First Sunday after Christmas
Jesus asked, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"
Thus says the Lord:
When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands......[i]f a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. Then the priest is to take some of the blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven.Leviticus 4:2, 27-31
Thus is prescribed the Sin Offering at the Temple, the House of YHWH, the living God. In such manner is a man cleansed of the sin he commits unintentionally against the Lord's commands, and he is forgiven before the Lord his God.
Thus says the Lord:
When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD's holy things,...If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do...when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.Leviticus 5:15a, 17; 6:2-7
Thus is prescribed the Guilt Offering at the Temple, the House of YHWH, the living God. In such manner is a man cleansed of the sin he commits...the guilt removed from him...and he is made right in the sight of man and before the Lord his God.
Thus says the Lord:
When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then...the priests shall bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The...priest[s] are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then...the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the burning wood that is on the altar. He is to wash the inner parts and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD...The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.Leviticus 1:2b-9; 6:9b
Thus is prescribed the Burnt Offering at the Temple, the House of YHWH, the living God. In such manner does a man make propitiation...that is satisfaction...for any ill wrath of God, for it is an aroma pleasing to Him. In such manner does a man also consecrate the whole of him for service and adoration of YHWH, the living God.
Therein is the business of the House of YHWH, the living God: the receiving and making of offerings...sacrifices. There, in the House of YHWH, in the Tabernacle before, did God dwell among His people. There, in the House of YHWH, in the Tabernacle before, did God meet His people and forgive them.
So, there, in the House of YHWH, we find the boy Jesus, a mere 12 years old, just as His mother and foster father did, having traveled a ways from Jerusalem without Him. He was in the company of the people, in there presence, dwelling among them, and instructing them...listening to them, asking them questions, answering their questions...and amazing all in His hearing with His understanding. Perhaps we would like to think that He was catechizing them in the ways of the suffering servant from the prophecies of Isaiah. "Today, in your hearing, these words are being fulfilled," He could have said; He certainly did so having read the Isaiah scroll at the synagogue in Nazareth some 18 years later.
Having spent three days in the company of the teachers in the temple courts, His mother and foster father find Him. And, as any worried parent would do...and who wouldn't worry after having lost a 12 year-old for 3 days...they react with a bit of scorn: "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." And then, He says it! "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" Perhaps, as many of us know it, "Didn't you know I had to be about my Father's business?" Business or house, it doesn't matter, for this holy Child is about both.
In this holy season of Christmas, we throw the word Emmanuel about so easily. Now, here is the 12 year-old Emmanuel...God with us, God in the flesh, God dwelling among us, God pitching His fleshy tent among us, God "tabernacling" among us. There in that 12 year-old Boy is the House of God...that 12 year-old Boy is the House of God. Stop and think about that for a moment: Jesus is Emmanuel...Jesus is the House of God...be He an infant, a 12 year-old boy, or a 30 year-old man.
But we also see Him in the Temple, the House of God built by human minds and hands...first Solomon, then Zerubbabel, then Herod the Great. And if He is there about His Father's business, then He is there for the forgiveness of sins, to make propitiation for the people as the priests would do; He is there foreshadowing what He would do a mere 21 years later. At the tender age of 12, he is set about the task of redeeming the world. For it would be in 21 years years that He will return to Jerusalem to be about His Father's business of redeeming the world. There, He will be the Sin and Guilt Offering...the lamb without blemish, the spotless Lamb of God...sacrificed on the altar of the cross, shedding His blood to cleanse sinners and make the guilty right with God, and suffering the burning hell of God's wrath and abandonment as a Burnt Offering for satisfaction...as a propitiation...an aroma pleasing to God.
That's why He is Emmanuel...God in the flesh among us. That is why He was born and why He lived: in order that He may die for the forgiveness of all of our sins...everyone who has lived, is living, and will ever live. "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death...that is, the devil...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Here, only 12 years old, He gives us a sneak peak into His business.
And, we must be real. Let us look back at what the Lord says: "When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands...If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands...he is guilty and will be held responsible." Whether we mean to or not, we sin..."All have sinned," says St. Paul...you do, I do, the person sitting next to you does. And, according to the Law of God, whether we mean to or not, we are guilty of it. Intention means nothing when it comes to committing a sin...commit a sin, intentionally or not, and you are guilty. So, this is the fact we must face: we are all guilty of sinning. And a Sin or Guilt Offering is then required of us...maybe even a Burnt Offering.
Therefore, God in His everlasting mercy, became flesh and dwelt among us. The sacrifices of the Sin Offering, Guilt Offering, and Burnt Offering could not appease God forever. These things were but a shadow, St. Paul tells us, and the reality or fullness (that is, the fulfillment) is found in Christ...in Emmanuel. The author of the Hebrews confirms this when He writes, "Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself," and...
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming...not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world,...[f]irst he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.Hebrews 10:1-5a, 8-12
To put it succinctly, we can echo the author from today's reading: "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."
By being about His Father's business, even at 12 years of age, He is about the business of the forgiveness of sins...the forgiveness of your sins, of my sins, of the sins of the person next to you. Christ is the propitiation for our sins, says St. Paul. He has taken our sin and guilt upon Himself, as it was transferred to the sacrificial animals by the laying on of hands, and died with it on the altar of the cross, removing it from us as far as the east is from the west. We are at peace with God...Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
But, there was one more animal sacrifice made at the Temple.
Thus says the Lord:
When his offering is a sacrifice of a peace offering,...he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and the priests shall sprinkle the blood all around on the altar. Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire to the LORD...[The priests] shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is on the wood that is on the fire, as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.Leviticus 3:1a, 2-3a, 5
Thus is prescribed the Peace Offering at the Temple, the House of YHWH, the living God. In such manner does a man thank and praise God for being at peace with him and for being in fellowship with him.
While for us the bloody sacrifices are over, it is still well and good to thank and praise God for the peace we have with Him in His Son, Emmanuel. This you do when you receive His good and perfect gifts and He comes down to you to serve you with forgiveness, life, and salvation, when you pray, praise, and give thanks in words and songs, and when you give back to God that which He has given you to support this body and life...your time, talents, and treasures. You do all these things joyfully rejoicing, because Emmanuel has come, removing your sin and guilt. Rejoice! You are forgiven for all of your sins.