We have only this one story from the time of our dear Lord’s childhood between His Holy Nativity and His Holy Baptism. But if it is at all typical of those years, then we must agree with Dr. Luther that rearing the sinless Son of God was a Cross for St. Mary and St. Joseph to bear! So is it often the case that your greatest honor and blessing can also be among your heaviest burdens, as well.
On this occasion St. Mary is reminded that her precious and precocious young Son belongs not to her but to His Father in heaven. That is uniquely true in the case of her Son, to be sure. But do you not also pray that it would be so for your children, as well, that they should be the Lord’s. And yet, you must also be prepared, along with dear St. Mary, for the burden of that blessing, which is indeed granted to you and your children through Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son.
Today, as you can well imagine, there is the Cross in Mary’s sorrow and anxiety over her missing twelve-year-old Boy. In the first place, there is the normal anxiety of any parent over a lost child. For those three days of anxious searching, increasingly fearing the worst, it is as though He were dead — until He is finally “raised again” for Mary and Joseph when they find Him in the Temple.
They find Him on “the Third Day,” which is by no means a minor detail of chronology, nor merely a coincidence. In the Holy Gospels, “the Third Day” is always the Day of the Resurrection. But there is first of all the Cross and the tomb. It is likewise often the case that God allows you to wait and “hunger” for a while, before He reveals and gives Himself to you within His Church of the Gospel-Word and Sacraments. And then it is for you the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the death of His Cross — and it is your own resurrection from the dead in Him — on the Third Day!
In the specific case of this Holy Gospel, there is also the additional anxiety that St. Mary must have felt in view of her responsibility for the very Son of God, her Lord, the Messiah. Salvation itself — not only for St. Mary, but for all the world — suddenly seemed to be at stake and in jeopardy, all because of her failure to keep the Lord Jesus in her sights and to hang on to Him. And it is certain that, if salvation really did depend upon St. Mary, or any of us, then all would be lost!
Adding insult to injury, there is the guilt that descends upon you and accuses your conscience when things go wrong, because you know that you have failed in your duties and responsibilities, and that you have failed to keep the Lord Jesus in your sights and to hang on to Him for dear life.
Like Mary and Joseph then, you may suppose you know where Jesus is. In the hustle and bustle of a your hectic life, you simply assume that He is there, too, in the midst of all your busyness. And so long as things appear to be going smoothly, you see no reason to worry. But when you turn your back and leave the Church and the Word of God behind, you are not with Christ Jesus, and you do not know where He is. Yet, at first, you may not even realize that you are without Him.
When you are then confronted with the reality of your situation — perhaps by some tragedy, or sadness, or hardship, or sin — perhaps by the fear and panic of a lost or missing child — then, because your fallen and perishing flesh is subject to the accusation and condemnation of the Law, and you are prone to evaluate your place on the basis of your own works and achievements, you wonder if God has now written you off and given up on you. Along the same lines, St. Mary also may have wondered — as she frantically searched for her Jesus — whether God the Father would now decide that she was no longer worthy or responsible enough to care for His incarnate Son.
That is what your guilt and shame will do to you. It is one of Satan’s most powerful and effective tools, leading you away from faith and confidence in the gracious mercy and forgiveness of your dear Lord Jesus Christ to the doubt and despair of your own works and your own righteousness — which is to be cast upon the hopeless misery of sin, death, and hell. And at that point, because you are already set upon the wrong track, you go about looking for Jesus in all the wrong ways.
That is what happened with Mary and Joseph, when they finally discovered His absence and set about trying to find Him. They started out looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. They sought Him in what was already comfortable and familiar to them. They expected to locate Him among their family and friends. But in all of that, they kept on coming up empty. And so also for you. Those are not the places where Christ Jesus is present for you. That is not where He is to be found. But how often don’t you attempt to find the Lord Jesus in all the “wrong places” of your own life?
In fact, the answer to St. Mary’s sorrow, anxiety, and guilt is not discovered in her own striving, no matter how earnest and well-intentioned it might be. The answer is found only in Christ Jesus. There is no peace or rest at all without Him. And He is found only in the Temple of His Church, in the hearing of His Word — where you are likewise granted to seek and to find the Lord Jesus.
“Why is it that you are seeking Me?” That is the question that Jesus poses this morning. But it is a rhetorical question. To whom else shall you go? The Lord Jesus alone has the Word of Life!
To begin with, today there is the example of Jesus Himself — living your life in the flesh, as you must live in Him — remaining in the Temple of His Church, even when His nearest and dearest kin have left. So must you remain and abide with Him, even if everyone else might go away.
There is also the lesson to be learned and taken to heart, that St. Mary and St. Joseph find the Lord Jesus, and they find all of their answers in Him, only when they have returned to His Church in Jerusalem and look for Him there, that is, in His Temple, in the speaking and hearing of His Word.
