It probably will seem odd to many people, especially those who are joining us on-line, that I’m preaching yet another Christmas themed sermon. In my defense, let me point out that today is only the ninth day of Christmas. Because those who are driven by the secular calendar have been celebrating Christmas since November, and maybe even October, they might be getting tired of hearing “Merry Christmas,” and are ready to talk some football. But for those of us who remembered Advent, and held off lighting our Christmas Trees until December 24, the joy of Christmas is unabated. So, yes, I’m preaching another Christmas themed sermon.
Our Gospel lesson is a portion of the story of Jesus that might not be well known beyond the Church. There are no shepherds. There are no wise men. There is no Bethlehem. There is no manger. There is even no King Herod or flight into Egypt. To be honest, in a strict sense, this isn’t really a Christmas story. It is a story about Jesus when he was 12-years-old and can easily be thought of as an Epiphany story.
Before we actually look at the story, let us look at how Luke frames the story. He begins by writing, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” Then we have the story. Luke ends by writing, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” You don’t have to be a literary critic to see that Luke has basically said the same thing twice. It is a standard convention for saying; the story begins here and ends there. It is also intended to tell us the main point for the telling of the story. We find such literary devices all over in the Bible and we are wise to pay attention to them.
Leading up to this story, in Luke’s Gospel, we have the stories about the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. We have wonderful songs used to this very day, like the Nunc Dimittis and the Magnificat. All such stories point to the uniqueness of Jesus. He is already introduced as the Son of the Father and the Savior of the world. In the words of Simeon, we even have the death of Jesus foreshadowed (Luke 2:34-35). The shedding of his blood actually begins in these stories with his circumcision (Luke 2:21). But then, except for this story, the Bible falls silent about Jesus until he is baptized by John, when he was about thirty years old (Luke 3:21).
So this is it. The childhood of Jesus summed up in one story. In it we discover that Jesus was raised in a pious family. This comes as no surprised. Joseph was described as a “just” or “righteous” man. This means that he was a faithful believer, who trusted in the Lord and the promises made in the Old Testament. In our story we see a picture of Joseph living out his faith, taking his family on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Christmas wisdom means leading your family as a Christian, faithful in Church attendance, just like the Holy Family. We have all heard people claim they no longer attend Church because their parents forced them to attend as children. They are either telling us a bald faced lie, or they are deceived. I went to Church most every Sunday growing up, and I didn’t leave the family of God. Most of us here have the same story. We bless God for our Jesus loving parents and the training we received. Something else has driven these people from the Church. Maybe they have been disturbed that Christians are not perfect and so they have seen Christians not behaving like Christ wants us to. Maybe they have been disturbed by detractors of the Bible. Maybe they have been lured away by the empty promises of the world. There are other possibilities. Whatever the reason, it isn’t because they were regularly exposed to the love of God in Christ Jesus as children.
Another bit of Christmas wisdom comes from observing that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. The stature comment means that Jesus developed as a regular person. As a baby he learned how to crawl. He then learned how to walk. He learned how to talk, read, and so on. He had chores to do around the home, just like all the other children. As he grew, he was submissive to his parents. That means, in part, that he worked with Joseph, learning a trade. His parents worried about him, just like parents worry about their children today. He was not always understood by his parents, just like children feel today that their parents do not understand them.
Jesus growing in wisdom indicates that he paid attention in school, which would have included, not just reading and writing, but also religious training. He learned his Bible lessons. Not surprisingly, as our story indicates, he actually had a better grasp of the word of God than his teachers as time went on. In spite of this, he did not flaunt his wisdom. He demonstrated appropriate humility for his age.
This growing in wisdom and stature reflects the true humanity of Jesus, just as his birth does, Jesus is going through this so that he can completely identify with us. The writer of Hebrews records about Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is including the childhood of our Lord. I might add that, while Jesus never married, he nonetheless knew what family life was like as he grew up in a family.
This growing in wisdom and stature reflects one of the great mysteries of our Lord. How can he who knows all things grow in wisdom? This is part of the mystery of the incarnation. The divine Word limits himself during the incarnation so that he can grow-up in a human way. What he would know according to his divine nature, he does not know according to his human nature. There were, of course, times when Jesus let a bit of his divine glory peek through, but those times where the exception. Generally speaking, he learned about human nature from the Bible, not from divine foreknowledge. When that divine glory did peek through, it was always to further his mission as our Savior.
Christmas wisdom, then, includes gazing upon our Lord and understanding just how much he was willing do for our salvation. The Creator of the universe became part of his creation. The Immortal became mortal. The Almighty became a weak baby. He who knows all became one who learned in school. He who is Eternal, became born in time. He who is the giver of the Law, lived under the Law. He who is the source of all, depended on Joseph and Mary for all his needs. The Creed sums this up very tightly with the words, “who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”
There is one more bit of Christmas wisdom we find in this story. The learned men of the Temple did not understand who was in their midst. He looked like any other country boy. The shepherds came to the manger to visit the newborn king because the angels made an announcement to them. No one else showed up that night. That is because, to the outward eye, there was nothing unique about the birth of another child into the world. The wise men from the east saw a star, but they had to learn the meaning of the star from the scriptures the Jews in their kingdom had with them. In every case we see that the revelation of just who Jesus is comes from divine intervention. Without that, we would explain away everything about Jesus.
We see this in the adult life of our Lord. When Jesus was about his earthly ministry, he did many mighty works and signs. They begged for an explanation. Some explained it by saying he was John the Baptist, others said he was Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14). Some even said Jesus did his work by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of the demons (Matthew 12:24). The point is that fallen humanity will find any reason more satisfying than the truth to explain Jesus. So,I’ve read foolish men who claim the Biblical account of Jesus is influenced by pagan myths and not a record of what happened. The resurrection of Jesus is simply a recasting of Egyptian myths. The birth of Jesus is a recasting of Greek and Roman myths. The silly ideas go on.
Christmas wisdom recognizes that our faith is created by divine intervention. Human reason does not abide with the idea that the Almighty and Eternal God was born of a virgin in a troublesome Roman province two thousand years ago. Only God the Holy Spirit can, and does, work faith in us. As we confess in the Small Catechism, the Holy Spirit calls gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. The scholars Jesus was speaking with in our story didn’t recognize him as their Lord; so have all struggled who rely on human wisdom instead of Christmas wisdom.
One final bit of Christmas wisdom; Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the Temple. Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the worshiping community. This is where Jesus continues to be found today. This brings us full circle with the observation that the Holy Family went to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Passover. Today we continue to find Jesus in the Church, the worshiping community. There are those who believe worshiping with other believers is not important. They are wrong. It is so important that Jesus made it one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8). It is so important that it was a regular part of Jesus’ life growing up. It was so important that it was part of Jesus regular practice as an adult (Luke 4:16). It is so important that the writer of Hebrews could say, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
Christmas wisdom finds the manger in the Church. Christmas wisdom fines Jesus teaching in the Church. Christmas wisdom finds our crucified Lord in the Church. Christmas wisdom finds our risen Lord in the Church. Christmas wisdom finds our ascended Lord in the Church. Christmas wisdom finds heaven and our Lord at the right hand of the Father, in the Church. Christmas wisdom finds the assembled believers ready for the Second Come, the resurrection of the dead, and ready for the life to come.
May the Holy Spirit inspired Christmas wisdom be in each one of us. Amen.