Rev. Debby Neal
December 28, 2014
22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him 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 turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25Now 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, 28Simeond 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,
31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And 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.” 36There 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 seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped 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. 39When 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.
I don’t know about you-what you hear as we continue this journey that we started during Advent. I don’t know if you have allowed yourself to read ahead-if you began with Luke’s gospel, because there are only two birth stories in the gospels-Matthew and Luke’s, and they are a bit different. Today we continue our journey. It is only a few days after the birth of Jesus and he is now 8 days old. When I started writing this sermon- that’s all I could focus on- that tiny baby wrapped up and brought to the temple so that Mary and Joseph could provide a sacrifice of their two doves. I thought about all the babies I have had the pleasure of knowing- all the small ones as well as the larger ones. I thought about all that they can do and all that they can’t. And let’s face it there is not a lot that a newborn can do. There is not much they can control and they don’t seem to want to control. They can cry and they can sleep and they can eat. We put diapers on them because there is a lot they can’t control down there.
And that’s where Jesus is- this Emanuel-this God with us- he is more vulnerable than ever before. People talk about, even Mary in the magnificat- about what he came to do. Even Simeon and Anna talk about what he came to do. But first, Jesus, little Jesus, came to be a baby and that’s it. We don’t know a whole lot about his purpose as a baby. We do know he starts out as all of us do- as a baby. We do have scripture about his wanting to have little ones nearby. I like to think and I can only think, that he learned a lot as a baby- more than just the normal baby things- I like to think that was where he learned about being needy and vulnerable.
But besides my humble attempts to discern this journey he is on, there are hints as to what was going on. Luke writes a story of a continuing journey- a journey for a reason- a journey that provides a glimpse into the life of Jewishness. It is a journey that many made with their baby boys- because certain things were supposed to happen. I found it somewhat confusing and evidently according to one commentator I am not alone. The commentator was confused. Evidently the writer of Luke was a bit confused also or he chose to change a few of the details. At any rate there were some things that were supposed to happen: circumcision- and it did. Purification- and it did. And redemption of the first-born male- thus the sacrifice was made. It was all part of the Mosaic law- way back in the Old Testament there were the laws regarding circumcision and sacrifice.
And these were new parents. They were a Jewish family that was trying to follow the law as they understood it. And we can’t knock the idea of law. Jesus was 8 days old and they wanted to start him off in the right Jewish direction. He was a firstborn male and so he was designated as holy to the Lord. There is a hint that Mary and Joseph were not wealthy. They at least were living a more modest lifestyle. They took a pair of turtledoves to the temple in Jerusalem. They did not appear to be ashamed at what they had to offer. It was a suitable sacrifice for their means.
These things were linked together just as Simeon and Anna were linked together in the story. Their words give us insight as to who Jesus was, what Jesus would be, what would happen in the future.
It is the gospel message and it is handed to his family and us when he is only 8 days old. It is the continuation of the journey that began when Mary said “I will be your servant” to the angel Gabriel. It is part of the journey that the angel started with the naming of Jesus.
Sacrifice and redemption. Is that what the church is about? Following in his footsteps what are some of the ways that we are about sacrificing and redemption? I have not seen any turtledoves or any other animal in this church during the Christmas season for a sacrifice. It simply is not part of our culture. What I do see is a lot of ongoing giving of presents. All different kinds of presents. Our staff get presents, our teachers and our prayer partners get presents. There is much receiving. Aside from the church, we all tend to receive presents at Christmas time to our family and friends. We receive all kinds of gifts. But, If we are fortunate we have the opportunity to give as much as we get and whether we acknowledge it or not sometimes it is a sacrificial kind of giving- it’s our time- our prayer- our money. So we do give-here we give to the food bags and those special food boxes. We give to Room in the Inn. We give offerings and special offerings. We get an angel off the tree at the mall and we give to it.
But for all of our giving and receiving, we cannot offer more than that of our tiny baby, Jesus. He has moved away from the manger but he is still tiny. And just like any baby, he doesn’t have to do anything or be anything beyond who he is in order to wield power over all. And especially when we hear today’s scripture- we know that our baby Jesus –because he is born for all of us-he is ours we know he has power. So I invite you to take baby Jesus and hold him in your hands- cradle him. Are you blessed with a smile- does he cry for you – what are his needs- how will you meet them?
Infants do have power. It’s not a new thing. It’s as old as probably the Bible itself. Babies just have power and manage to hold onto their control. It’s not something I have to tell you. What happens when a new baby is brought into the sanctuary? What happens when it is time to pass the peace? The parents do not have to get up at all. Peace-givers gather round to share with them. Everyone is more interested in that baby than anybody else. It is a powerful moment. There is always a powerful aura around infants.
So here the tiny baby Jesus is- brought in for the giving of sacrifice and wielding that kind of power-the baby of power. He is brought into the temple by his tired parents. They are tired from their traveling. He may have rested peacefully as our song- Away in the Manger- suggests so. But while I have known many babies that slept a lot, most of the ones I have seen have not slept on the adults’ schedules. Most of them bring their own schedules- and they can be quite noisy as they make their demands know. So I figure that it’s very possible that Mary and Joseph are a bit weary from this new little fellow’s tears at night. Plus, they have traveled to Bethlehem, and Nazareth, and now are setting foot in Jerusalem. They are moving on a quick journey. What are they thinking? What would they really like to be doing? Where would they be if this was not a requirement? They have seen the shepherds. If this call to serve was something that was going away-is it possible that they are a bit overwhelmed- well surely it would be going by now. Do they wonder if they are capable of being the parents that God has called them to be? All are questions we have no answers to. Oh to be able to see into their minds.
And they arrive at the temple in Jerusalem. I am amazed that this man Simeon is guided to the temple just as Jesus arrives. Here is a devout man who is blessed to know and to believe that he will not die until he has seen the Messiah. The light and the glory. The rise and the fall. The good and the bad. This baby will have quite a journey, himself. And we know all that happened He is blessed with a future kind of seeing. But we know. Then there is Anna. She too is wise and offers a prophetic praise for the gift of Jesus and for his life to come. Joseph and Mary were amazed at their words.
You know when a baby is born- the words that are spoken about that baby are probably beyond the young mind of the baby but the parents are old enough to hear. They are old enough to record the blessings offered and to carry the smiles and well wishes in their hearts for many years.
I often wish that we had the stories recorded of the growing up years of Jesus. I would like to hear the stories about what toys he played with, what he learned from Joseph from carpentry. On the other hand, it is possible that those things were less important to others, and perhaps he was a bit sheltered and protected.
But in this trip to the temple these things are the important things that are held up for us: this child has been born-God’s promise is fulfilled, Israel is consoled, and the messiah is with us. There is so much for us to consider on this Sunday morning. When he was kind of hidden in that stable- wrapped in those swaddling clothes, even we could say “quiet, quiet, the baby king is sleeping.” Then when the shepherds arrived with news that a bunch of angels had given them- we could still say- be careful with this baby- he is still asleep and Mary needs her rest.
Only- they didn’t stay there. No they carried him out and now we find them in their journey at the temple. And greeted by Simeon and Anna – and Anna isn’t keeping him a secret.
I think that we just can’t keep him in the confines of the swaddling clothes. I think that we are going to find out that the name of Jesus is not going to be a quiet baby for long. No there is simply too much power within. When power comes what are you going to do? Well you might just be one who follows- and see what journey you will travel on.
Posted on Sun, December 28, 2014
by Debby Neal filed under