Epiphany 1 — Duty

Preached January 8, 2012

Romans 12:1–5
St. Luke 2:41–52

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We have passed through the Christmass season into the Epiphany season that will last for several weeks. An epiphany is, of course in general, the sudden realization of a great truth. When we speak of The Epiphany in respect to our Lord Jesus Christ, we are speaking of the moment when He was recognized for Who He was by the Magi, the oriental sages that had traveled from the East in search of Him, being guided by a star. The season of Epiphany is the season in which the Church teaches specifically about the Incarnation, the coming of Christ to earth as a Man and the consequences in terms of resultant human duties.

During Epiphany, the Gospel lessons claim the place of honor, each one revealing some new aspect of our Savior Jesus Christ. The Epistle lesson then builds upon the Gospel lesson, showing how it is to be incorporated into our lives. Finally, the Collect for the Day is a prayer for the realization of the Epistle lesson in our own lives.

The Gospel lesson today is the familiar story of Jesus’ parents journeying to Jerusalem when He was twelve years old for the feast of the Passover. The opening verse of our Gospel lesson reads Luke 2:41   Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. We should note immediately that this is something that the parents do every year; this is a religiously observant household. They take seriously the duties of the Jewish religion, and they are careful to observe its requirements. We may feel certain that Jesus and any other children in the household were receiving careful, correct religious instruction from their parents, that the Sabbath family meal ritual was fully observed, and that the children were learning to read the Torah. We see the results of this teaching later in the lesson where we read, Luke 2:46-47   46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. Now we understand that on the one hand, this is Jesus Christ the Lord who is conversing with the doctors, so there is no surprise at all, but on the other hand, this is only the son of Mary and Joseph, the couple from Galilee who most certainly is not expected to be able to carry on such a conversation. It is evident that the effects of the home in Nazareth we profound! Duty to God was no doubt taught very clearly there.

Each of us has a specific duty to attend to the things of God. Jesus showed this in His statement to His earthly parents when He said, Luke 2:49   And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? This shows that He had some level of understanding of His divine mission, although the exact degree of His understanding at this time is debatable. It is certain, however, that He was drawn to the things of God and knew that He had some role to play in them. We may also compare this statement with Jesus’ final words on the Cross, Luke 23:46   And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Both  as a twelve year old adolescent and as a dying Savior, Jesus points us to the Father. Pointing us to the Father is, indeed, the summary of His whole life.

Even though He had established His close relation to the Father, Jesus continued to live under the roof of Mary and Joseph and be obedient to them as we read here: Luke 2:51a  And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: This does not describe just the time immediately following the episode in the Temple, but rather is a description of his relationship to Mary and Joseph throughout his years of growing up, working in the carpenter shop, and until he began in public ministry at age 30. There was no conflict between being obedient to His earthly parents while still preparing for His mission to serve His heavenly Father. It was the same for Jesus as it is for all of us in terms of giving our parents the service of our labor and time until such time as He left to begin His work.

Note also the final verse of our Gospel lesson: Luke 2:52   And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. As noted just above, Jesus did not begin His mission to the world until He was 30 years old, yet a Jewish boy was considered a grown man at age 13. Thus we can conclude that Jesus remained on at home, under His earthly parent’s roof, far longer than there was any requirement to do. Why did He do this? The answer is the duty of preparation. Jesus was preparing for the most awful struggle the world has ever seen, and such battle could not be undertaken without preparation. The quiet village of Nazareth and the surrounding hills provided the place and the opportunity for Him to prepare to be the Saviour of the world.

The Gospel lesson has provided us several examples of duty which sets the stage for us to turn to the specific duties laid upon us in the Epistle lesson. Having seen the manifestations of Christ, we are called upon to be further manifestations of Christ in our everyday lives.

Duty is a word not often clearly defined. It is something we think everybody knows, but nobody quite agrees just what it is. This is what St. Paul is speaking of in the Epistle lesson, Romans 12:1   I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Duty is an action made in response to what is perceived to be the mercies of God. It is made out of love, but not our own love which is so extremely weak. Rather, it is made as a thank–offering for the love of God received. It is made in joy, with its only regret being that it is not capable of more.

We are people born with a free will, a freedom that leaves us able to choose for ourselves whom we will serve in this life. We make our lives a living sacrifice to God when we choose to serve Him, rather than self, as a freely made choice. St. Paul goes on to say, Romans 12:2  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. The unconverted soul will flinch at the idea of sacrifice and seek to avoid it; it is seen as a painful denial of self. But as St. Paul tells us, if our minds are transformed by Christ, then the duty to serve God is not a privation, but rather an exercise of the good and perfect will of God for us. This makes the burden easy and God’s service becomes our joy rather than labor and toil.

At the same time that we have discovered the real joy in living for and with Jesus Christ, we must remain humble in our dealings with other people, not becoming puffed up in our discovery. Romans 12:3-5   3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.   4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. It would be very easy for a person, having just found new life in Christ, to suddenly begin to think of himself as very special and above other people. While he is very special in terms of being a member of the Body of Christ, it becomes extremely important for that person to recognize that there are also many other members of the Body as well. Not all are in the same place in their Christian life, not all have been given the same graces, not all perform the same functions in the Church, but all are members of the Body and therefore loved by Jesus Christ. There has been no end of heartache within the Church throughout the years caused by various people who thought for one reason or another that they should occupy a privileged position within the Church!

In the Collect for the Day, we pray for knowledge that we may perceive and know what we ought to do with regard to our spiritual concerns, the duty of our various positions, and the conduct of our ordinary life. We pray for the general direction of God’s holy Word, and for the particular guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We pray for the enlightenment of conscience, lest the light within us should fail; we can only safely follow conscience when conscience has learned to follow Christ. We learn duty from God.

It is not enough to know our duty; we need the strength of will to perform it willingly, thoroughly, and without hesitation, and the source of this strength is God’s grace. God is not only our teacher in regard to duty, but our enabler to perform that duty. We look to Him for both of these.

Duty was most certainly one of the hallmarks of Jesus Christ. Throughout His entire life, He pointed men to God the Father in every word He spoke, every action He made. We are to learn to model our lives on His, and to accept duty as a fundamental part of our lives as well, duty to live not for ourselves, but to live for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Let us be busy every day of our lives, fulfilling our duty as Christians in this world that we may be prepared for the life to come with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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