Sunday, January 3, 2021

Second Sunday after Christmas

Second Sunday after Christmas (B)

January 3, 2021

Text: Luke 2:40-52

            Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.  Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.  The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Prov. 4:5-7; ESV).

            Thanks to Google, we have an inexhaustible body of knowledge at our fingertips.  Knowledge is the acquisition of bare facts and data, the who, the what, the where.  If we dig a little deeper, and actually read and research the subject of our knowledge, we may come into possession of understanding.  That is, we may begin to grasp the meaning of a thing, the how and the why of it.  But wisdom… wisdom is something else again.  Wisdom is to discern what is right and true, what is good and beautiful, and to order our lives accordingly.  It is to know what to do with knowledge and understanding, how to respond to what you know, and how to think about it.  You can know a lot of things, and even understand them, but that does not yet make you wise.  Think of the stereotypical mad genius, or even the so-called “progressive march of science.”  For example, a scientist may know about editing genes for designer babies, and he may understand how to do it, and why someone might desire it.  But only wisdom can determine whether or not it ought to be done, whether it is ordered according to what is true and good.  We may know how to create more embryos in a petri dish than we ever intend to use, but wisdom must weigh the rightness and wrongness of the thing, whether it is good, in light of the truth that nascent human beings will die in the process.  Only wisdom can ask the question whether the thing under consideration actually advances the good.  Or whether it will, in fact, lead further away from the good, toward godless disaster.  Mere knowledge, as it turns out, simply puffs up, as St. Paul warns us (1 Cor. 8:1).  In fact, when it comes to science, and so many other things, as a society, we value knowledge above all else, understanding somewhat less so, and wisdom not at all.  And we get the order precisely backward!  We think if we know how to do something, we should do it, and that is called “progress” or “scientific advancement.”  But we never stop to ponder the good of it, or whether there is any good in it.  Well, I’m no prophet, but I have a good idea we’re going to have a whole lot of hell to pay as a result.

            God’s Wisdom, though, is the true Wisdom, and that is a Wisdom beyond all human reason.  For God’s Wisdom is not simply a matter of ethical deliberation.  God’s Wisdom is an attribute essential to His Nature.  It is personified in the Spirit, enfleshed in Jesus.  And so, what we call “godly wisdom” among human beings is nothing less than a spiritual gift.  God bestows it on His children, to be received, like all spiritual gifts, by faith.  Now, natural man cannot receive this Wisdom.  That is, man in his fallen state, before conversion.  This is the point Paul makes in 1 Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).  Thus God says through the Prophet Isaiah: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Is. 55:8).  So, while worldly wisdom can be attained by some amount of effort under the right circumstances, God’s Wisdom is bestowed by the Holy Spirit.  It can only be received as the Father gives it by His Spirit in Christ.  And we know where He does that.  He does it by His Word.

            Twelve-year-old Jesus amazes all who hear Him with His understanding and answers (Luke 2:47).  He is filled with wisdom (v. 40), and He increases in it (v. 52).  I’ve always found that juxtaposition fascinating.  He is filled with it, He already has it, and yet He increases in it, His wisdom grows.  I think this is an indication of our Lord’s two natures, divine and human.  As God, the Son possesses all Wisdom from eternity.  It is His attribute.  In fact, He is the Wisdom of God.  But as Man, He grows in it.  He learns.

            The same juxtaposition marks our own life in Christ.  We are given this Wisdom of God as a gift when we are baptized into Christ.  The Spirit comes upon us and we are filled with His Wisdom as a trait of the Christian family.  But then, there is no question that it must grow in us.  It must increase and be molded and shaped and honed.  This happens as you are immersed in God’s Word, where you learn what is right and true and good and beautiful, what is of Christ.  And then that is refined by school of experience as you bear the holy cross.  That drives you to desire more and more Wisdom.  Like Solomon in our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 3:4-15), you plead with God to grant you an understanding mind, and really what you are asking for is Wisdom from above, godly Wisdom that can respond to all the challenges.  Now, this Wisdom is still a gift of course.  God gives you this Wisdom in His Word and Sacraments, and it is received by faith.  But then also it is exercised by the Spirit as it works its way in your life.  This is what the Psalmist means when he teaches us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” that is, faith; and “all those who practice it,” that is, live according to that Wisdom as it is imparted in God’s Word, “have a good understanding” (Ps. 111:10).   

