In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Today, we take a look at the childhood of our Saviour, on this Sunday of Christmas. We are in the period of time known as the twelve days of Christmas. It begins with the Nativity of our Lord and concludes with the celebration of the Epiphany or the coming of the wise men. The incident in his childhood that we are looking at in this third year, is his visit to the temple at the age of twelve.
Jesus the Son of God, the one who gave the law, goes to the temple for a festival i.e. Passover. Let us think about this for a moment. The one who gave the law, follows the law. He was under no obligation to do so, but the Venerable Bede tells us this was to show us his human humility, he continues,
He himself kept the law which he gave in order to show us, who are human beings pure and simple, that what God orders is to be observed in everything. Let us follow the path of His human life.1
Jesus, went to the temple for our sakes, to teach us by example to be obedient. In this trip to the temple, I am also reminded of the prophecy of Malachi. This was the 1st Testament reading on the Second week of Advent. “and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple”. Jesus, whom Israel was seeking, came to His temple and astounded the teachers and those listening to Him. His Advent was predicted but came suddenly.
In this story of Jesus in the temple, St. Ambrose finds a picture of both the number of evangelists that would be initially sent out (He was twelve and there were twelve apostles.) He also sees a picture of the resurrection. He says,
Nor is it idly [said] that, forgetful of his parents according to the flesh, he who according to the flesh assuredly was filled with the wisdom and grace of God is found after three days in the temple. It is a sign that he who was believed dead for our faith would rise again after three days from his triumphal passion and appear on his heavenly throne with divine honour.2
As we saw on Christmas, that His incarnation is closely related to His triumph of resurrection, here we see pictures in His early life of the same thing. The Gospels are written in such a way that they are always pointing us to the triumph of the resurrection. In the beginning of St. Luke 3, in the description of the rulers, we see a picture of the fact that in Christ both Jew and Gentile are going to be joined in one salvation. I encourage you, that as you read the gospels look for pictures of His triumph.
In this passage we see both natures of Jesus, as one of the Fathers points out that it was not at Baptism that Jesus was made Christ, as some have taught, but it was from His birth that He was both God and man. Here we see Him acknowledging both the Temple and His Father.
We see His divine nature in that He says, “I must be about my Father’s business”. A statement that we might quickly gloss over, but the Venerable Bede tells us, “this is a declaration of his power and glory which are co-eternal with God the Father’s”3. However, He chose to live in His humanity. He subjected Himself to His parents. The Apostolic Constitutions tell us “He who had commanded to honour our parents, was Himself subject to them.”4
Again, He keeps the law because what God orders is to be observed in everything, and also as an example of humility. He, the Creator of the Universe, co-equal with the Father, chooses to be subject to His parents. I don’t think that we can fully grasp the implications of all that He did. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Philippians, puts it this way,
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
In His human nature, He is a little a lower than the angels and says the Father is greater than Him. However, in the divine nature He and the Father are one. It will do us good to spend some time today to contemplate and meditate on this mystery.
We see, in the Old Testament reading, the childhood of the prophet Samuel. A statement that parallels the one about Jesus in our Gospel reading is made about Samuel. “Samuel was growing in stature and in worth in the estimation of the Lord and the people”. Both of them had their birth foretold, (Samuel’s birth was promised by the priest Eli.) and both had a ministry to Israel. The hand of God was evident upon them from their childhood.
As we turn our attention to the Psalm reading, let us listen to the words of St. Chrysostom,
However, what God actually is, not only have the prophets not seen, but not even the angels or archangels. If you ask them, you will not hear them reply anything about his substance but only singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among people of good will.” …If you inquire of the higher powers, you will discover nothing else than that their one work is to praise God, for, “Praise him, all his powers,” the psalmist said.5
We look again at the mystery of God’s nature. The proper response to contemplating his nature is praise. It is not for us to intellectually figure out for even the angels don’t know. St. Augustin tells us that this praise should be “with your whole selves: that is, let not your tongue and voice alone praise God, but your conscience also, your life, and your deeds.”6
How do we praise with our whole selves? I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” It is through everything that we do. As we go through our daily activities, let us keep in mind that we are doing them as an act of praise to the Lord. Every activity that we do can be part of the sacramental life. If you’d like to learn a little more about how to put it into practice. I would recommend reading Liturgy of the Ordinary7 as it explains this well.
