The Sunday after Epiphany (sermon)
Romans 12:1-5 Luke 2:41-end
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Epiphany season – it is the extension of Christmas, – the revealing who Jesus is – a season where our readings draw out of the implications of God taking flesh.
Jesus is described by St Paul as the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. This Sunday we look at Jesus as the Wisdom of God, and the Sundays to come we will see his Power manifested in his miracles.
Our first encounter after Jesus’ infancy, and the only encounter recorded about his youth, is as a boy of 12, lost temporarily to his parents, and being found finally in the Temple.
The passage raises many questions for us about Jesus. For one thing, how much did Jesus’ know about his identity as the Son of God as he was growing up – it seems he knew something about it. But what precisely did he know at that time? Jesus’ response to his exasperated parents, when they finally found him in the Temple was: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”
This account of Jesus by his mother, Mary, who treasured these things in her heart, helped the Church in understanding who Jesus is.
St Paul says Jesus is the Wisdom of God. If he is both God and man, then isn’t it obvious that he would know all things. But if he knew all things, then how can he really be a human being like us?
In this short account of Jesus, we learn that after this incident in the Temple he returned with his parents and submitted to them and then it concludes with this remarkable line:
Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
If Jesus is God, who is all Wisdom, how could he grow in wisdom?
The Church pondered this and other statements in the Bible about Jesus. Jesus is revealed as both God and man but how do these natures in him exist at the same time?
The Council of Chalcedon in 451 concluded, Jesus Christ is one person, with two natures, fully human and fully divine, and the two natures are unconfused and unmixed. [agreeing to the suggestion in the Tome of Leo]
It means that Jesus is divine, but in such a way that does not overwhelm his human nature – he still grows up with human unknowing and must come to understand the truth. We hear in today’s Gospel that he learned “by listening to the teachers and by asking questions….And they were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
This gives us hope that we too can grow in wisdom as we become more like him.
What is it about Jesus that would make him grow more quickly in wisdom than any other human being ever? It is not that he had access to his Divine nature that knows all things – his natures were unmixed and unconfused. It was not that he was more intelligent than anyone else – intelligence does not make us wise. Jesus grows in wisdom faster than anyone else because He was without sin.
Let me make the case for this from Scripture…
Wisdom of Solomon 7:27, the writer says,
In every generation, (Wisdom) enters into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets. There is a connection between holiness of life and growth in wisdom.
In the second chapter of Proverbs (2:6f) the writer says,
6 The Lord… stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity…
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; - that is actually what wisdom is, to know how to act perfectly in every situation and to be able to do it!
10 for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
There is this link made between living a holy life and growing in wisdom.
In the fourth chapter of Proverbs [4:10] the writer says,
I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
In Hebrew poetry, there is a parallelism – it is two ways of saying the same thing. To be wise is to walk without sin.
Wisdom comes from beyond us as a gift, and we receive it as we are faithful in our living. Jesus grew quickly in wisdom as a human being because he was perfectly righteous or faithful in his daily life.
How is it that sin affects our ability to grow in wisdom?
Common sense and our experience makes it plain:
Pride is the foremost sin to growth in wisdom. If I think I already know all the answers, I’m not going to listen to others. I’ll be limited by my own experience of life, and not benefit from the wisdom of others or the gathered wisdom of the ages, collected in the great works of literature or in the writings of the philosophers and theologians through the ages, foremost I won’t read the Bible. (Our modern culture is taking steps to try to sever us from our Western inheritance of Wisdom...) When I’m proud I won’t pray, I won’t ask God for help.
In Proverbs 28:26 the writer says: Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
Proverbs 11:8 says: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Or in today’s Epistle: By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to thing, but to think with sober judgement. [Romans 12:3]
Jesus, listened to the teachers, and was bold to ask questions. He wasn’t afraid to show himself ignorant. He cared more about learning about his heavenly Father, than about what others thought of him.
When Jesus was transfigured on the holy mountain, the disciples heard the voice of the Father: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him! He is even more important than the Law and the Prophets. He is the foremost interpreter of them. His voice is pure and clear. He is the light that lightens every one of us! [Jn 1:9]
We can test if we are proud by asking ourselves, are we serious about listening to Jesus’ voice – are we actually reading Jesus’ words in the Bible? Are we growing or are satisfied with what we know?
A second sin that affects our ability to become wise is Anger. It is right to be angry when we experience an injustice, anger is meant to spur us to action – to remove ourselves from the situation of injustice so we aren’t hurt again, or to seek justice. But if we ruminate (like a cow regurgitating the cud and chewing it again and again), if we dwell on the injustice over and over in our minds, it can totally distract us from higher thoughts, it can darken our mind, leading us to be cynical and resentful or even filled with thoughts of revenge, and hatred. So the sin of anger leads to a darkening of the mind and holding us away from the light of God, in other words, from growing in Wisdom.
Be angry but do not sin, says St Paul. Let not the sun go down on your anger.
Are we ruminating in anger? confess it, ask for the grace for our mind to be lifted to higher things.
There is a third kind of sin that makes us unable to grow in wisdom:
Our more base appetites – money, food, sexual desire – if we are captivated by them, we will simply be distracted from looking at higher things, and wisdom is the highest of things – it is not found in following these desires to their ends, but in prudently restraining them.
The emphasis on holiness of life in relation to attaining wisdom is something Paul speaks about in today’s Epistle:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We just cannot do whatever everyone else is doing – do not be conformed to this world.
Holiness of life - presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God - leads to a transformation, a renewal of our minds. We begin to know God’s will and when, by grace, we do it, that is to know Wisdom and to walk wisely.
As we begin, by grace, to follow the ways of living that Wisdom prescribes, more wisdom from above will pour into our souls.
The sacramental life, beginning in Baptism, and sustained by Holy Communion week by week, is a gift from Jesus to cleanse us of sin, to lighten our darkened minds, and make us more able to be infilled with holy Wisdom, made able to peer further into the mysteries of God and to know how to act in this world. And he also offers us the power to do it. It is a spiralling ascension. Holiness of life is holy wisdom made flesh. It is holy Wisdom becoming incarnate in us, as it was, perfectly, in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God, the Word, made flesh. It is to Him we now turn, in repentance and faith, to be filled this day.
Let me conclude with the Collect from today:
O LORD, we beseech you mercifully to receive the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2