            Now, sometimes, when the cross is particularly heavy, you search for this Wisdom in desperation… as though you didn’t know where to find it!  Now you are like Mary and Joseph, anxiously searching for their lost Boy.  But you should know, as they should have known, precisely where to find Him: In God’s House, among the teachers, immersed in God’s Word, where the sacrifice is for sinners.  Jesus has this way of pointing out our silliness, as He so often did with His disciples, and as He does here with His parents.  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49).  That is how our version renders it, and it is certainly a fine translation, but another possibility is, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?  Or, perhaps more literally, “Did you not know that I must be among the things of my Father?  I like that one, and it actually includes all of the above.  There is Jesus, in His Father’s House, doing His Father’s business, among the things of His Father, which is to say, in the Father’s Word and the sacrifice for sins.  And think about that: The Word Incarnate in the Word!  Wisdom Incarnate, full of Wisdom and understanding, growing in Wisdom by means of the Word!  The Holy Parents should have known, and you should know.  Do you want to find Wisdom?  You will find it in the Word, and where the Sacrifice is for your sins. 

            Mary and Joseph frantically search for their dear Son.  They assumed Him to be among the crowd of pilgrims, but at the first night’s lodging, He failed to materialize.  Any parent knows that feeling of the earth being pulled out from under your feet, when you don’t know where your child is.  In anxious terror, they return to the City.  They look everywhere.  For three whole days, they can find Him nowhere.  And then, finally, after three days…  After three days, they find Him in the Temple.  After three days, what was lost has been found.  After three days, it is like a resurrection from the dead.  We can hardly begin to comprehend it, but as it turns out, this whole thing has been according to God’s plan.  It is a prophecy of our salvation as it unfolds according to God’s Wisdom.  This is how God will do it, and it is good, and it is beautiful.

            But is totally backward, as far as we are concerned.  Mary even thinks it needs a mother’s rebuke: “Son, look what you’ve done to us!  You scared us to death!”  That is how we often respond to God’s Wisdom: “What on earth do You think You are doing?  I don’t understand this!  I can’t see how this could be good for anyone!  Why don’t You stop messing around!  Wake up, and help us out here!”  This is, after all, not the wisdom of the world, this way of God’s salvation.  That is why the world rejects it.  But this is the Wisdom of the cross.  That is, God delivers by appearing to do the opposite.  God saves the whole world by utterly forsaking His Son in the death of crucifixion.  What a joke!  What a scandal!  The renowned philosophers, the most distinguished academics, the greatest minds among us could not begin to comprehend it.  What God here does appears so weak and foolish.  But this is our whole faith.  This is our whole theology: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).  On the cross, in the preaching, there is Christ to save and make us wise. 

            “Did you not know that I must be among the things of my Father?  Did you not know that you would find me in His Word?  Did you not know that I AM the Sacrifice for your sins, and the sins of the whole world?  And that I am here, in the Father’s House, my Body given for you, my Blood shed for you, risen from the dead after three days?  Did you not know that here, in my Word, I will teach you of all that is right and true and good and beautiful, and I will give you to order your life accordingly?  Dear mother, my dear guardian Joseph, dear brothers and sisters whom I have redeemed, do you want to find me?  Do you desire Wisdom?  Here I am, in the Word, from the pulpit and on the altar.  Never believe I am lost to you again.  You can always find me here for you.”

            And then He goes back with His parents to Nazareth where He is submissive to them, honoring them by serving and obeying them, loving and cherishing them, fulfilling the Fourth Commandment for us and in our place.  And this teaches us about a life of Wisdom.  Having been given the Wisdom of God by grace, we now grow in it.  And that bears fruit in our vocations.  We put Wisdom to work as we live by God’s Word in all our relationships with one another. 

            Now, like Mary and Joseph, there are many things about God’s Wisdom we simply don’t understand.  But in this way, Mary serves as our example.  She simply believes what her Son says and does.  And she treasures up all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).  We work hard to attain our knowledge, and with a little study, or sometimes a lot, perhaps we gain some understanding.  But true Wisdom is always received, here among the things of the Father, where Jesus is and will always be found.  The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”  That is what you get in God’s Word and the Holy Supper.  To have Christ is to have the Wisdom of God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            



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