Jan 3, 2016 – the infinite God in a finite Child
This first week of the New Year I’ve been filing away sermons from the last several weeks and as I did so it occurred to me just how many hundreds of sermons I’ve preached. And though my sermon style has changed over the years, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ dying on the cross and rising again for our justification, hasn’t changed. And hopefully that message has gotten clearer and more sharply in focus as I’ve preached. Every day when I put on my seminary ring I’m reminded by the inscription on the inside, of the words of the Greeks to Philip in John 12: 21,“We would see Jesus”.
Those words remind me that, like those Greeks asked of Phillip, it’s important that I remember that it’s Jesus that needs to be heard from through what I say, and not me. It wasn’t Phillip that the Greeks wanted to hear from, and it’s not me that you need to hear from. It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus and His words are what we all need to hear and learn from. “We would see Jesus” are words that help us all to remember to ‘get out of the way’ so that Jesus can be seen through us by how we all speak and live. We want to point others to Him and not to ourselves. We want His light to shine, not our own.
On the Irish Sea coast I understand there’re twin lighthouses, set about 500 feet apart on opposite sides of an estuary. There’s a powerful light in one of the lighthouses, but the other only has prisms and mirrors that reflect the light from the first lighthouse. Yet from a distance, both seem to shine the same. In a similar way, God’s great love in Jesus Christ can be reflected through our lives, to others because His great love has first been poured into us.
And in the coming year our pointing to Jesus, our reflecting His light and love, is going to be important for those that we meet in our day-to-day lives. In the year to come, others need to see in us, by how we live, act and speak; they need to understand the hope that God gives to them through Jesus and His love for them. They’ll only be able to see that light of Christ through the hope in Jesus that you express through the words and actions of your life.
Also in the coming year there are some words from the gospel reading today and from the Christmas Eve gospel lesson to bear in mind. I’ve got a friend who’s said that today’s gospel reading is like a soap opera in one way. Just a few days ago we were seeing Jesus as the newborn infant and now we’re talking about Him as a 12 year old boy. That kind of time compression is something we see in stories and tv shows.
But the words about Mary from today’s lesson are ‘and His mother treasured up all these things in her heart’ and from Christmas Eve we were told, ‘Mary pondered all these things in her heart.’ How those words are important for the coming year for us is, that we will be spending much time in the gospel of Luke and such words as these have led many understand that Mary herself was the source of much of Luke’s information in writing portions of his gospel account. And his gospel account is written from the perspective of someone speaking to a Greek thinking audience. That’s you and I; we’re Greek type thinkers, not so much Hebrew. So our time in this gospel account can only help to aid us as we seek to, as we said before, to reflect the light of Christ into the lives of our fellow Greek thinking friends, neighbors and families much like Phillip and his Greek friends.
Like I said, my sermons have changed; but the word of God has not changed. God’s word will change you, but It never changes! I bring this up today because, in the gospel lesson, we hear the boy Jesus speaking the word of God in the temple. We hear Jesus, at 12 years old, confounding the elders, the wise, grey heads sitting there with Him. His words, even at that age, carried with them the authority and truth that was recognized by those old heads, as words that reflected the true light of scripture.
Again, though my sermons have changed – Jesus’ word has never changed. And the world around you and I needs to hear His word today as clearly as they did in the temple on that day. This Boy that they see is the infinite God in the form of this finite Child. And His word alone is what purifies, renews and makes whole that which was broken down and rotted through thoroughly by sin. In other words, His word alone cleanses us.
Michael W. Smith, a Christian musician has a song with these lyrics: is there a way to unlearn, that carnal knowledge that keeps chipping away at my soul. That “carnal knowledge” that Smitty speaks of is what works to break us, to soil and dirty us; from the day we’re born. We have carnal knowledge, knowledge that tries to limit us to only what our bodies desire or need; to confine us to the sensual, which chips away and grinds us down, and pummels us under its unrelenting attack. But in our spirits, made alive through the new birth in our baptisms, in our spirits, we desire for there to be purity where we’ve not had it before.
We want think that we were once so innocent. We want to think that we were like Jesus as we see Him standing there before the wise men of the temple in the gospel lesson today. But we were never that pure, innocent or clean. Unlike Him, we’ve always had the sinful nature of defiled carnality within us. Even from birth. We’ve just grown more sophisticated in how we use it, hide it and adapt to it. We’re lost in sin.
