Posted on January 7th, 2018
“Look,” says Mary, “Your father and I have sought you anxiously” (Luke 2:41-52, Gospel for Epiphany I). Many of you have experienced anxiety at some time or in some form. That Mary and Joseph knew anxiety is written for our comfort—to know we are not alone—and also for our instruction, to learn how to deal with anxiety.
Anxiety is part of the world’s fallen condition. We experience anguish of spirit, mind, and body for all kinds of reasons. You can imagine the anxiety Mary and Joseph had, for much of parenthood is worrying about your children – and losing your little boy in a crowded city would terrify any parent.
On top of this is the spiritual responsibility that Mary and Joseph have been given. From Gabriel’s announcement of the conception of Jesus in the virgin Mary’s womb, to the visits of shepherds and wise men, to the flight into Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath, everything has pointed to the importance of this Child. And now they’ve lost Him. Mary especially must be experiencing not only the fears of a mother, but a woman standing under God’s judgment. God gave her this Son, and she has lost Him.
Why would God put her through this? Dr. Luther says,
The more highly [God] blesses, honors, and exalts [His saints], the deeper He puts them both into cross and suffering—yes, into dishonor, shame, and abandonment.
The serene paintings of the virgin Mary I think mask the real situation. She is terrified of the angelic appearance. The ordeal of childbirth would leave her exhausted and disheveled. What would the mad midnight race into the desert to escape Herod do?
The mother of Jesus is the most blessed of all women, filled with grace, and the greatest model of a Christian: She hear’s God’s Word and replies simply, “Amen!”
But she is also the woman whom Simeon said would have a sword pierce her heart. Like her Son after her, Mary knows the cross and great suffering. Like every great saint, she feels and knows anxiety, fear, distress.
And now she has lost Him. As the hours race by, and the second day becomes the third, hope is fading. Did Mary and Joseph argue, and blame each other? Did they blame themselves and become morose?
All of our losses, every time we are confronted with failure, and sin, and death, the temptation is to see God as lost. He has abandoned us, or will not help, or is holding our failure against us.
“The relationship failed because I am a failure.” “The child died because I didn’t pray enough.” “God is dead and so is my hope.”
All the great saints suffered afflictions and anxiety.
Abraham and Sarah are promised a child, but spend years in the sorrow and isolation of barrenness.
Joseph is cast into the pit, sold as slave by his own brothers, and falsely accused.
Moses murders a man and must flee into the wilderness.
Job sits on a pile of dung, cutting his skin with a broken pot and longing for death.
Jonah languishes for three days in the belly of a sea monster.
Elijah despairs that he is the last worshipper of God left alive on the earth.
Throughout Scripture we find the saints tormented and afflicted, and falling into the sin of despair – all to teach us what to do in the hour of temptation, the hour of trial.
First we need to know why the anxiety and trouble come. Our afflictions and temptations come to cut down our arrogance. Pride is what made the devil who he is; so exalted was he in gifts that he came to despise God and rely on himself. So God lets us struggle to see that we cannot secure our own future. We cannot secure our own future; we can only live by grace.
David the great warrior describes his overconfidence in Psalm 30:
I said in my prosperity: ‘I shall never be defeated.’
But when You hid Your face, I was terrified.
He was confident in himself, not realizing that everything he had was from God. Once God withdrew His blessing, terror came.
God has allowed the greatest saints to feel the greatest anxiety. So we should not feel alone when anxiety comes to us. “Be still, and know that I am God.” What does that mean? All your efforts, your searching, must stop. God acts in the silent places. He raises dead bodies. He parts the sea, but not until the Egyptian army is about to attack.
He teaches us to pray not, “Give me a year of success,” or, “I claim a life of prosperity,” but instead, “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Give us day by day our bread for today.” You work for today, and let God work for tomorrow. What do you know about what will happen tomorrow? Nothing.
Now here is what we learn about the end of Mary and Joseph’s search: They find Jesus in the temple – which means what? The temple is where the Word of God is read, and where the sacrifices are offered. That’s where Jesus is.
He is not found in all the other comforts of the world. They had searched for Jesus among friends and relatives; they had the entire city of Jerusalem, with all of its knowledge and culture; they had their own reason and understanding – but none of it was sufficient. They were looking for Jesus in all of the wrong places. Our folly is often to look for satisfaction and fulfillment and meaning in every place but where we should be looking.
Mary and Joseph end their search in the temple, where the Word and Sacrifice are.
All our own searches will finally end when we turn to the Word and Sacrifice, that is, to Bible and Cross, Bible and Confession, Bible and Communion.
He is being, and will be, obedient to the work the Father has given Him. He is already preparing for the cross to come some twenty years later.
Jesus does the work we could never do. In your anxiety, be still and know that He is God. He is the end of your anxiety, the healing of your wounds, the sacrifice for your sins, the death of your death.
So now, anxiety dealt with, sin atoned for, Jesus found, we go with Jesus home. Although He is God in the flesh, He goes home with His parents and obeys them, keeping the Fourth Commandment.
That’s where our work is found too. The Wise Men, we heard yesterday, went home by a new and different way. Jesus goes home with Mary and Joseph and is obedient. This is the joy of our life. We know how the journey ends – with Easter, resurrection, unending gladness. With joy then we go home and live in obedience, knowing that we are exactly where God wants us to be.