1st Sunday after Epiphany–Christian Families (for Sandy Aff., who asked for this a month ago)
1st Sunday after Epiphany
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:41-52
January 8, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we look at the world today, how many adults can be happy about what is happening to children? We live in a time of school shootings, a world in which kids are overexposed to sex at a tender age, a world in which respect for elders and authorities is nearly gone. None of our grandparents or great grandparents could have imagined the kind of world in which our children are to grow up.
Even though this is true, it is also as old a fact as the Bible—even older—that young people wander. Job offered sacrifices for his children every day because he feared that they might curse God in their hearts as they spent day after day partying and feasting. Back when this church started the old Germans had some sayings about this: “Youth has no virtue,” they said, “Youth must spend their rage.” Even King David, who was a devout child, who by faith in God slew bears and lions and Goliath, prayed in Psalm 25 “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my rebellious ways; according to your mercy remember me…”
When we look at you who are young among us and remember our own rebellious ways, we tend to deal with it in two ways. One is to moan and wring our hands over the great temptations the youth face and over the decline in parenting which leaves our youth unprotected. The other is to say, “Youth always wander, and things are probably not much worse than they ever have been. It’s better not to be too hard on kids. When they’re older, they’ll come back to the Lord.”
Both of these ways of coping contain parts of the truth, but neither of them are adequate. It is true that children have always wandered, but leniency will not save our children. It is also true that children are called to walk in the way of the Lord even in their childhood; but even better parenting and more instruction in the word of God will not prevent many children from wandering into the ways of sin and death.
Jesus Christ alone, whose holy youth is for us, delivers parents and youth from the ungodliness of our time and rescues lost children.
The first thing we need to take to heart is that baptized children are disciples of Jesus. At the baptism of our children, it is not the parents or the sponsors or the church that are asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” It is the child who is asked. My mother cannot renounce the devil for me, and my father can’t believe that Christ is my Savior for me. And my parents can’t live a Christian life for me either.
Children are called by Jesus to be His disciples and to live in His kingdom. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these—to little children. But this doesn’t mean that adults should act like children. It means that both adults and children should live by faith in Jesus’ righteousness alone, and daily go do what they are called to do, relying on Jesus’ strength to do what they are called to do, and relying on His death to cover their sins and weaknesses.
Our children are disciples of Jesus. Just as adult disciples of Jesus regularly need to hear the word of their shepherd, so do our children. That includes Sunday School; it also includes hearing and learning the word of God and the catechism in the home, and it also includes participation in the Divine Service, when all of God’s people are gathered to hear the preaching of His Word. Our children belong in the Divine Service just as much as the adults. The worship of the church is not only for those old enough to understand everything that is being sung and said. If that were the case, none of us should go to church, because no one understands fully the mystery of worship—that Christ is present with us, and we are present with the whole heavenly host around the throne of grace.
This is the primary duty of parents for their children—not to teach them how to have a happy life on earth, but to teach them the way of eternal life. Now the way of eternal life is, as you know, through faith in Jesus alone, who paid for our sins on the cross. But faith in Jesus always takes root in the good soil of a repentant heart, and that means that parents are to teach their children the commandments of God so that they may not only know what is good and right to do, but so that they may see their sin and helplessness and gladly hear the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ suffering and death. And Christian faith always shows itself in good works. This means that parents are commanded by God to discipline and teach their children to live according to the commandments. God calls us not simply to discipline our children so that they fear the punishment of parents and earthly authorities, but to teach our children to fear God’s wrath and desire His pleasure. He wants us to teach our children to trust God, call on His name, and gladly hear His Word. He tells us to teach our children to love their neighbor—honoring those in authority, protecting the lives and property of their neighbors, living in purity, speaking well of their neighbors.
And young people need to learn that they don’t get a holiday from being a Christian until they are older. The time when Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” is today—and He calls all of us—80 year olds, 30 year olds, 15 year olds, and five year olds.
Look at 12 year old Jesus. Where was he when he was 12 years old? In Jerusalem, at the feast of the Passover. Was he complaining that his parents were dragging him to church? No, in fact, He was so glad to be in God’s house that he stayed three extra days to learn God’s Word. He had to be about His heavenly Father’s business even as a 12 year old. Then, when His parents found Him, He went home and was obedient to them, and we hear nothing else about what Jesus did in His youth until the time His ministry began.
Was Jesus so holy just because He was God? Yes, the fact that He was born without sin made Him able to keep the law. But the reason He spent His youth serving God is that this is what you and me were created to do from the time we are infants. And we will be held accountable for the transgressions of God’s law we have committed from the time of our youngest childhood to the end of our lives.
There is no real happiness or joy to be found in serving ourselves instead of serving God. We were created to serve God. If we want joy, and if we want our children, grandchildren, and our younger brothers and sisters in Christ to have joy, then there is one way only—to live as servants of God, to follow Christ!
Our kids need much more than they are receiving if they are to have joy. Our forefathers in the faith understood this, which is why they instituted Christian schools to make sure children were well instructed. But it is not enough simply to have a school, or simply to take our kids to Sunday School and church. We must ensure that in church, Sunday School, and Christian day school, that God’s pure word is taught. And then the daily lives of pastor, teachers, and parents must picture the new life in Christ. When our children leave the walls of the church, they are thrown into an environment in which they are constantly bombarded with bad examples, bad morality, and anti-Christian teaching. It takes more than simply exposing your children to a little bit of the bible for them to live holy lives in Christ. They need regular feeding with God’s word, constant modeling of what it means to turn away from the lusts of the flesh to the treasure of the kingdom of God. They need adults to set an example of hungering and thirsting for God’s Word and disciplining themselves so that they will not be tangled up in sin. If you don’t set limits for your children regarding what media they take in, what they do with the computer and the cell phone, when and where they are allowed to spend time with members of the opposite sex, they will get their information from a world that is simply not concerned with living a holy life and has no fear of God’s wrath.
