Restoration: A New Year 12-31-17

My son was watching a sports commentator last week, the day after Christmas. He was talking about being glad we could stop singing Christmas carols now and take down the tree and get on to regular life and football again. Technically, I know I’m right to point out that Christmas had just begun and that there are 12 more days of it. I’m glad too that the commercial Christmas is over. But I hope we can linger just a bit on the real Christmas.

Today, on this one Sunday of Christmas, we read about Jesus as a very young child. Today we sing Christmas carols. Today we celebrate love born anew and presented for us to claim as part of us. Listen for the word of God for you today. (I just ask you to listen for one thing in particular. Notice how many times the Law is mentioned.)

Luke 2:22-40 When the day came for them to be purified, as laid down by the Law of Moses, the couple took Jesus up to Jerusalem and presented him to God. For it’s written in the Law of our God, “Every firstborn heir is to be consecrated to God.” They likewise came to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in accord with the dictate of the Law of our God. Now there lived in Jerusalem a man named Simeon.  He was devout and just, anticipating the consolation of Israel, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. She had revealed to Simeon that he wouldn’t see death until he had seen the Messiah of God. Prompted by her, Simeon came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child to perform the customary rituals of the Law, he took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, Now, O God, you can dismiss your servant in peace just as you promised because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the peoples to see— a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” As the child’s mother and father stood there marveling at the things that were being said, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, the mother, “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is rejected. so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.  And a sword will pierce your heart as well.” There was a woman named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was also a prophet.  She had lived a long life, seven years with her husband, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the Temple, worshipping day and night, fasting and praying. Coming up at that moment , she gave thanks to God and talked about the child to all who anticipated the deliverance of Jerusalem. When the couple had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the Law of God, they returned to Galilee and their own town of Nazareth. The child grew in size and strength.  He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with him.

December 31, 2017 Restoration: A New Year St. Luke UMC

I held my baby for the first time on June 29, 1995. I will never forget. My body will never forget. It still gives me goosebumps. My baby boy Elijah had been born Tuesday evening in Pittsburgh. Cathy and I got the call the next morning and flew out that evening. Thursday morning, Elijah’s birth mother gently handed him to Catherine.

And after a good long, loving, tear-filled moment or two, she let me hold him. So little, so perfect, so vulnerable, so beautiful. It’s a cliche to say it, but I was immediately in love, kind of engulfed in love. You know that song, “Love Lifted Me.” to which Marilyn’s father always sang, “put me down?” I felt lifted by love. I felt lifted off the ground – like I was floating through the airport back home.

Any of us who have held a baby can just begin to imagine how Mary and Joseph felt, carrying their baby to the Temple to be consecrated to God. I imagine them floating into the Temple, ready for a blessing, but already blessed. They felt just a little reluctant to hand their baby to someone else, even for just a moment.

I asked you, by the way to notice how many times the word ‘Law’ is mentioned in this short passage. The answer is five times. Five times in this short passage. Luke is saying something in the details of this passage – that this family was faithful, careful to fulfill the Law, the obligations of their faith.

They brought their precious child to the Temple to be consecrated to God’s love. It was a formality, of course. They felt they had been consecrated to God’s love by the baby. The ceremony was important to the, but it was a formality. The other detail in the passage that says a lot is that they sacrificed 2 turtledoves – the offering of a poor family which could not afford to purchase a lamb for the ceremony.

 

The main consecration comes from Simeon. Luke says that Simeon is an old man and that God promised Simeon that he would not die before he witnessed salvation in human form – the Christ. Simeon sings, now your servant may depart in peace.  Sing 226 – Nunc Dimitis. My Master, see, the time has come to give your servant leave, to go in peace, long waited for, your promise now fulfilled.

For I have seen salvation, Lord. Now may the whole world see that light which is your Israel’s boast enlightening every land.

Simeon’s song is a blessing for the child – but even more a blessing for the world – an inclusive blessing. Simeon sings, “now may the whole world, gentiles and Jews alike, see that light, that revelation of your love.”

It is a beautiful blessing. Last Sunday, I closed my sermon on the Magnificat with the claim that the “world is about to turn.” The sentiment is similar here. Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity After Religion makes a similar claim. She says, “Strange as it may seem in this time of cultural anxiety, economic near collapse, terrorist fear, political violence, environmental crisis, and partisan anger, I believe that the United States (and not only the United States) is caught up in the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of sustained religious and political transformation during which our ways of seeing the world, understanding ourselves, and expressing faith are being, to borrow a phrase, ‘born again.’”

I believe this is true. It may be difficult to see because change produces so much fear and swings of reaction. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul has a marvelous line: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). As we come to the end of the year, we are in the midst of bigger endings that makes room for big beginnings – room for the Spirit, room for a movement of compassion and hope.

There is a new birth of love happening in our world that we get to be part of. This birth is as inspiring as the birth of a baby. Christmas/New Year’s is the perfect time to celebrate these new possibilities when we often symbolize these hope with a baby. Today, we have the extra beauty of Simeon and Anna – elderly people in the temple, blessing the baby and declaring the New Time. Now your servant may depart in peace, because I have seen the baby. I have seen the sign of your new day. I feel the goosebumps of love being born anew and presented to us. So, let us present ourselves to love. to be servants of love in the new year.

 

Responsive Hymn 3060 Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child