We Lutherans don’t pray to saints, because the Bible teaches that there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. It is in Jesus’ name that we should ask our heavenly Father for all good things. Yet, our Lutheran Confessions do teach us that we should thank God for the saints and follow their example of faith and good works. So, it makes sense that we should thank God for the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus; give thanks for them, and follow their example of faith and good works.
Joseph was a good man. He had faith. He believed the word of the Lord from the angel when he told him not to fear to take Mary as his wife and to name the baby born to her, Jesus. He was a good husband to Mary and a good adoptive father to Jesus. He brought Mary and baby Jesus out of Bethlehem to Egypt when Herod sought to kill the child. He found a safe place for his family to live in Nazareth. And he no doubt taught his family the word of God at home as Scripture instructs us, “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
And the Evangelist tells us that Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem every year to observe the Passover, as the Lord directed them in his Word. They made the Commandments of the Lord their own personal habit. Joseph not only claimed to believe the Word of the Lord, he lived it. When Mary looked at her husband, she saw a man who lived as God directed him. She was confident that when she submitted to him as her husband, she was submitting to the will of the Lord.
Mary was a good woman. She had faith in the word of the Lord, whether it was spoken to her directly from an angel, told her by her husband Joseph, or taught her from the Bible itself. She went with her husband to a foreign land, Egypt, because she trusted in him and in the Lord. Even when she did not understand God’s word, she treasured it and pondered it in her heart. She loved her son and tried to do what was best for him. Mary and Joseph are good examples to us Christians.
Yet, Mary and Joseph were not sinless. They were sinners in need of a Savior. Joseph, to whom God gave the task to be guardian of his own Son, lost this Son placed under his care. Mary, who was favored above all women in human history to bear the Christ-child, lost him. Perhaps it was because they were so used to having such an obedient and well-behaved child that these parents grew so careless, but make no mistake about it: this scare is all their fault. It was their God-given job to keep track of the boy Jesus and take care of him. And so, Mary and Joseph are not only examples to us of good works and strong faith, but examples of God’s grace. God forgave Mary and Joseph their sins as he does ours.
The boy Jesus is a good example of good works as well. Now parental bias might immediately place the blame on twelve-year-old Jesus for not keeping up with his parents as they journeyed home. But Jesus did not sin by staying in the temple. Rather, even as a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus teaches us God’s Word. The First Commandment comes before the Fourth Commandment. The Fourth Commandment is, “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” The First Commandment is, “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Above all things includes parents.
Jesus indeed honored his earthly father and mother. He recognized that his parents received their authority from God. Yet, he also realized that you must obey God rather than men. Jesus had a heavenly Father, who had work for him to do. Jesus had to be about the things of his heavenly Father. He needed to be in his word. His parents should have known that.
This is the only story in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood apart from the stories of his infancy. It is an important story for you kids to listen to. Jesus knows exactly what it is like to be a twelve-year-old. He knows what it is like to have parents not understand him. He knows what it is like to obey his father and mother, do chores and do what they say. This means that Jesus is perfectly able to sympathize with you in everything you experience as a child.
And Jesus was the best child. He gladly and willingly learned God’s word and worshipped his heavenly Father. There is no child in history, who loved God more perfectly. It can be difficult for youths to humble themselves before their parents, but think of this. That twelve-year-old Jesus was literally the eternal Son of God, who created the universe with his Father. He left his throne in heaven from which he ruled from long before either of his parents were born. Yet, he went home and submitted to his parents. You think it’s difficult to swallow your pride before your parents? Our God, Jesus Christ, submitted himself to his earthly parents and did it gladly.
Yes, twelve-year-old Jesus certainly is a good example to all twelve-year-olds and children of all ages. Yet, unlike his parents, he is not a good example of a sinner. Jesus never sinned. And so, it is important for us to remember that Jesus is not simply an example for us to live by! Rather Jesus, even as a twelve-year-old boy is our Redeemer! The boy Jesus is on earth for the very purpose of saving us from our sins!