To reiterate this absolutely crucial point, the Lord Jesus is not found among the relatives and acquaintances, but in the Temple, in the Lord’s House, in the City of God. For you now, in the New Testament, it is Christ Jesus Himself who has actually become the new, divine, and eternal Temple of God in His own Body, crucified and risen. He is found, therefore, in the Temple of His Church on earth, in the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Flesh and Blood.
So it is that you are here called to follow the example of the sinless, almighty, all-knowing Son of God, who humbled Himself to sit at the feet of His teachers and pastors, in order to hear and learn His own Word from them. He likewise submitted Himself in obedience to His earthly parents, to His Mother Mary and His Guardian Joseph. He kept the Third and Fourth Commandments in holy faith and holy love. And you no less are also called to humble yourself and submit to those authorities whom God the Lord has placed over you in this body and life on earth, and to hear and learn His Word from those teachers and pastors whom He has placed over you within His Church.
Now, it will always be the case that those who hear the Word of Christ Jesus — who seek and find Him in His Church — must be astonished and amazed by Him and His Word. For the Lord is so very different from all the standards and expectations of the world and your own sinful reason. Truth be told, His divine and holy Wisdom is foolishness to you and all the world around you.
So, then, what is it that you hear and receive from the Word of the Lord in this Holy Gospel?
First of all, you are taught to know the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is and what He does for you. And then you are also taught what this means for you and your children in living the Christian life.
Every Pastor is asked, just as St. John the Baptist, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Apostles were asked, “What should we do?” Certainly, as a Christian you know that you ought to be doing something to serve the Lord, His Church, and your neighbors in the world. And the answer to the question is once more found in Jesus. Indeed, you have His own example here for you and your children.
Simply put, you have the example of the Lord’s own obedience to the Ten Commandments — to the First, Third, and Fourth, in particular, which bid you to hear and heed the Word of God from both your pastors and your parents, and to fear, love, and trust in the Lord above everything else.
In this light, therefore, the first and most important answer to the question, “What should we do?” is one that contradicts the inclinations of your sinful heart, which otherwise assumes that you must do something for God or give something to Him in order to obtain His favor. But, no, in absolute contrast to such reasoning, the answer is that you must listen to His Word and hear what He has to say; that you are to seek and pray for all things from Him, by grace alone, through faith in His Word; and that you are to receive His good and gracious gifts with thanksgiving. It’s not what you do or give or say to Him that matters, first of all, but what He does and gives and says to you.
All of which is to say (as Christ Jesus Himself demonstrates for you today) that the most essential thing you are given to be doing as a child of God is to be in His House, hearing His Word, and receiving the Holy Sacrament of His incarnate Son. That is where and how you will find Him and all the answers that you need — in the Holy Temple of His Church, in His own flesh and blood.
As Jesus says, “Do you not know that it is divinely necessary for Me to be in My Father’s House?” Or, as some English translations legitimately put it, “to be about My Father’s business.”
Here again is the implicit recognition, first of all, that you and your children belong to God. And as such, there is a divine necessity that you and your children must also be about the business of your Father in heaven — that is, to be in His House, in His Word, in the Body of His Son.
To parents is thus given the additional responsibility, not only to hear and heed the Word of the Lord for themselves, but also to bring their children to the Temple of His Church, where they too may hear and learn His Word and receive His gifts. And as the Temple in Jerusalem has been replaced by the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, and His Body is the Holy Church, parents bring their children to the Temple first of all through Holy Baptism — wherein they are buried with Christ in His death and raised in His Resurrection. In this way parents “lose” their children in the Temple, they entrust them to their own God and Father in heaven. Of course, parents still have the responsibility to rear their children in the fear and faith of God, to feed and clothe and otherwise care for them in wisdom and stature. But they must also leave them in the Temple to be about their Father’s business — which is to say, to be hearing His Word and receiving His Word-made-Flesh.
In this alone is found their forgiveness and life and salvation — because of the divine necessity that Jesus Christ from Nazareth, in particular, had to be about His Father’s business, that is, to give Himself over completely to God on behalf of sinners, and to humble Himself as a Servant even unto the death of His Cross. In those divine works, you are not called to follow His example but simply to receive, along with your children, the gifts and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.
And from His Cross and Resurrection, you may best follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary in faith and love, as St. Luke has portrayed her in his Holy Gospel. For by the grace of God she sought and found the dear Lord Jesus in the Temple, in His Word. And having thus received Him in and with His Word, she kept Him close to her and pondered His Word as a treasure in her heart. You also are given His Word — the Word of His Gospel, and the Word-made-Flesh in the Feast of His Body and Blood. For Christ, our true Passover, has been sacrificed. He is your Temple and your great High Priest, in whom you have all peace and joy and the Life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.