You are God’s holy, precious child, and are called by your sibling, Christ Jesus, to be about your Heavenly Parent’s business.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday of Christmas, year C
Text: Luke 2:41-52
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Church has a longstanding Father problem when it comes to language about God.
For a very long time, and in many parts of the Church, even today, the name “Father” has been by far the predominant image used to evoke the reality of God in people’s minds and hearts. And for many, including here, it’s a precious one.
But as Christians who believe in the One, Holy, and Triune God, “Father” can never fully substitute for God. It is part of the name of God given in Matthew 28, and we use it, along with Son and Holy Spirit, when we invoke God, as part of our nearly 2,000 year tradition. But “Father” is too often carelessly used to refer to the entirety of God’s reality. For we who confess a Triune God, that’s close to heresy.
Even now, when people are asked to image God, God is an old, white man in a robe with a long white beard and long white hair, not a mystery we call the Trinity, a relationship of love between Three Persons who are yet at the same time One God. That’s a huge problem.
Worse, the Church for many centuries was – and continues to be in many places – a patriarchy run exclusively by men in power. Perpetuating an image of a solely male Deity conveniently keeps everyone who isn’t male (or who disagrees with the powerful) in their place. And if they want to be controlling and judging, claiming those as characteristics of a Father God also conveniently lets those in power act as they want, using God’s wrath and judgment as an excuse.
There’s also the very real problem that many human beings sadly don’t have a happy or wholesome image of what a father is like because of their experience with fathers. Many people hear “God the Father” and feel trauma because of their life experience.
It’s enough to wonder if the name is at all redeemable.
But there is this one thing. Jesus taught us to use and trust that name.
Today we see the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple, teaching and challenging and amazing the teachers of God’s law. When he’s finally found by his parents, he says, “Why are you surprised at what I’m doing? Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”
But be alert now. Now we tread into mystery. We confess this human child, Jesus, is also the Son of God, that Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed, Crucified, and Resurrected One, is also fully God. And within the mystery that is the life of the Trinity, this One we call God and human experiences his relationship to the First Person of the Trinity in a way he describes as father. (Stay with me now – this is mystery.)
So the Trinity is not Father. But within the inner life of God, the one we know as the Son calls this other One Father, at least for our sake. There is a relationship within God’s life that Jesus can only describe for you and me in parental terms.
This Jesus whom we have learned to trust with our lives and our deaths, wants us to know something about the Trinity that is blessing and gift within God’s life and for us. Within, because there is a joy of this relationship within the life of the Triune God that Jesus wants us to know about. For us, because, as Jesus taught us to pray, we can know this Person of the Trinity in the same way. We can also have a relationship of child to parent within the Trinity.
This is mystery and hard to grasp. But Luke, our Evangelist today, makes all this much simpler. Luke shows what this could mean for you.
Luke tells you things no other Evangelist does, and they’re astonishing.
Luke gives breathtaking glimpses of what a relationship with the Trinity that is like father and child could be for you.
Luke is the only one to tell Jesus’ parables revealing a prodigal God who so desperately wants to bring wandering humanity back, God will do whatever it takes. That story of a father who lost a son and got him back is a wonder. All-powerful, male gods in human history tend to demand vengeance and punishment. They don’t sit on the front step day after day after day looking down the road, waiting for sight of their lost ones so they can prodigally welcome them back with robe and song and feast. They don’t turn their houses upside down like an old woman looking for her lost precious one, rejoicing when they are found.
When the Son of God is brutally crucified, only Luke says that Jesus’ words as he was being nailed to the wooden beam were a prayer to the One he called Father, asking forgiveness for those hammering, for those who caused this, for those who betrayed him.
For Luke, the image of Father he knows from God is one of endless, foolish love, willing to be taken advantage of, instantly and always ready to welcome back all who stray. For Luke, the image of Father he knows from God is one who could even forgive those who have done the worst things imaginable to God’s own Child.
There are many rich and beautiful images for God in Scripture, and we always need to seek them, use them, rejoice in them.
In our song and prayer and preaching here at Mount Olive we try hard to use the whole palette of grace-filled images God’s Word gives us for God and they bless us.
And though we must never substitute “Father” for the entirety of God, Jesus in Luke gives us a precious gift: one of the ways the Trinity comes to you, to me, is as a loving, forgiving parent. A parent who cares more for you than you can ever imagine, who will do anything to love you, even risking everything. If “father” is too hard for you to recover, Jesus’ll OK with that. Use “mother,” or “parent”. But this is too important a relationship, too blessed a gift, to lose.
You are God’s beloved child You’ve heard this often from this pulpit, from God’s Word, from our hymns and prayers. That’s what the 12-year-old Jesus is talking about. That’s the business of God he came to be about: to show God’s parental love is real and precious.
And like Jesus, you and I are called to be about our Heavenly Parent’s business.
You and I and all God’s children are asked to be prodigal in our loving, radical in our welcoming. This is God the Father’s business, according to Luke. That we look in every nook and corner for any who are lost to find them and bring them home to the God who loves them. That you offer to all who hurt you, just as Stephen did, the risky, transforming forgiveness of a God who will go to a cross to change that evil into life and love.
Jesus teaches you today as a child, and later as an adult, to be about your God’s business, to be like your Heavenly Parent, with the same wisdom, the same relentless love, the same searching heart for all who are lost. To be the kind of person no one will be surprised to find being about God’s holy, loving business in this world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen