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And As Was His Custom

“And As Was His Custom” by Pastor Meyer

The three Synoptic Gospels [Synoptic=to see together] record Jesus coming to Nazareth his home town. Only Luke adds the phrase, “And as was his custom.” In fact, that’s how Luke begins his sentence.

And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

Jesus had been raised in Nazareth. As a child his parents brought him every Sabbath day to the synagogue. As an adult Jesus kept this custom as well. He did not deviate from coming to the synagogue for readings and prayer. There were no sacrifices made in the synagogues because those could be made only at the temple in Jerusalem. We know that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple because Luke records that, too.

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. [Luke 2.41]

As a boy Jesus was in his Father’s house, just as he told Mary and Joseph as they quizzed him about where he had been when they had missed him on the journey home. Jesus was always at home in the synagogue or at the temple.

“Custom” could be equated equated with habit. We recognize good habits and bad habits. It is a good habit to brush your teeth and shower. It is a bad habit to neglect personal hygiene. It is a good habit to be polite to other people when you meet them. It is a bad habit to use foul language.

Closely related to custom is ritual. That directs us to a series of actions in observing a rite. Ritual means behavior. For example, if you watch sports closely you will notice that athletes have a certain ritual which they perform. In baseball a batter almost always has his own ritual in approaching the plate. He may tap his cleats, grip and regrip his bat, take his stance digging in his cleats. The pitcher, too, has his ritual in getting ready to pitch. He may adjust his cap, put rosin on his throwing hand, dig his cleats into the dirt on the rubber, shrug his shoulders, and many other idiosyncratic actions. If either disturbs the other, the whole process starts over. Much discussion has happened in recent years to speed up the game. Pitch clocks, the time a batter may take to get ready are actions taken.

But these rituals in sports or even getting showered and dressed before work, what one eats or doesn’t eat for breakfast, what one does at bedtime, all involve a certain ritual which is based on habit. We have them. Those who study sleep patterns notice these habits before bed. Getting to sleep involves habitual practices. These are good. Ritual brings order to our lives.

Infinitely more important is what our Lord did in his life concerning hearing God’s Word and receiving his gifts.

And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day

How many of us practice the one custom that is absolutely necessary? I’m talking about being present in God’s House each Sunday to receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament? Only one custom is criticized with regard to being in God’s House. It is

25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. [Heb. 10.25]

As a child Jesus sat through a long synagogue service as psalms were sung, the Law was read, the prophets were read, prayers were offered, and a sermon was preached. It was similar to ours but without the Sacrament and the clear proclamation of the Gospel, and most of all, the Absolution is spoken.

One needs to put aside excuses. Fear needs to be put aside as well. It’s been my observation that people are still out doing grocery shopping on Sundays even though the media scare us with reports of the Wuhan virus and its many iterations. Bad customs have developed and a lethargy has set in, far more deadly than a bodily illness.

Our Lord Jesus desired to be where his Father is—in the Word. We make excuses as to why we cannot be present for the gifts of God. Perhaps this becomes a bad habit or custom into which many of us have fallen. Repentance is needed!

Here is a prayer from Bo Giertz, a Swedish Lutheran Bishop which we should find helpful:

Lord, You know how lazy I can be. You know how I resist going to church. There is a part of me that opposes everything you desire. Lord, You know this well. You were also a human. You also sat through the long Divine Service. Yet You heard Your Father’s voice. You knew He was there, and You desired to be where He was. Give me that kind of mind and heart. When I am reluctant, let me catch a glimpse of You in order that I may know what I ought to do. And so I pray to You, Lord, that You will help our clergy instruct correctly so we may hear Your voice. Help us to listen to Your voice, and not the voices of those who speak.