In heaven praise is continually happening, just as the psalmist exhorts. St. Augustin also testifies of this, “there the blessed ever praise God; but we are still below: yet, when we think how God is praised there, let us have our heart there, and let us hear to no purpose, ‘Lift up your hearts.’ …We do it now in hope: hereafter we shall in reality, when we have come thither.”8
St. Augustin, of course, is referring to the part in the Liturgy, where in our Believers Eastern Church Liturgy, the Priest says, “Let our minds and hearts be above, where our Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father.” This instruction to lift our hearts goes all the way back to St. James’ Liturgy, and according to a note on that liturgy it is part of all liturgies.9
The Psalmist calls upon even the heavens and the waters above them to praise the Lord. St. Basil the Great points out that this does not mean that we regard these physical things with having an intellectual nature or life.10 St. Augustin explains further speaking of the sea monsters praising,
“Think we that the dragons form choirs, and praise God? Far from it. But do ye, when ye consider the dragons, regard the maker of the dragon, the Creator of the dragon: they when ye admire the dragons, and say, ‘Great is the Lord who made these,’ then the dragons praise God by your voices.11
It is in our voices, because of our wonder at our creator that these physical things praise the Lord. They do not have a voice as we would think. However they do have a voice because they are a testament to everyone that God has created them.
We have seen that Christ has clothed himself with humility, emptied himself, became a man, and subjected him to God’s law and human authority. We have noted that our response is to be praise and indeed the whole creation’s response is praise. This praise is not to be in word only but also in our life, deeds, and conscience. We now turn our attention to the epistle to how to live this life of praise.
Christ put on humility and so also are we commanded by St. Paul to put on humility among these other virtues. Virtue is compared to clothing or an ornament. Since it is something that is put on, we understand that there is a certain easiness to it. We must not, however, make the mistake of trying to develop all of these virtues simultaneously, but work on one at a time until we master it. Our Christian life is a journey not a destination.
St. Chrysostom focuses some attention on the virtue of forgiveness. We are to forgive because it is part of our imitation of Christ. For not only can we abstractly see that Christ forgave his enemies and that we should forgive our enemies. It is, however, personal for we have been forgiven. The mercy that has been shown to us, we must show to others.
St. Chrysostom in his homily tells us,
“[T]hat even if the matters be great, and even if we have not been first to injure, even if we be great, they of small account, even if they are sure to insult us afterwards, we ought to lay down our lives for them, (for the words, ‘even as’ demand this;) and that not even at death ought one to stop, but if possible, to go on even after death.12
Our Lord Christ as the greater subjected himself to those who were less in his beating and crucifixion and forgave them even through death. His example does seem hard, but it is possible through the Holy Spirit flowing through us. If we have not yet received the strength to forgive in this way, we can ask that the Holy Spirit would enable us to do so.
After listing all these virtues, St. Paul tells us to put love over all of them. We so well know his words to the Corinthians that everything and anything we do without love will profit us nothing. St. Chrysostom tells us, “whatever good our deeds possess will vanish completely if they lack love.”13 Love is the key to living this way. We may of our own strength manage to live out a few of these virtues, but if we do not have love we will never attain to all of them.
Verse 17 concludes with St. Paul saying,
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We, thus, come back to the words of St. Augustin that we are to praise with our whole selves. Therefore, we ought to purpose in our hearts to live a life of praise to God and lift our hearts in the hope that we will join with those already in heaven in the unceasing praise of God and look for ways to praise God in our mundane and daily tasks. Let us follow the life of obedience that Christ, who although God, patterned for us in deepest humility. This is what we have at the table, our obedience by faith in His word. “Do this … this is my body” He feeds us with his life, literally. Finally, we must ask the Lord to help us to be quick to forgive and love one another.
1 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 54
3 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 55
4 Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson LL.D Editors, Ante-NiceneFathers, Volume 7, Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early Liturgies, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1886 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 461
5 Thomas C. Oden and Quentin F. Wesselschmidt Editors, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 423
6 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 8, Augustin: Expositions on the Psalms, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 673
8 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 8, Augustin: Expositions on the Psalms, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 674
9 Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson LL.D Editors, Ante-NiceneFathers, Volume 7, Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early Liturgies, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1886 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 543
10 Thomas C. Oden and Quentin F. Wesselschmidt Editors, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VIII (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 426
11 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 8, Augustin: Expositions on the Psalms, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 675
12 Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D Editor, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume 13, Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, originally published in the United States by the Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1889 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickoson Publishing Marketing, LLC), 295
13 Thomas C. Oden and Peter J. Gorday, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IX (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 49
Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319. Twelve-year Old Jesus Teaches in the Temple (Disputation with the Doctors), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46452 [retrieved February 23, 2019]. Original source: www.yorckproject.de.
Bartolo, Andrea di, -1428. Resurrection of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55333 [retrieved November 27, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrea_di_Bartolo_-_The_Resurrection_-_Walters_37741.jpg.