The Holy Family came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The Passover celebrated both a past and a future event. The past event was the Exodus of the People of Israel out of Egypt. God had every household in Israel prepare a male lamb without blemish and eat it with bitter herbs and smear its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their house, so that when the angel of death passed over, he would not kill the firstborn of the people of Israel. The people of Israel continued to celebrate this feast to remember how God rescued them from the Egyptians and did not kill their firstborns along with the Egyptian’s firstborns.
Yet, this meal also pointed to the future. The Passover lamb was a prophecy of Jesus Christ, who is the spotless Lamb of God, who has come to take away the sins of the world with his precious and innocent death on the cross. As Jesus sat among the teachers in the temple, marveling them with his understanding and answers concerning the Holy Scriptures, he certainly discussed the meaning of this Passover meal which they had just eaten, and the promise from God to send a Messiah, who would bear the iniquities of his people.
Jesus answered his frantic mother, “Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” The Greek literally says, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s things.” Jesus came to earth for the purpose of fulfilling his Father’s will to save us. He came to be the Passover Lamb, who would cause death to pass over us forever. For this reason, he needed to be without blemish and take our place. So Jesus grew in knowledge and understanding of God’s Words, even as he was obedient to his parents. And he did all this in obedience to his heavenly Father and to his earthly parents for us, who have been neither obedient to God nor to our parents as we should have been. This is Jesus being about his Father’s things.
It was to Mary that the angel Gabriel said of her son Jesus before he was born, “Therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy – the Son of God.” So, Mary should have known that Jesus would have been at his heavenly Father’s house. Yet, in her frantic state, she searched for Jesus and didn’t find him until the third day. Jesus told her plainly that she should have known that he had to be about his Father’s things, that is, his Heavenly Father’s things. About twenty-one years later a couple other Marys searched for Jesus on the week of the Passover after Jesus was crucified and buried. After three days, they looked for him in his tomb, but the angel said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you...”
The angel spoke to the Marys at Jesus’ tomb in that way for the same reason Jesus spoke to his mother the way he did at the temple. They should have known that Jesus’ tomb would be empty. Jesus told them all plainly that he would be crucified, die, and on the third day rise. Likewise, Mary should have expected to find Jesus in the temple doing the work of his Heavenly Father. The angel told her that this son born to her would be the Son of the Most High God.
God doesn’t leave it a mystery how we are to find Jesus. Jesus made a promise to his entire Church: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. He made this promise after commanding his disciples to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching and doing all that he commanded him. We find Jesus where his holy Word is taught. We find Jesus where the Sacraments, which he instituted are rightly administered: Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. When we search in other places for Jesus, we behave as foolishly as Mary and Joseph did when they momentarily forgot who Jesus was. Jesus is in his Father’s house. Jesus is doing his Father’s work. The work of the Father is the redeeming and saving of sinners. Sinners are redeemed and saved when their sins are forgiven. Where Jesus’ word is preached and where his Sacraments are administered, that is where Jesus is doing the Father’s work.
We husbands and fathers learn from Joseph what sort of men we should be. We should protect our wife and children from the dangers of this world; we should teach them the Word of God faithfully at home; and we should make it our family’s habit to attend worship faithfully, so that we may grow in faith and have our sins forgiven. You wives and mothers learn from the Virgin Mary what sort of women you should be. You should trust in the Word of the Lord, treasuring and pondering it in your heart even when you do not yet understand it; you should submit to your husband in fear of the Lord and encourage him to do his God-given duty of teaching God’s word to the family and taking the family to church; and you should love and care for the children God has given you. And we learn from both of these saints that we should humble ourselves before God and receive forgiveness for all our failings as spouses and parents.
And we all learn a lot from this boy Jesus. We learn that he has come to redeem us from our sins, to be the Passover Lamb without blemish, whose blood sets us free from sin, death, and hell. And we learn from this boy where we should be. Last week we learned how in Baptism we become children of God, being clothed in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. Here we learn that children of God must be about their Father’s things, in his house. We learn from Jesus that we should continue to learn God’s holy Word and grow in faith each day. God grant this to us all until we enter our Father’s heavenly home, where we will dwell with this same Jesus forever. Amen.