The Sunday Sermon: First Sunday after Christmas Day – December 31, 2017
Scripture: Luke 2:22-32
Our Eyes Have Seen
We’ll do more singing this morning than talking, but there is this time, too, this “homily.” And I begin it remembering another time.
Oh, my, what a time it was. One week ago today in this Sanctuary … With Christmas Eve falling as it did on a Sunday, we gathered for four services, some of us. We had to! The wreath wasn’t complete until the morning service began, because the Fourth Sunday in Advent must come before Christmas Eve. So last week, Tom and Lamont lit the fourth candle, following Paul and Chip, Lucy and Mike, and Hope, Matt, Crain, and Lily who had lit candles in the weeks before.
We left the sanctuary about eleven-thirty in the morning, to return at five o’clock for our Annual Carol sing, organized and led by our organist, Matt, accompanied this year by James. I’ve come to experience that time together as a worship service, too. It takes us right up to the five-thirty service, our Youth led Communion-candlelight service, which was extraordinary again this year. Ashia coordinated a deeply meaningful experience for those who gathered and for the youth who read, and played, and sang, and led us through the hour.
And then, all that was left was the final hour of the night. The Chancel Choir led our annual Lessons and Carol service, ending the hour at 12:02 on Christmas morning with the final notes of Handel’s Messiah and the pealing of our steeple bell. Light flurries fell as we stepped into a cold Christmas.
Oh, what a time it was. Already one week ago. Does it seem longer “ago?”
In our scripture reading this morning it is. We’re further than a week from the day of Jesus birth. “According to the law of Moses,” Jesus purification would have taken place forty days after his birth. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Luke 2:22-33 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I’m fascinated every year with how quickly we leave Bethlehem and the manger and how rapidly we find ourselves walking out of Nazareth of Galilee heading for the banks of the Jordan River for the baptism of Jesus. We have to move fast if we’re following along with our scripture writings. Luke gives us the most time “in-between” birth and baptism, recording Jesus’ circumcision after eight days had passed, his purification, as we just read, after forty days, and then an incident in the Jerusalem Temple when Jesus was twelve. But still, by his third chapter the Holy Spirit is descending upon a full grown man embarking on a public ministry that will lead to his death. Fast …
We have to move fast if we’re following our church calendar, too. We have this one Sunday, and occasionally two, between Christmas and Baptism of the Lord Sunday. That’s next week, the day after Epiphany, which is the day, according to tradition that the Magi arrive in Bethlehem having followed the star and consulted with Herod and the chief priests and scribes of the people. Liturgically speaking, Jesus gets baptized as thirty year old one day after the Magi “see the child with Mary, his mother,” and go home by another road. Fast. But …
We have this morning to wonder about a thing or two.
And there’s a lot here in these few verses to ponder. Verse twenty-two reads, “when it came time for their purification.” Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth was completed even as Jesus’ redemption as the first born took place. This second ritual required a sacrifice. A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, we read. This is the sacrificial option for poor people. Instead of a “lamb in its first year” and a single pigeon or turtledove, Mary and Joseph can bring two of either. That’s all laid out for them in their scripture, in the book of Leviticus. Luke has been painfully clear that Mary and Joseph are poor people. They’re not a couple we’re likely to invite to our Christmas or New Year’s parties.
And then there’s this man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, righteous and devout, upon whom rested the Holy Spirit. He recognizes in this child what the angels and shepherds, and the Magi and Kings of this world have already recognized. He recognizes in this child, in this passage, what we have established for him since before he was even born: a destiny.
And this is what struck me the strongest this past week as I read and re-read this passage, as I prepared, bit by bit, for this morning’s gathering; as I sat with my family early Christmas morning – with Katie and Sam and Annie and Gabe, and with my own parents who were with us this year. As I sat around with Katie’s family in Bowling Green later on Christmas Day and for a few days after; as I remembered my own childhood with my parents sitting beside me; as I watched Katie and her three siblings with their parents; and as I marveled at how many years have passed with my own children and my nieces and nephew – seven of them in all, from twenty years old to fourteen. This is what struck me: Every single person who met Jesus in our stories, beginning with his mother and father, and including the angels, shepherds, Magi and Kings, and now Simeon and Anna (though we didn’t read that far yet), every single person who met this child recognized and acknowledged a “destiny” for him.
Now, of course, I realize that this is the set-up in Luke, and in Matthew through a different “lens.” The first two chapters, the birth stories, in these Gospels are an “’overture” for the life ahead. Jesus is being presented from the very start as different form everyone else, from all who visit, from all who hear of his birth, from all of us. We need that “difference” to sustain the complicated Christology that will follow so quickly in the weeks ahead. But, we’ve been at pains during Advent this year to somehow discover, not how different we are from the proclaimed “Son of Man,” “Emmanuel,” “Word,” and “Messiah,” but how he is us and how we are called to be him.
So, what if read this story this morning, about the redemption and purification, about the recognition, of this child as our call to recognize in every child – newborn, forty days old, forty years old, or one hundred and forty year old – a future, a purpose, a destiny to change the world for good.
I share a charge on Christmas Eve that goes like this: When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the real work of Christmas begins. It is time, then …
The real work of Christmas begins as people of the Christian faith in a country as privileged and fortunate as ours, recognize in every child, a destiny and a promise. The real work of Christmas begins as we acknowledge that all children of God, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, and everything in-between are a gift to the world. The real work of Christmas begins as we strive to create a community with a positive regard for struggling, faithful, parents and all they must go through to nurture the potential of their children. How might the world be different if we, every child born and each one of us, had our own destiny affirmed and sanctified like Jesus’ was in our reading. We are all called to be a light for revelation and a life for Love. What if we all got that news from the day we were born to the day we die?
That news doesn’t come easily in a world bent on keeping its children in fear and want. It didn’t two thousand years ago, and it still doesn’t today. Just read on a bit further in our passage and listen to the words of Simeon to Mary and Joseph. We, of course, have the rest of the year to discover once more how well or how ill we, ourselves, will receive this newborn with a destiny among us again – let alone how we might accept our role as God’s anointed.
But God is with us in ways we have dared to imagine this year. Our eyes, too, have seen. And maybe, just maybe, this year we’ll get with the program and join in the life of the Christ.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / December 31, 2017