From Darkness to Light by Vicar Norris

In my childhood church, a tall clear glass window was positioned over the altar which faced east. The architect had skillfully planned and designed the orientation of the church so that on Easter Sunday morning the rising sun would emerge over the altar. Bright beams of sunlight would flood in through the window over the altar illuminating the chancel and nave with warm glowing light. This was a skillful and artful reminder that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world and no darkness can overcome Him. (John 8:12,1:5)

In the early Church, adult converts who were to be baptized faced west to renounce the devil and then faced eastward to see the rising sun as a symbol of Christ. One of the modern practices of the Lutheran church is that at your baptism you receive a burning light, a candle which is lit from the Paschal candle to show that you received Christ who is the Light of the World. This burning light is also to remind you to be watching for Jesus’ return.

The scriptures are also filled with illustrations and allusions to darkness and light. After the fall of mankind in the garden mankind on earth became so wicked that God determined to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. But God found a righteous man in Noah. God spared Noah, his family, and the animals from destruction by having Noah build an ark. As God’s wrath fell upon the wicked world in the rain and gushed from the ground, God shut Noah and his family in the ark. In the dark tomb of the ark, Noah and his family took shelter from the tempest of God’s wrath which raged upon the world. After the rains stopped, the tomb, the ark containing Noah and his family, came to a rest on Mount Ararat. After waiting and sending out a dove God commanded Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.” (Gen 8:16) Noah and his family, eight souls in all, emerged from the tomb of the ark and emerged into the bright light of life. God had preserved them and brought them from darkness into light.

Likewise, Jonah was thrown overboard into the waters of a storm and swallowed by great fish. Jonah spent three days and three nights in the dark tomb of the great fish’s belly. The belly of a fish that smelled of rotten fish and death was a place of judgment and death for Jonah. Jonah prayed to God for salvation. On the third day, God caused the great fish to vomit Jonah upon the dry land and into the light of day. God took Jonah from certain death and brought him back to life, from darkness to light. So significant were the events of Jonah’s life that our Lord Jesus Christ pointed to him as a sign of His resurrection. (Matt. 16:4)

During Jesus’ life on earth, one of His close friends Lazarus became sick and died. Lazarus had been dead for so many days that his sister Martha was concerned that the odor from Lazarus’s dead decaying body would be terrible. As Jesus approached the stone which covered Lazarus’s dark tomb was rolled away. Jesus prayed to the Father and then commanded in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” (Jn 11:43) At the word of our God and Savior, Lazarus walked out of the dark tomb of death and into the light of life. The wrappings which bound Lazarus’s head and feet were loosed and Lazarus was freed.

Darkness and light is a theme that is demonstrated time and time again in the scriptures. Darkness represents judgment and death, whereas light represents life. Our Lord Jesus Christ who perfectly kept and fulfilled the law and was innocent was betrayed, beaten, and killed. He was crucified on the cross for the sins of the whole world. On the cross, Jesus became the curse (Galatians 3:13), and darkness fell upon the land. Jesus, facing death and darkness, cried out to the Father with the words of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) Our Lord suffered on the cross and died and he was placed into the dark tomb of death. But this is not the end of the story. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave and stepped into the light of life. Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil, and now shines forever as the light of the world. In His light, there is everlasting life.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”. (Rom 6:3-5)

When you came to the baptismal font you were not baptized with the waters of judgment and death, but with the water of life. God used water in the time of Noah as judgment and death, but in His grace, he saved Noah and his family. In your baptism, you were buried with Christ into his death. But Just as Christ was resurrected on the third day, you too shall be resurrected into everlasting life. In your baptism by the water included in God’s command and the Word of God combined with the water, you have been rescued from the darkness of death which you inherited from Adam and Eve and sin.  By one man sin entered the world, but by one man, Jesus Christ, you are no longer a son of darkness. Through adoption, you have become an heir of God, and heir of Light. As you cross and remember your baptism, remember that burning light of Christ that you received. Although it is but one candle, joined with all the heirs of Christ it is a bright light and an image of the overwhelming light of Christ.  In your baptism you are buried and raised with Jesus, you daily die to sin, and through a life of repentance, you arise into the light of new life in Christ. During this season of Epiphany remember that darkness can no longer touch you, for the light and life of Christ overpowers all darkness and death.

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