Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
December 28, 2014
Luke 2: 22-40
“What Gift Did You Receive?”
Christmas Day has only just passed and yet, the full Christian celebration of Christmas lasts twelve days, then we arrive at Epiphany (the celebration of Jesus as the Son of God)! If we count today that leaves us nine more days to enjoy and celebrate Christmas, with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love now fully surrounding the presentation of the Christ Child, the Light of the World! Our scripture this morning certainly keeps the celebration alive as the scene of Jesus’ birth has now shifted away from the humble stable, and the skimpy manger bed and we now find our-selves at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Here in the temple we find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Quite a contrast from the new and quite young family that was forced to deal with the birth of a baby in a shelter designed for the barn yard animals. This setting lifts them up as a devoted Jewish family that has trudged into Jerusalem to follow the Jewish customs for their new born child; clearly indicating their devotion to the rites and rituals of old Jewish laws. In this scene we are introduced to Simeon, an old righteous and devout man, a man who was seen to have the Spirit of God upon him. What a shift. What a transformation from the scene of Jesus’ holy but underprivileged birth.
In this setting we hear of the revelation and the gift this righteous and very old man receives as he lays eyes upon the baby Jesus. Simeon’s gift from God, which had been “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit”, was to lay eyes upon the Messiah – the long awaited gift, of every devout Jew, back at the time of Jesus’ birth. “27 Guided 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” As this old man – at the end of life’s journey – clearly a religious man, perhaps a Rabbi in this scene, receives this young family – at the beginning of life’s journey – it is clear that both the old and the new pay homage to the Old Testament ways of devote Jews.
There was also a prophet named Anna, according to our scripture, she “was of great age’, meaning she like Simeon was old. We read that “She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” Her appearance into the story adds a new dimension to our scene, as she is a woman and a prophet whom is so devoted to the Jewish faith that she lives right there in the temple. Her response to the presence of the baby Jesus is just as profound as that of Simeon’s. “38 At 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.” In different words but yet the same response, as she give thanks to God — for the child is the answer to prayer – the answer to a promise and clearly a gift from God!
It is difficult to quantify or clarify this passage beyond its written words other than to say this event is only recorded in the gospel of Luke; thus suggesting the writers of the other three gospels did not see this as a paramount occurrence, or simply they felt other pieces of the Jesus narrative and history were far more relevant. For whatever reason it has found its place in our reading for today and the least we can do is lift up the significance that the writer gives it: this was a major event for this holy man named Simeon and for the Prophet Anna, as they both considered it the fulfilment of a promised gift! May we all be so blessed!
With this as our stage this morning I continue the discussion I started with our children: what Gift did you receive this Christmas? As Christians we all are saying that the birth of Jesus was a gift for his arrival into the world was the fulfillment of a promise, a gift of God! And more than that, we have come to believe, through tradition and through the actions of the adult man Jesus, that God was incarnate within the very flesh of Jesus! This is the essence of being Christian to acknowledge this aspect of the Jesus narrative. But, let’s break this down into what it means for us as we continue to celebrate the gifts we have received. Yes, I said gifts plural not singular. For you and I, me and you, we have lots of gifts!
How many of you got a new shirt or a new blouse for Christmas? Or was it a new piece of jewelry, a camera or a watch? Gift certificates have become very popular as gifts; did you get one for your favorite store or restaurant? Perhaps someone here got a new bicycle or a new computer or even a new car; whatever gifts you receive, I pray you are grateful and thankful for them. We as a community, we did our best to help some underprivileged children have a special Christmas. That’s a real gift! Or, that special prayer you asked of God for someone other than for yourself – it came to be! Now that is a gift!
Most of the best gifts that we receive are from God. Really! The best gifts are not wrapped in fancy paper or tied up in a bow! Let me give you a few examples.
I just breathed in, to catch my breath, now that is a gift! My lungs are working; the blood in my veins is flowing, and yes indeed, there is enough air in my lungs to continue this sermon for a bit longer! But I do promise to gift you with an ‘Amen’ here pretty soon. I see a few smiles, so apparently many of you are gifted with good humor as-well-as good hearing. By the way, I am not aware of any of these particular gifts being ever packaged and wrapped in paper and tinsel as a present under a tree. Oh and that reminds me, trees are something of Mother Nature and she gets her powers from the elements of Creation and ah yes, God had a lot to do with that!
This morning, when I said my morning prayers, I asked God for help in many areas of my life, the least of which was guidance. You see, when I need guidance, spiritual guidance, most of the time no one else is available to help me other than God; Yes, the Living Spirit of God is available when the doors are locked and the room is dark and nobody else in the house is at home or they are not awake! Certainly, a great many of you have experienced God’s presence when you were in need or simply alone. You see, Christmas is about these kinds of gifts.
No, I am not against gift giving. I love a new this or that and greatly appreciate it when someone gives me a gift of any kind.
But, I am talking about gifts that humble folks like the old devote man at the temple named Simeon and the Prophet Anna cherished in their hearts. You see folks like these wait their whole lives, with faith, believing that before their time is up, here on earth, they will live to see or hear about the dreams, the promises and the gifts of God. Clearly, during their time of waiting, they did not give up on God, just as God did not give up on them! Perhaps they were not current with the latest trends and contemporary things of their time; perhaps they were shut off from the latest stories flowing through the mouths and lives of younger folks in their community, perhaps. But they were current with the words of the scriptures, their Torah; and they knew of their customs and traditions and they worked to live into them. They were religious and devote believers in the ancient promises of a deliver and when they met the baby Jesus, BAM! Their hearts were filled with joy and gratitude. They knew that they had been blessed with the greatest of gifts; they had met the long awaited Savior, send by their God!
The young family introduced to us at the temple in Jerusalem today, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus; they represent God’s promise for the future of the Israelites of their time. The reception they receive from the old Rabbi Simeon and the old Prophet Anna, they represent an acknowledgement of God’s presence in the past that was being manifested, displayed and fulfilled in their present time. What a tremendous statement the author, the writer of the Gospel of Luke is presenting for us today!
Luke has taken the Christmas story out of the barnyard, out of Bethlehem, and placed it squarely in the center of and the heart of Jerusalem in the ‘Holy of Holy’ Temple! This is the same as placing a new contemporary song in the heart of a traditional hymn-fest! Not only has Luke done this but causes it to be a holy and sacred moment, accented by the laments of praise and adoration to God from the oldest present; displaying their thanks for the fulfillment of their most cherished desires, hopes and dreams! What an exciting backdrop as we continue our holy and traditional trek through the twelve days of Christmas!
My prayer for all of us today is that we will come to treasure the story of Christmas as a gift that we can pass on to others. Not just on December the 25th, not just till January the 6th, the day when we arrive at Epiphany, but every day of our lives! That’s right! Christmas comes every morning when you awake and you acknowledge the gift of another day of the precious gift of life! Celebrate the Hope, the Peace, the Joy and the Love of God, displayed for us in our ancient traditions in the narrative of the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus the Son of God!
22 When 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”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
34 Then 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There 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, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At 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. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.