I am always surprised at how multivalent (fancy word for many valid levels) the scriptures are. A Protestant temptation, and a temptation of “smart” people, is to think that there is only one interpretation or reading that is best. For this text, Jesus in the temple, that “best” reading usually focuses on the distinction between the boy Jesus and the “teachers of the law”. And that is not an invalid way of thinking about the text. But I owe a big debt to Luther for this view, and I think it is a perfect example of the pastoral Luther. Luther put aside the immediately obvious Law and Gospel distinction, to focus on the situation of Mary. Mary who for three days has lost God. The core question is where do we find consolation, where do we find God?
This sermon ponders a bit why God would put his “most highly favored” in such suffering situations. And it then puts forward how we find consolation in such times, and how we should prepare for the crosses of life.
There are five week of Epiphany this year. Epiphany is a season on the church’s calendar that stretches from the end of the Christmas Season (Jan 6th, the 12 days of Christmas) until the beginning of Lent. The older purpose of Epiphany was the slowly dawning realization of the divinity of Jesus. Not only was this Christmas Child true man born of the Virgin Mary, but also true God made of the same substance as the Father. The traditional reading for the last week of Epiphany was Transfiguration. It is a season constructed around a theology from below – starting with what we know, Jesus, and moving toward a full epiphany of the Christ.
And Christology, the understanding of the person and nature of Jesus, is always a good thing. If you’ve got your Christology off, everything else goes strange. But Christology is not what afflicts us today. It is easy to look at the creeds and sort out true doctrine from false. Our afflictions today are down in that 3rd article of the creed. And they swirl around a question and its derivatives: How do we find God?
The 5 week epiphany season is a short one this year, but the lessons we will be reading all lend themselves to reminding ourselves a couple of key truths. We might be asking How do we find God, and the magi I’m sure were thinking they were on a quest to find the child, but as the story makes clear, we tend to be hopelessly lost and mess things up. In this world the Word finds you. And How does the Word find you? Word and Sacrament and the people created by those promised things. The Epiphany I’m preaching toward this season is the one that Jacob had – “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it (Gen 28:16).” The Lord is present, we can meet the Lord, in some very specific ways instituted by God himself that continue to carry His promises for us. They always have carried His promises, even when we didn’t know it. Next week’s text? The Baptism of Jesus.