O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people
who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things
they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Collect Ep. I)
In Christmas Tide we directed our mind’s eye to the new birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls. And so now in Epiphany Tide our eyes are opening as Christ the Light begins to illuminate and enlighten us about the character of the new life which God desires us to live. Epiphany comes to us from the Greek word, epifaneia, and it means manifestation or striking appearance. In the Church of the East, Epiphany is called Theophany, meaning the vision of God. So this season is all about contemplating the Light of God, which is the manifestation or striking appearance of His vision and understanding of human life in Jesus Christ. In Christ the Light, then, we are called to see, grasp, and comprehend what is the pure and perfect will of God for us.
Today we move from Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Christmas narratives and the Epiphany visitation of the Three Wise Men to the only record of Jesus’ adolescence, where we find Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. We know nothing of the period between Jesus’ infancy and His sudden appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve, and then between today’s manifestation and the beginning of His adult ministry. St. Luke, alone, chooses to record a singular event from Jesus’ childhood. Yet what is revealed and manifested in it is an Epiphany that informs our further journey after Jesus in this season. It will help us to understand the vocation and calling which each of us has by way of incorporation and perfection in the Mystical Body that Jesus is beginning to form and create out of His relationship with our Heavenly Father.
In this morning’s Gospel we read that the Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. (St. Luke ii. 41-43) St. Luke is in the habit of identifying Joseph by his first name, since he was the foster-father but not natural Father of Jesus. Jesus’ natural Father is God the Father, as we shall learn soon from Jesus’ own lips. So the family had travelled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. That Joseph and Mary did not realize that Jesus was missing as they began their return to Nazareth should not surprise us. Ancient Jewish families included the many members of an extended clan who customarily travelled together. The adults often entrusted their young ones to elder cousins as they made their respective pilgrimages.
Yet still there is profound spiritual symbolism in the fact that Jesus’ earthly parents were blinded to His absence from the travelling clan. Even when He was safe and secure under the roof of their own home, did His parents understand where Jesus truly was? Could it be that His spiritual whereabouts were as yet hidden and concealed even from those who had first-hand experience of the Angelic Prophesy of His nature and destiny? Perhaps in Joseph and Mary we find incomprehension because they did not yet understand where Jesus Christ must always be inwardly and spiritually.
So one day passed before Mary and Joseph realized Jesus’ absence. We read: But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. (Ibid, 44,45) Jesus’ parents were concerned about His physical whereabouts. They might even have intuited that their son was about His spiritual business but in physical and natural proximity to His near-relations and family members. Surely if their Son was to be great…called the Son of the Highest…the heir of…the throne of His father David (St. Luke i. 32), He might be expected to respect and honor His family by shedding His Light first on kith and kin.
But, as we know, such was not to be the case. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem and spent three days trying to find their child. Evidently –by reason of the time it took them to find Him – they did not know where to look. They did not know His whereabouts, because they had never really known where Jesus was spiritually. And this would be in no small measure due to the religious vision and knowledge of Judaism in their own day, bound and determined as it was by the Law that proscribed nearness to God by way of the Jewish familial blood tie. But finally, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. (Idem, 46, 47) Jesus was where a young Jewish boy searching for the fulfillment of God’s promise was most likely to learn about it spiritually. Being a child, He humbled Himself before the theologians in order to discover His future mission and ministry. But that didn’t stop Him from questioning them, and thus provoking a dialogue which in turn elicited amazement at His understanding and answers. Jesus had come into the midst of the scholars and doctors of theology, and then called them down into His humility so that they might discover the wisdom and stature that informed His character. He was literally no-one from no-where who then transformed the Temple through His familiarity with His Heavenly Father. In Christ the Doctors of the Temple began to see God’s own Light.
Mary and Joseph are amazed to find their son in the Temple, but their astonishment is not sufficient to overcome their frustration. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (Ibid, 48) Jesus retorts with a gentle but firm rebuke: How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) In other words, Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that I must be involved with my Father’s affairs? Joseph and Mary understood not the word, which He spake to them. (Ibid, 50: Wycliffe) They who were willing to entrust Him to the care of His cousins could not entrust Him to the care of God! And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 51,52)
Where is Jesus? This is the question that confronts us on this First Sunday after Epiphany. Or perhaps it would be better to ask: Where are we in relation to Jesus? Jesus is always about His Father’s business and that might take Him anywhere. Where He is physically? is the wrong question to ask. His question to the Doctors of the Temple and to us is: Where are you spiritually? The same question was implied in His answer to His mother: Why did you seek me? For you should have known where I always am. That His parents did not understand His answer is part and parcel of every man’s need to discover what Jesus is doing and where we are in relation to Him. Wherever He is, Jesus is always with our Heavenly Father. Jesus doesn’t move; we do! He is where He has always been, with the Father and doing His work. He was with God from before all beginnings, as the Creative Word through whom all things were made. (St. John i. 3) He was with God from the moment of conception until His Ascension to the Father, disclosing the Father’s will as the Redemptive Word made Flesh busily working out our salvation. He is with God today in our Gospel lesson, preferring to entrust His life to our Heavenly Father’s business rather than to hurry back to meet the expectations of His earthly parents. And even now through His Spirit He longs to shed His Light on us, that where He is, there we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3)
So where are we spiritually today? Are we waiting for Christ the Light to keep up with us in our earthly meanderings? Do we expect Jesus to be where we are, at our beck and call, being subject unto us before He surrenders Himself to the Father’s will for us? Are we supposing that He should heal every earthly wound, forestall every kind of human suffering, and thus magically heal and transform our lives without any conditional cooperation on our part? In other words, are we expecting Christ not to redeem and sanctify but overcome and annihilate our human natures? That would be insulting to God’s expectations for us as creatures made to be reconciled to Himself through faith which must suffer to find its reward.
We need to stop asking where Christ is and start focusing on what Christ is doing. What He is doing is always being about His Father’s business. This is the business that we are called to get into. I must be about my Father’s business is Jesus’ work. He calls us to enter into His labor. Oswald Chambers challenges us to ask if we are employed in it. Are you so identified with the Lord’s life that you are simply a child of God, continually talking to Him and realizing that all things come from His hands? Is the Eternal Child in you living in the Father’s house? Are the graces of His ministering life working out through you in your home, in your business, in your domestic circle? (My Utmost: Aug. 7) Christ desires to continue to be about His Father’s Business in us. Can we honestly say that our chief occupation is our Heavenly Father’s Business?
Dear friends, today let us enter into the labor and work of the young Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. Let us, in conformity to Christ, attend [to our] Heavenly Father’s business, and to make all other business give way to it, (Comm. M. Henry) that we may both perceive and know what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same. (Collect) And should we fail to acquire immediate answers and solutions to the confusions and perplexities that accompany our journey in Christ, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us with deepest faith and trust keep all [His] sayings in [our] heart[s] (Ibid, 51), until, through Him, [we] shall [increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 52) Amen.