But it is also true that children will wander no matter how well they are taught and no matter how well the Christian life is modeled. Oftentimes, when there are good boundaries in place, the sinful flesh of children will not wander openly into drugs and partying, sex, laziness, departing from the church—because it costs them too much to do so in their parents’ home. But even when people are outwardly good, the heart still wanders. Even if we manage to keep our children moral on the outside—and this is no small task in a world in which most limits are gone—apart from the Holy Spirit the human heart will run into the secret sins of self-righteousness and self-trust. How hard it is for a kid who has not plunged into the immorality that characterizes our time to trust in his own morality instead of the blood of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world!
There is only One who not only makes us outwardly holy and obedient, but begins to cleanse our disobedient hearts from within, and it is to Him alone that all in the church must look for deliverance from the wickedness of our flesh and for forgiveness from the sins of our youth.
It is Jesus, who from His childhood kept the law of God. He did it so that His holy childhood and obedience would stand in for our birth in sin and the evil fruit that follows our sinful conception. Every human being except Him, no matter how well they lived as children, grows out of an unclean root. We proceed from Adam, our first father, who turned away from God to become his own god and trust in himself. Then after his repentance he saw the fruit of his sin. His children grew up. One of them mourned his sin, and the other was convinced of his own righteousness—and that self-trust led him to offer a sacrifice which he though God should accept on its own merits, without mercy. When God rejected his offering, he killed his brother, whose repentant offering pleased God.
Jesus is not like Cain. He truly was and is righteous. From His birth there was no stain of sin in Him. He had to be about His father’s business even at 12 years old. But His spotless life did not make Him self-righteous; it did not make Him exalt Himself over His brothers. When Jesus obeyed the law of God, He did so in love. Love is the fulfillment of the law—not merely that we don’t kill, don’t gossip, don’t ignore God’s Word, but that we love God and we love our neighbor. And so Jesus “grew in stature and in favor with God and men.” People perceived that Jesus did not think he was better than everyone else.
No, in fact, Jesus’ holy childhood was not for Himself at all. By being born of a woman and submitting to His parents, Jesus was fulfilling the law for us. We have transgressed God’s law from our childhood. But Jesus’ obedience to the law, His service to God, was for us, so that when we consider all the sins of our youth, all our rebellion, we may not despair, but say instead, “the holy obedience of Jesus is for me, so that I may stand in it and wear it before the throne of judgment.”
As parents and children, and as members of the church who look with concern at younger families struggling to live as Christians in a world that no longer pretends to be Christian, we must learn and teach the ten commandments. The commandments of God need to be held before our eyes so that we see what a holy life looks like, so that we know what pleases God, and so that we see how our disobedience has provoked God’s anger.
But a holy life cannot come as a result only of teaching the law. The law’s main purpose is to point to Jesus, who fulfilled it even as a child. Children should imitate Jesus’ humble obedience to His human parents, even though He was their God; His desire to serve His father even as a youth, His hunger for God’s Word. Parents should copy the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph in bringing the child Jesus to the services of God’s house.
But when it comes to the question: “Can I dwell in the house of the Lord? Can I with good conscience go into the Father’s presence—whether to pray, in this life, or to live forever in the life to come?”—that question’s answer is “Yes!” How can we say this confident yes? Because we do not rely on our own faithfulness, but on the faithful and spotless life of the Lord Jesus, who from childhood sought to do the will of His father in heaven. In his youth, that obedience meant meditating on God’s Word so that He was even able to teach the high priests and scribes, and it meant obedience to His earthly parents who were His creatures and those He had come to save. In His manhood, His obedience meant making His righteous life serve sinners, by giving it as a ransom which turned away the Father’s wrath from us.
As we go forward, we have good reason to tremble as we consider the great temptations faced by our youth. Young people should see how many temptations face them and how weak they are. Unlike Jesus it is not their nature to spend three days in God’s house learning His Word, nor to be obedient to their parents.
And adults—parents and those who are no longer parents but nevertheless are concerned for their spiritual nieces and nephews in the youth of the church—we all have reason to tremble as we consider how little we know how to instruct the youth in the way of the Lord. The truth is that almost all of us have misspent our youth. And even those who lived an outwardly righteous life should know that their hearts were wayward, even if they didn’t manifest that waywardness in rebellion against God and parents, or an immoral life.
Yes, we do not have what it takes to turn back the tide. But if we recognize that, we are blessed. We don’t have what it takes to raise our children in righteousness—or even to live as we ought to ourselves. But the child Jesus who was righteous from youth does. His righteous childhood and adulthood is our righteousness before God. And so we go to Him with empty hearts, asking Him to start us over again—to make us newborn children in His kingdom who live by faith in Him alone and who learn from Him how to fulfill our callings. All righteousness is in Him—and we are in Him, baptized and born again. May He then fill our emptiness and teach us so that we may learn to be about the Father’s business with the time that remains for this life.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.