December 30, 2012: Church—The Place to Expect the Unexpected

Let us pray: Dear Savior, just as You had to be in Your Father’s house as a young boy, so we, too, find it necessary to come to our heavenly Father’s house today. We need to hear His kind words of love and forgiveness. We need to hear Him guide us so that we can avoid sin and evil. We need Him to lift our weary souls heavenward—away from this valley of tears, toil, frustration, and emotional turmoil—especially after the trauma of having Your building damaged. Yes, we need His peace. Today we ask that You give us in this temple that same peace and joy that You experienced in the Jerusalem temple so long ago. Amen


TEXT: Luke 2: 41-52

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

For the past 25 years or so a growing movement has arisen in the organized church. It seeks to make church a place of entertainment. Some people feel that having a formal liturgy, singing hymns, and having a sermon is a bit boring. They feel it turns some people off and makes worship unattractive to the MTV and YouTube crowd who have grown up with fast-paced videos and music. So, there are some preachers who have turned in their sermon in favor of telling jokes and stories. Others have adopted the “folk rock” mentality. While some of the mega-churches in our country put on full-blown pageants to entertain—with costumed actors, real camels, sheep, goats, and elaborate sets—while rock band sound systems pulse around the amphitheater. They do this because they believe that church should be a passive forum in which the church-goer just sits there and takes it all in.

I hope I’ve taught you better over the past years! The very word “liturgy” means “service.” And service is always active, isn’t it? At a Christian worship service, God comes and serves us with His forgiveness, love, and divine instruction. And we serve Him with our hearts, hands, and voices—through prayer and praise. To be sure, I do vary the liturgy throughout the year. Obviously we always want it to be user-friendly to those who are novices to the Christian faith. And by so doing, the traditional elements of sacrament—God coming to us; and sacrifice—us going to God, are made a bit more fresh and alive week after week. That being said, I’m always going to be a traditionalist. If our basic format of worship has served Christians well for more than 2000 years, who am I to change it? Or as the old adage goes: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!”

The chief problem with entertainment worship is that it gets rid of the one-on-one relationship with God that we all need and crave. Today much of worship no longer is about your personal relationship with the Almighty, but instead it becomes nothing more than a group therapy session in which you’re just one of the masses. And then the individual, you, is overlooked and lost in the crowd. Indeed, when you leave any Christian worship service, hopefully you will always say: “I have walked with God today!” Instead of saying: “I was entertained today.” And let’s face it, the world will always do “entertainment” better than God’s people because we actually stand for something: morals, lasting values, and grace.

As we examine today’s Gospel text of Jesus at age 12 worshipping in the temple, this thought strikes me.



Was this Jesus’ first outing to the great temple in Jerusalem? No. We know He went there as a baby when His parents offered up a sacrifice shortly after His birth. Also, it was expected that pious Jews of the time would go there with their families at least once a year to worship, as well. So, no doubt, the boy Jesus was very familiar with the temple environs.

From the age of 5 until 10 Jewish boys went to school. At their school they received instruction in the Old Testament. In fact, it was their only textbook. They could recite many passages from it from memory. They knew the Psalms by heart. From ages 10 to 15 they branched out to receive further instruction from the traditional law based on the Bible. Knowing that, the words of St. Paul in 2 Tim. 3: 15-17 take on new meaning: “and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

At age 12 the Jewish boys reached their age of majority in which they were considered spiritually responsible. (We kind of mirror that same idea with confirmation at about the same age today.) In any case, the rabbi’s of the day required that all children accompany their parents to the temple as soon as they were able to walk up the temple hill alongside their fathers. And so Jesus goes.


After the Passover Feast was completed, Mary and Joseph headed back to Nazareth with the caravan of friends and relatives they had come with. No doubt, they thought that Jesus was somewhere in the crowd. But, after a day’s journey out, no Jesus. They frantically search the camp. No Jesus. So, they head back to city and look for Him for another three days. Finally, he’s found! Not getting into trouble, but sitting in one of the 3 synagogues that surrounded the temple instructing the rabbis as to the deep meaning of the Old Testament! We’re told that those great scholars of the Bible “were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” I think it’s rather instructive that church was the last place they looked for Jesus! Perhaps Mary and Joseph had forgotten to expect the unexpected there?

Well, Mary takes the bull by the horns and upbraids him. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”—No “Amber Alert” system, no police out in force to find him, just His frantic parents. To this, Jesus quietly responds with words that should have reminded His parents of angels, shepherds, and wise men: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they still did not understand what he was saying to them.”

Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He grew quicker and faster than any of His counterparts because unlike them, He was not tainted in any way by sin. His wisdom is evident here in that even at age 12 He’s concerned not just with family and friends, but with the masses at large. He came to save souls—the souls of all people. He came to honor His heavenly Father for us because we do it so imperfectly. Yes, even at age 12 we see the truth that “He came to seek and save the lost.”—You and me.

But, because He knew the 4th commandment and knew how vital it was to obey His parents, too, we’re told: “Then he went to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Yes, Jesus kept every single commandment for us—including this one that all of us have failed to follow more times than we’d care to admit! And then as a post-script, Luke includes this little line: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” In short, He didn’t hibernate in Nazareth. He wasn’t an introvert who ignored others. No, He continued to lead by example and instruct others in honoring God first and foremost.

The last place they expected to find Jesus was at church. But, Church is the place to expect the unexpected! That was true then and it is true today. For it is here that God reaches down from heaven and gets under your skin. It is here that He delves deeply into your soul. It is here that He cleanses you from all sin via His absolution. It is here that He imprints His image upon your hearts. On that fateful day in the temple, Mary and Joseph walked with God, even though they really didn’t fully realize it. May we never forget that same truth as we worship here each week! Because it is right here that the very same Jesus is instructing and uplifting us with the unexpected message: “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven!” Amen