We’re like the village idiot who people kept stopping on the street and asking to pick between a nickel and dime to see which is worth more. He would always pick the larger coin, the nickel, and the people would walk away saying, see what an idiot, he took the nickel. But later in life the ‘idiot’ said that if he’d starting picking out the dimes, people would stop giving him money. He’d found a way to adapt, to hide. And that’s what we’ve done; we’ve found ways to hide our sin, to adapt our carnal knowledge to our surroundings so we think we can et away with what we think we want in this dark world we live in.
It’s only the purity of Jesus Christ that can cleanse us of that. We can never scrub away the rot and filth that our carnal knowledge has attached to us through its unrelenting attacks and our giving in to it. We can never bring ourselves to the light and the purity we long for. That purity is what we see in the gospel today, in Jesus giving His answers full of wisdom and understanding.
And notice that it isn’t only to the elders that he speaks. In fact Jesus’ first recorded words are found here in today’s lesson and those are to His parents. And notice that His questions to His parents make a reference to the God of heaven being His father.
These first words from Jesus’ lips are a testament to His being the Son of God! These words are an affirmation of Jesus as the incarnation, of His being fully man and fully God. Of the many false teachings and heresy’s surrounding Jesus from the earliest days down to today is that Jesus was a man who was somehow specially blessed by God. That heresy is defeated by these words from Jesus. Again Jesus is speaking words of purity and light to both His parents and to the elders and teachers.
And we long for that light and purity for ourselves. Again, it is not, nor has it ever been, within us to do or accomplish that on our own. And that’s what drives us to need what Jesus offers.
He gives us that purity, as a gift, through His willing and chosen sacrifice for us. I can’t imagine what it was like for Jesus to live in human flesh as He did. He gave up His divine prerogatives and His holy place in heaven to live among us who struggle in the dark with the carnal knowledge we live with. He was surrounded by us here on earth and yet He remained free of sin’s stain. Though He bore the weight of all our sin He did so without ever sinning Himself. He never succumbed to the temptation of sin and its power that chips away at our souls.
To live as He did, bound up in human flesh, and yet be pure God and wholly divine is not something we can fully grasp. He lived and was worshipped in heaven as the eternal Son of God and yet… He set all that aside to live with us inside time and space. He was the infinite God in a finite Child. He who created time and space now lived as this son of Joseph and Mary, within the confines of flesh and blood, the very flesh and blood He designed and brought into being. This Boy we see standing in the temple this morning was the God of the universe who had to live within the constraints of the day-by-day and moment-by-moment lives we all live. He was the limitless power that created and sustains the world Who now lived in the mundane and limited confines of time.
And so He patiently… patiently beyond our knowing, He patiently answered the elders’ questions. He who appeared as a child was in fact answering questions that to Him would have been childlike from these elders. These ‘wise sages’ were asking the God of the universe things that to them were profound. And yet Jesus in His divinely infinite patience answered them all and appeared to their old eyes, only as a precocious child. They couldn’t grasp that this Child standing before them was indeed older than all of them, infinitely more so because it was He that created the time in which we all live.
He created time, life and light. And as we said it’s His light that we desire to have shine through our lives in our time. God chose to confine Himself to live as we do in the child Jesus and to give us His new life won by the work of the man Jesus on the cross. Remember what it was the condemned Jesus to death before the religious leaders of His day.
It was very much like the words He speaks to His parents today. He makes it known; He makes it clear that He is the Son of God. His words, His first recorded words as well as the words that condemn Him form a sort of frame or bookends, if you will; for all that we’ll be reading about in the life and ministry of Jesus this year. The words today, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house” and the words later in Luke 22:70-71 “They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’ Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from His own lips.”
Those lips that spoke both things, which condemned Him to death, are the lips that speak life and peace to us. They speak His holy light and life into our lives. Our baptismal life that we have is His new life in us by His word alone. And that’s what we long for others to know as well. His word never changes nor does He ever leave us in the dark.
We have, in His Word, the life and light living in us through His power poured out on us in our baptism. Let us live this New Year shining out His light to others so they too can stand in wonder with the elders at Jesus, the infinite God, in a finite child.
In His name Who is our Light, life and Peace, amen.
Sermon #803 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading 1 Kings 3:4-15
4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.
Epistle Ephesians 1:3-14
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Holy Gospel Luke 2:40-52
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.