February 4, 2018
Rev. Dr. Alan Baughcum
Day’s Ferry Congregational Church, Woolwich ME
Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40
In this season of Epiphany we have heard several readings from the Scriptures that make manifest to us the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, the Christ, Savior of all Creation, Lord.
How do we know that? Jesus told us. God told us. The Holy Spirit told the disciples gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
The miracles of Jesus attest to Jesus’ identity. Only God has the power to turn water into wine, feed thousands with almost no food, control the elements of the earth such as wind and water, expel demonic spirits, heal the sick, and raise the dead. Jesus did those things.
What I want to talk about this morning is how did Jesus come to know who he was? When did it happen and how did it happen that Jesus came to the knowledge of his identity?
I need to be careful here because we have very little information from the Bible about this process, about this coming to knowledge of Jesus’ true self. So, anything I say needs to be considered carefully and prayerfully and rejected if it is not consistent with what we do know from the Bible.
The Nicene Creed is our short-hand guide to what the Bible has to say about the Holy Trinity. Here is what it says about Jesus:
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, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
The first paragraph makes it clear that Jesus is fully divine. The second paragraph and our reading from Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was fully human.
So, here is my best guess about how Jesus came to self-knowledge. Pretty much, close to, but not quite exactly how we come to knowledge of who we are!
Jesus was fully human. That means that as a newborn baby Jesus did not come into the world knowing everything there was to know about Creation. Like every other baby he had to learn. From the teachings of his parents, his community, his synagogue. From his life experiences. From his own explorations in the community, in nature, and from journeys into his own interiority, often using prayer.
His parents would have explained to him the very unusual circumstances of his birth: the coming of angels to Mary and to Joseph, his birth in a manger, the visit of the shepherds and of the wise men from afar with their expensive gifts. They would also have related to him the circumstances of his visit to Jerusalem at the age of twelve, as related in our reading this morning in Luke. He would have been told of the words of Simeon and Anna in the Temple.
At some point he would have been told of the slaughter of the innocent children in Bethlehem in an attempt by Herod to prevent the coming of a Messiah who might overthrow his rule. That probably would have happened in the year or two that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in Egypt waiting for the evil King to die.
We do not know much about the education that Jesus received, how many languages he was able to speak: Aramaic for sure, Greek? Hebrew? But he certainly became familiar with the Scriptures used in the synagogue, the ones to which we refer as the Old Testament.
And he must have learned well. He made an impression in the Temple when he visited at age twelve. Luke says (2:47): “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
When Mary and Joseph scolded Jesus for remaining in the Temple while the rest of the family had returned home, Jesus responded (Lk 2:49): “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Clearly Jesus had already began to form some notion of the intimate relationship he had with God, his heavenly Father.
Here is where I think Jesus’ coming to awareness of himself differs from that of other human beings like you and me. We are human, as was Jesus. We are working on becoming fully human, something I think Jesus achieved very early in his life. To be fully human, we must be fully obedient to our God. Jesus did that his entire life. We fight against it, struggle with it, and sometimes actually manage to do it.
More than that, Jesus was fully divine, the only child begotten of God. I think that the theology behind the Bible involves the huge gulf between God the Creator and his Creation. It is the difference between the potter and the pot. We are, to put it plainly, the pot.
Jesus was begotten of the Father. He was of one Being with the Father. Jesus came into this world with an extremely intimate connection with God, a connection we do not have.
Jesus gave up his connection with God on the cross. In order to cross the vast gulf between Creator and Creation, a gulf caused by the sinfulness of human beings, our Savior took our sins with him to the cross. He died. He truly died. Just as do all human beings, Jesus died. Not a fake death, a real death. He went into the tomb dead, without connection to God or his family or his friends or neighbors ….. because he was really dead!
God raised Jesus from the dead, and is now the bridge across the chasm between God and human beings. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for our hope of resurrection. If one can be raised by God from the dead to eternal life, then perhaps the people of God can similarly be raised. That is my hope. That has been the traditional hope of Christians down through the centuries.
How did Jesus come to know himself? His parents taught him. His community and synagogue and Temple experiences taught him. The Scriptures taught him. The connections with his Heavenly Father taught him.
There are two books I would recommend to you on this subject. Both are by Anne Rice, the author of all those vampire novels. But, at the time she wrote two books on the childhood and young manhood of Jesus, she was a practicing and believing Roman Catholic. (Since then, she has fallen away because of what she regards as the church’s retrograde position on human sexuality.) The two books are Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel (Life of Christ Book 1)
Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (Life of Christ Book 2). Her mastery of the geography, cultures, and religions of the region is amazing. The books are completely believable because they are grounded, in my opinion, in a trusting faith and solid scholarship. And they are very well written.
In Anne Rice’s books Jesus comes to an awareness of who he is in all the ways I have indicated. Plus one more: visions and dreams. Jesus’ visions and dreams are with him throughout his growing up. They are a way for him to sort through and try to make sense of what is happening in his life. They are powerful reminders of where he came from and guides to where he is going. Some of us human beings have been similarly accompanied by visions and dreams.
I share all of this with you because we are approaching the end of the season of Epiphany and the beginning of the season of Lent. It is our work in the season of Lent to take stock of where we are. Historically that has been a kind of buzz kill because we seemingly are supposed to beat ourselves up for falling short of the people we should be and for falling short of building and living fully in the Kin-dom of God.
In my contribution to the next newsletter and in my sermon today, I want to take a different approach. Taking stock means not just looking at the places where we fall short ….. and, Lord knows, there are plenty of such places in our lives, individually and collectively.
In the January 15, 2018 issue of Time magazine … you can recognize it because the cover features a picture of the best looking five-year-old boy in the world, Mohamad Nasir. He may even be better looking than my grandkids …. and that is really saying something! In that issue of Time, there is lots of good news …. lots of encouragement for the proposition that we can truly make progress in building up the Kin-dom of God.
From 1990 to 2012, Ethiopia lowered its 5 and under childhood mortality rates by two-thirds. Rwanda did even better, lowering its death rate for 5 and under children from 1 in 4 to 1 in 25.
The proportion of the world’s poor living on less than $1.90 per day, the world poverty level, has dropped in the past quarter-century from more than 33% to less than ten percent.
In 1990 India, St. Stephen’s Hospital in New Delhi saw 3000 cases of polio …. since 2011, there have been zero new cases.
Steven Pinker (Time, p. 28-29), Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, writes: “According to the latest data, people are living longer and becoming healthier, better fed, richer, smarter, safer, more connected — and, at the same time, ever gloomier about the state of the world.”
Why? Because people are more conditioned to fear that things will go wrong than that they will go well … there are perceived to be more opportunities for bad results than good ones. And, of course, the media prints the stuff that sells …. almost always, bad stuff.
In taking stock of how we are doing, Christians, especially American Christians, should rejoice at the good news. And we should communicate to the larger community that there is good news beyond all the numbers and the data. We have a bridge across the gulf between us and God. That bridge is named Jesus the Christ, a human being who, like most human beings, gradually became aware of who he is and what his mission on earth was. Jesus did not succumb to the despair of his time …. he came preaching and teaching the good news of the Kin-dom …. and so also can we.
Praise God for our Savior, Jesus, who now invites us to his table for the effort to take stock, identify the good stuff, and build on it as we progress on our faith journey.