Christmas 1; Year B, 2014
Isaiah 61.10-62.3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.22-40
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace to you from the One who is salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Since I was nine years old my family and I have rented the same lake cabin in Minnesota for one week every summer. It’s one of the dirtiest and most simple little lake cabins I have ever seen: no TV, no air conditioning, mismatched furniture, leaky faucets, a bathroom that is about ready to fall through the floor, plenty of spiders, and sometimes even rodents. Despite all of these things, it is the one week I look forward to most with my family every single year.
All year long when I think about the cabin and the week with my family I feel excitement and anticipation. When it finally comes I live into the whole week with joy and thanks. Every year we leave at the end of the week saying, “Only 360 more days until we come back!” Then we slide into our cars and drive home to resume our jobs, weed the garden, take care of problems and situations we put aside, etc. We return to our “ordinary,” everyday lives, yet not without a certain filling up of our spirits that can only come with gratitude for life.
Over and over again in our lives we are on this journey that gives us things to look forward to and enjoy, so we wait for it with anticipation, and then it happens and hopefully its great, and then its over and we begin another day.
Just a few examples of this might be: a first date, a wedding, the birth of a child, your 18th birthday, release from YCC, a vacation, saving for and finally getting a car or a home, even prominent holidays like Christmas.
The first Sunday of Christmas is such an interesting Sunday. A lot of the hype and preparation leading up to Christmas is over; we have had a beautiful candlelight Christmas Eve service in our own worshipping community; we had the joy of sharing gifts and cookies with one another and each cottage; and now we are here today after all this as we look towards the turning of a new year and resume what might be deemed as “ordinary life.”
At the end of our Gospel reading today we hear that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus return to their own town of Nazareth after all that had taken place. In a way, they were returning back to what might be some normalcy in their lives after a birth and angels and shepherds showing up. But until they make their way back to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph have yet another surprising experience of witnessing the promises of God coming true for them and for others.
In our Gospel reading, 40 days have passed following Jesus’s birth, and his parents bring the infant child to the temple in order for him to be blessed there. This is the standard ritual, especially for firstborn sons…who, according to Jewish law, are to be given to God. Being a devout Jew, Mary also needs to go through the ritual of purification after birth.
When Mary and Joseph arrive at the temple they encounter two people: Simeon and Anna. Both are very old; both are actively waiting for signs from God; signs of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promises.
And, who walks in? Jesus! (Well, he doesn’t walk in…he’s less than 2 months old…he can’t walk yet) But, he will! He will walk into so many lives, into so many ways of life, into so many challenges, into so many hearts. He will walk. (Rev. Jon Splichal Larson’s words)
And, in this moment, in this passage, he enters into the lives of Simeon and Anna, and they have great joy. They realize what has happened, and who has entered into the world. Christ has come; a light in the darkness, and God has finally fulfilled the promise they have been waiting for their whole lives.
Simeon has been told by the Spirit of God that he would not see death before he has seen the Lord’s Messiah. I can imagine Simeon waking up in his bed or sitting at his table when he raises his head and he knows the very presence of God is near. He gets up and rushes into the temple, wide-eyed and searching. Then he sees the young couple and their infant son and he scoops Jesus up into his arms and begins his praise:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
For Simeon, this gift of Jesus entering the temple and realizing that God has fulfilled God’s promise to him, he basically says he is ready to die, and now can die in peace.
I picture Mary and Joseph standing their amazed and perplexed about what this elderly stranger had to say about their son. Then turning, Simeon approaches Mary and Joseph and blesses them and speaks of the kind future Jesus has, a future that will be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel. As a result of this, Simeon also names the pain Mary will endure, like a sword piercing her own soul, because of who her son is.
In hearing Simeon’s words to Mary, I think of the Christmas Hymn, What Child is This: “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.”
Simeon sees and knows that the child he is holding is God’s salvation for the whole world and all people. When he says, “for my eyes have seen your salvation,” he means his eyes have seen God in the flesh in the infant Jesus. In fact, the name of Jesus literally means, “God saves,” or, “The Lord is salvation.”
This one single verse in Luke tells us God’s will for the world in and through Jesus, the Word made flesh. The name of Jesus and who he is continually reminds us that it is not by our own will or good works that we are saved, but by God and God alone. And it is all grace.
The prophet Anna, who we also meet in the Gospel reading, recognizes Jesus for who he is as well. Spending the majority of her life in prayer and fasting in the temple waiting for a day such as this, he begins to praise God and speak about Jesus to all who were, like her, waiting for God to fulfill the promise of salvation for all people.
Our Gospel reading is not only a glimpse into the childhood of Jesus, but a reminder to us over and over again that God fulfills and keeps God’s promises. God is trustworthy and desires the salvation of all people.
The promises fulfilled for Simeon and Anna are also the promises God fulfills for each of us this first Sunday of Christmas. We trust that God does and God will, and we know this because of the child born of Mary, called Jesus.
Perhaps there are moments in our lives in which we have had a dream, a vision, or some kind of sense of our own salvation, or of God’s intimate presence with us, or something we hear just makes sense about God and our own lives. These can be Simeon and Anna moments perhaps. And then they end and we return to ordinary life, wondering if what we experienced was real, still trying to have faith and hold onto this sent of salvation in our beings.
I know this happens a lot to people who leave YCC. Faith is nurtured here in this place, people hear stories like this one today of God fulfilling God’s promises and being present in each of our lives, and then we return to what was, changed and having new experiences that could have the power to keep one on a trajectory of hope and new life.
How is it that each of us is to return like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus their hometown and ordinary life after hearing about and maybe experiencing the salvation of God in your life and in mine? How does God keep the light in us shining after Christmas and through the year?
Memory is a powerful force.
We remember the Christmas story;
we remember through stories like we heard today that God has kept God’s promises and God will continue to keep God’s promises;
we remember what it feels like to gather under the roof of Hope Chapel;
we remember what bread and grape juice taste like and what it means that all of us are invited to the communion table;
we remember God’s love when we wrap up with the quilt we get when we leave here;
we remember that it is God’s will that you and I be saved no matter what we have done or haven’t done.
It is in our remembering and the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives that we step into ordinary days with a new expecting and confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Once again, Merry Christmas my brothers and sisters in Christ.