We pick up our story in the Gospel of Luke following the birth story of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Things move quickly in our story after the birth of Jesus. Like all of us, Mary and Joseph had to get back to the real world.
Similar to how it is in hospitals today after a birth, the parents could not linger in the hospitality of the hospital or the stable.
Mary and Joseph’s religion required certain rites and rituals to be performed. So, eight days after the birth of Jesus, his parents had him circumcised and they gave him the name, Jesus, which was the name the angel had told Mary nine months earlier would be his name.
Now, we pick up the Gospel story with Mary and Joseph making more travel plans and going to the temple in Jerusalem. They went to Jerusalem for two reasons. First, so that Mary could perform the Jewish rite of purification required for women 40 days after childbirth and second, to dedicate their first-born child to God, which was required by the law of Moses.
Our Gospel story comes from Luke, the second chapter, verses 22-40. You may follow along on the screens or on page 781 of the pew Bibles.
Luke 2:22-40 (CEB)
When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord”). They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. She was now an 84-year-old widow.
She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him. A word of God, for the people of God…Thanks be to God.
December 30-31, 2017
First Sunday of Christmas
During the weeks of Advent, we talked a lot about waiting…waiting and preparing for the coming of God in the Christ child.
On this first weekend after Christmas, Simeon and Anna offer us another example of waiting…of active waiting. Simeon and Anna were both advanced in age and had been waiting all their lives to see the presence of God revealed in the Christ. In their waiting they were alert and present to the moment. They were attentive to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, and they were patient. And in that patience they were paying attention so they would not miss the in-breaking of God’s presence in human form.
That is what incarnation is all about. The word incarnation derives from the Latin word for ‘flesh.’ So the incarnation of Jesus is God come to us in human form…in the flesh. Simeon held in his arms the incarnation of God.
And that not only happened then, so long ago, but continues to happen when we trust God with our present and with our future and when we share God’s love with others.
It happens when raise and nurture our children in the baptismal promises we make on their behalf. When we bring our children for baptism, we promise that by our teaching and example we will guide them to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life.
The incarnation of God happens when we translate that baptismal promise into raising our children with a healthy curiosity and love for God as they grow in their faith.
The incarnation of God happens when we raise our children with a deep abiding sense of care and love and justice for all people.
There is a story that I first heard many years ago that has stayed with me.
An older couple lived in a Miami, Florida neighborhood that was in transition from being mainly middle-class white Anglo residents to blue-collar Hispanic residents. One by one those who had raised their families in that neighborhood made arrangements to move; some further out into the suburbs and some into senior developments.
After church one Sunday, some longtime neighbors of the couple approached them to say, “We’ve sold our house, and we’re moving in a month. What are your plans?” The older couple looked at each other and replied, “We’re going to learn Spanish!”
This older couple stepped outside the norm, setting expectations aside in favor of a broader future.
In our Gospel story, Simeon does something unusual for a man in the first century. On seeing Jesus, he takes this child he does not know in his arms. In the first century, children were the responsibility of women and it would have been out of the norm for a man to take a child in his arms, especially a child outside his own family.
Yet, Simeon puts aside culture and expectation in favor of God’s future. Simeon holds the future in his arms. He sees the potential and embraces what is coming, even though he knows all will not be smooth and life will not always be easy. Simeon says, in effect, “I can leave this life in peace because I have seen God’s salvation and God’s plan of love for all people.”
Anna offers her praise in the same spirit, rejoicing in a hope and a future that will not take shape until long after she is gone.
The same type of spirit toward change can be true for us. Every time we share in the sacrament of baptism with an infant or child, we are proclaiming this child and all children as God’s children and our children.
One of the wonderful traditions we have in our church is to stand and place a hand on the person next to us or in front of us until we are all connected with the one being baptized. Then the words of blessing for the child are offered. That is our way of holding that child and reminding ourselves that we are holding the future.
And when we hold the future and are honest and open, we know things will not always stay the same. In that knowledge, are we able to adjust our way of doing things in order to welcome and nurture new ideas, new visions, and new ways of leading that may come from that child? Perhaps not literally, but are we able to learn a new ‘language’ from those who will follow us?
Are we, like Simeon and Anna, willing to be the cloud of witnesses that surround our children and be the ones they can turn to with their hopes and fears and questions?
We know the way will not always be smooth or easy for our children or for us. In fact, we declare it in our baptismal vows…we declare that evil is real.
On behalf of their child we ask parents and sponsors to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of their sin.” In other words, we are saying that we acknowledge that the evil and hard places of the world can and do overwhelm and push in on us.
But then in our baptismal liturgy we also declare on behalf of our children that we will “accept the freedom and power God give us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
Simeon stands in grateful wonder, knowing it is hope for the future he holds in his hands. Yet, as the elderly Simeon held the infant Jesus, I imagine a mix of emotions were within him…feelings of being blessed at the opportunity to hold this hope in his arms, but also feelings of sorrow and heartbreak at knowing that this child would be destined for the falling and rising of many people in Israel.
But on this day, Simeon held hope…the hope and salvation that has come to all of us at Christmas from the great faithfulness of God.
Thirty years or more will pass before the gospel story will tell us much more about the life and ministry of Jesus. In the meantime, even before knowing what will become of Jesus, the ones who saw this baby honored him.
We know so much more about Jesus than the shepherds who came to the manger; than Simeon and Anna in the temple; or the Magi that will journey to see him with their gifts.
We also have the children within our church and others in our lives that are briefly entrusted to our arms for blessing and hope. We pray that their lives will be filled with wisdom and strength and courage and that they will be witnesses of God’s love in the world.
When we hold a child in our arms, our life can literally seem re-centered with hope for the present and the future. We may not get all the way to seeing their future ourselves, not in this life. But like Simeon and Anna saw in Jesus, God gives us the gift of seeing and holding hope when we hold a child, and that is enough for us to see that hope for ourselves and others.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.