail but preach to him. Tell him of the mighty works of God. So for you and me. We are still if you will being grown in our faith by hearing the gospel. We still need to hear of who Jesus is, because this is how the Holy Spirit works.
We are in good company with John when we wonder about Jesus, “Is he the one or should I look for another?” We ask that same question when life may not be going as good as we hoped. Is Jesus my God? Am I ready to endure all and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Even suffer for doing what is right…1 Peter 3 says, “But even if you should suffer for doing right, you are blessed.” John is suffering for doing right, are you willing?
Kind of interesting that Jesus says today, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” You can rejoice when you suffer, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. How is that for reason to rejoice on this Pink Candle Sunday? This is offensive to our flesh. We think we are innocent. We believe we don’t deserve any suffering but that is a lie. It is precisely what we deserve for our sins. But God doesn’t finally judge us as guilty for our sins, Jesus was judged for your sins on the cross.
Jesus didn’t throw John in prison because he had done anything wrong but precisely because Jesus desired to knit John together in faith even more. To grow him as a child grows in her mother’s womb. So too you and me. In this life we are grown to trust God all the more by suffering. The more we suffer the more glorious salvation will be when we see indeed Jesus is who he says he is!
John rejoice. Why? Because Jesus is the promised one. Blessed are you John for you are suffering for doing right. Jesus will do offensive things. He will let you suffer. He calls you to repent. He will let you be defeated. But the most offensive of all in the eyes of the world, Jesus lets you off free from your sins. You who are guilty are freed! As if you have never sinned against God. The sinner forgiven. You released from your doubts and fears. Yes, this is already true for you today but you might sit in your prison with John a little while longer while Christ knits you together with each other. You helping one another and your neighbor. In Col 2 St. Paul tells the church, “hold fast to Christ the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
Rejoice, for your Savior comes to help you now through his word and sacrament. The same Holy Spirit that comforted and carried John in prison and in his mother’s womb comes to you. Not to make you acceptable to the world or help you make excuses, but to make new your hope. To knit you into his holy church. To re-new you in Christ’s baptismal promise of forgiveness.
Even in all sorrows chrisitans do rejoice. Joy is confidence that God is taking care of things. Joy doesn’t leave us content with this life but content to have God’s promise of forgiveness and deliverance.
A great movie is when the innocent are freed from being wrongly convicted. How much greater is it when the guilty are declared innocent? Not even Hollywood goes that far. Christ confessed to your sins for you to go free. Christ is your advocate, he has come to your defense by his cross and baptizing you into his innocence. Though you may suffer, rejoice for you will see God’s faithfulness.