Christmas 1. December 31, 2017.
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they [Mary and Joseph] brought him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;* this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.* 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon* came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon* took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant* in peace,
according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon* blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
36 There was also a prophet, Anna* the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child* to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The Gospel of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It was just another ordinary day…. but yet it wasn’t. Anna shuffled about, her stomach growling as she put away her blanket and bowl – she didn’t want to look like a bag lady – but she wondered who would be so kind as to offer her a small meal or piece of bread today. As every day, she imagined how life might have been different if she had borne a son, if her husband had lived longer. She looked around for people who might need her to help them navigate this complicated place that had become her assisted living home – for without child or husband, she had nowhere else to live.
She liked to greet young families who brought their newborns to the temple as prescribed by law and custom. She had been in the temple long enough to know how to help them find their way to obtain the proper offerings, figure out where to go, how much to pay, and what to say. On a good day she would rock the little ones in her arms for a while to give weary mothers and worried fathers a break. In return, the warmth and hope in that little one would gladden her heart and warm her frail body. But always – often with a bit of sadness -- she would return the child to her or his mother.
Today, from a quiet corner of the normally hectic and busy temple, Anna rested in the momentary stillness. As she often did, she buried her head in her hands thinking. Then she looked up and noticed a young couple with a baby standing with her old friend Simeon.
Simeon believed he would not die before he saw the Christ of Israel. Simeon has taken the baby in his arms; at first, he can only gaze, simply gaze. Then his words startle Mary and Joseph. “My eyes have seen your salvation . . . a light for revelation . . . and for glory to your people.”
Anna hurries over, she hadn’t been there to help the parents in her customary way. She teases her friend, “Is this the one you have been waiting for?”
+ + +
You whose families have been blessed with children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, know what a life change each birth is. Life will never go back to how it was before that child arrived. Every baby represents high hopes for the future.
Like every baby, Jesus changed the lives of his parents forever. He changed Simeon and Anna’s lives – and changed our lives! Simeon proclaimed that this child would be a child of promise but also of pain. The child of the cradle will be remembered also as a child of the cross. A sword will pierce Mary’s soul some 33 or so years hence. But Mary will also witness the first Easter morning!
Think for a moment how Jesus has changed YOUR life. What might you be like if you didn’t know him? Has Jesus’ life-giving Holy Spirit worked courage and faith and hope in you despite the worries, disappointments and horror we see in the world? Does your faith move your hands to reach out to others in peace, in service, in love?
Anna had been reaching out for years. Now she adds a new piece to her repertoire: she tells everyone who will listen that a young child has been born who will be the Messiah of Israel. The child’s cousin John will grow up to baptize and prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, but Anna has already begun that preparation.
She knows this is the one. Her friend Simeon has declared that he is now ready to die in peace, because he has seen the Lord’s Messiah. Anna has been ready to die for a long time, but now she has a new task: preaching God’s continued redeeming work in the world.
+ + +
I wonder what it would take for me to join Simeon in saying, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.” To tell God I would be ready to die. Like many of us, I would prefer not to think about that. Yet, when I work with hospice patients back in Washington, the idea of death is always right at the door. Some people are truly at peace – usually they are people of faith. Others are anxious, fearful, angry, depressed.
Life provides us with many “little deaths” – situations and circumstances of loss, disillusionment, sadness. Simeon and Anna had experienced many such times – as do you and I. We take from their story the hope that we too can rise beyond our doubts and fears to recognize and take hope from the wonder of the Christ-child, that we too can be at peace with whatever life and chance throw our way.
The birth of this helpless baby held in the arms of old people and to be raised by a young mother and caring stepfather – this birth was a cosmic event that put the powers of the universe in their place, never again to terrify or trouble those who name that baby as Lord.
+ + +
If you are old like Simeon and Anna, take heart from their ministries of faith, kindness, prayer and wonder. If you are blessed to hold your young child or grandchild close, think of baby Jesus and his parents who worked hard and walked long miles to do right by him and to raise him in faithfulness to God’s word. Thus, we read, he became strong and filled with wisdom. If you look around this congregation at the children we are blessed with and enjoy their smiles – and even their antics – say a prayer for each – knowing that the hopes and dreams of all of us rest in their young lives as they grow in grace and faith.
And remember that once YOUR life changed lives in YOUR family. God calls each of you “son” or “daughter,” gives you new clothes for Christmas: “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness.” God calls you by name and sets before you the same challenges of life that were set before Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph: to recognize the Christ child in one another, to pray and work for justice and peace, to proclaim the child as you go about living your life – if necessary to use words. YOU represent God’s highest joys and hopes for the future.
One poet put it this way:
When the song of the angels is silent
When the star in the sky is gone
When the shepherds are again tending their sheep
When the manger is darkened and still,
The work of Christmas begins –
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among people
To befriend the lonely
To release the prisoner
To make music in the heart. (Howard Thurmond)
God sent Jesus to be our brother and to be the One who leads us from the darkness of our world of discouragement and brokenness to a life that embraces the work of Christmas with courage.
This IS all pretty wonderful: not only poetic, beautiful, biblical and theological, but also practical. People who gave money for chicks and pigs and school kits can take heart knowing Lutheran World Relief and other organizations are getting those chicks to families, school kits to children, and sending your quilts across the world: practical good for Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Today you can give the practical gifts of forgiveness, kindness, or patience. You can give your children or grandchildren an extra hour of playing a game, taking a walk, sharing a treat. You can pray for the children of our congregation – and of our world.
This new year of grace will bring mission and challenge to each of us. May God bless us with the Holy Spirit that we might wear God’s new clothes of justice and righteousness for the sake of the newborn Christ Child, the prince of peace.
Ponder what it might take for you to say, with Simeon, “Lord, I’m ready to die now that I have seen you.” And with Anna, praise God for this holy birth.
Happy 6th Day of Christmas! The holidays continue. We needn’t forget the sounds of Christmas music and glow of candlelight just yet, and we pray for the new year.
“God, work within me and make me a part
of all you envision and all that you give
to all of your children wherever they live.” Amen.
Pastor Beth Orling