And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Between the Nativity of our Lord that we began celebrating last week and the Feast of the Epiphany this coming Wednesday, we’re jumping out of order in the story a bit in our Gospel reading this morning. So, while keeping ourselves in the Christmas state of mind, let’s turn our thoughts and attention to a twelve-year old Jesus, joining his parents as he had every year of his life so far to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.
As the story continues, we hear that everything is going according to plan and “according to custom” -- the Passover concludes as normal and the holy family’s devout observance of the feast is completed. But then, Jesus decides to stay behind in Jerusalem, and apparently doesn’t bother informing his parents of this. Every parent’s worst nightmare. And after three days of earnestly asking around among their traveling company, they still haven’t found him and so they return to Jerusalem, hoping for the best.
Note how Mary and Joseph return to Jerusalem in search for their Son, Jesus. They’ve already been there for the Passover, which had been their main reason for journeying to Jerusalem this year; they’ve already made their appropriate pilgrimage as devout Jews. As far as their obedience to God is concerned, they’ve fulfilled their holy obligation and can leave Jerusalem behind until next year. But Jesus has given them a reason for a new pilgrimage; a new obligation to Jerusalem and to the God who is now in the flesh and has been entrusted to them as their Son.
This has already become one of Jesus’ trademark effects in the world since his birth. He has a way of bringing people into whatever city he happens to be in at the moment. When he was born, a heavenly host of angels sent the shepherds to Bethlehem where they found him lying in a manger. And then, on the Feast of the Epiphany that we will observe this week, we will hear of the Magi who have followed a star through a long and difficult journey to find the one “who has been born king of the Jews.” Like the shepherds, they too will be sent to Bethlehem.
But it is Jerusalem that is most significant in the Old Testament and in the minds of faithful Jews like Mary and Joseph. It is the City of God, the City of the Temple, the City of Zion. It is the place of God’s presence and thus represents the center of the world, the place where God will draw all his people to himself on the day of redemption. It’s what we hear described so vividly in our reading from Jeremiah this morning.
But Mary and Joseph eventually find Jesus at 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.” Even at just twelve years of age, Jesus is already growing into the full comprehension of his mission in the world and of the will of God. Now, remember that Jesus was born “full of grace and truth” as the very incarnation of the Son of God; that is who he is. Jesus didn’t start out fully human at birth and then gradually become fully God as his life progressed. He was never anyone else or anything less than the Word made flesh. This truth in particular is of the greatest importance for the Christian faith. Throughout the Church’s history, numerous heresies have arisen that distort this truth, but the Catholic faith has always insisted without wavering what we proclaim each week in the Nicene Creed: “we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made….”
Nevertheless, as fully human, Jesus still lives a totally ordinary human life. He has to grow up and go through childhood like everyone else. He has to learn to speak in the language of his people. He has to “listen to the teachers” at the temple and “ask them questions,” just like every other Jewish student in Jerusalem. In short, he has to “increase in wisdom and stature.” While Jesus never becomes more the Son of God than he was from his birth -- indeed, from all eternity -- the perfect union of God and humanity in him means that his identity as God will be revealed through the normal course of human development.
And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus knows that he is the Son of God the Father. And as we find throughout the Old Testament, the rightful place for the true Son of God, the true representative of Israel, is in the City of God, Jerusalem. And not just in Jerusalem, but in the temple: the place where the presence of God abides and where all the sacrifices and obedience of God’s people is fulfilled. As Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God -- the one who lives a life of perfect obedience to the Law -- he belongs in his Father’s house.
After this exchange with his parents, it says that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” His obedience to his Father in heaven does not preclude his obedience to Mary and Joseph. On the contrary, as such obedience is commanded by the Fifth Commandment to honor one’s father and mother, his obedience to his earthly parents is itself an act of obedience to God. But significantly, he leaves Jerusalem and the temple with it and returns to Nazareth which Mary and Joseph. His final statement remains, however: “I must be in my Father’s house.” And a question arises: does his departure from the temple mean that he has left his Father’s house? I think what is implied here, especially when we consider the rest of the New Testament’s teaching about Jesus, is that Jesus is never not in his Father’s house. No matter where he happens to be, he’s never not in the temple. For Jesus is himself the new temple; he is himself the presence of God in the world. As the Son of God, his presence “does not live in shrines made by man,” for his very body is the shrine. “Christ Jesus himself [is] the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord…” . Because Jesus’ obligation to remain in his Father’s house does not keep him from returning home with Mary and Joseph, we see a subtle preview of what will later be revealed in full: the physical temple is being succeeded by “the temple of his body”  -- the temple that Jesus says will be destroyed and “in three days I will raise it up" .
In closing, I want to return to the text that says that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus grows up like the rest of us, and this includes his growth in wisdom and in the favor of God. Our entire salvation absolutely depends on this seemingly minor detail. If the Son of God had just been sent into the world as a fully developed person, he would have only been a mere appearance of a human being. Because that’s not how real human beings come into the world. And if Christ was not a real human being, then the Incarnation did not actually happen and humanity is right back where the problem started: infinitely removed from the life of God and unable to become the children of God. But because Christ was a real human being -- because Christ did enter into a fully human life of growth and development -- our salvation is in fact possible. The only way that we can achieve or attain anything in our lives is by some kind of growth, and this is precisely what Christ sanctifies by growing up with us. Jesus increases in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man, so that we too can increase in the same. And as members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, we too are now in our Father’s house, growing ever more fully “into a holy temple in the Lord.”
 Ephesians 2:20
 John 2:21
 John 2:19