Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying twelve days of feasting and fun, taking some time out each day to relax and enjoy the season. Remember that Christmas lasts until Epiphany, next Saturday, January 6. The paraments on the altar should be white this week, in celebration of the season. On a personal note, I’m really focusing on Christmas lasting the full twelve days. For the first time in my life I’m not stressing about getting the tree down as fast as possible. We have enjoyed some fun family time and have made a point to schedule some things along the way. We will even celebrate Epiphany at the Atlanta Botanical Garden! The shift in mindset has been rewarding for me personally, and I hope for my family, too.
Also, before we dive into the lesson, have you thought about goals for 2018? Maybe that word “goals” is too ambitious. Have you considered how you might like to spend 2018, where you’d like to be next Christmas? You are invited to come along with me on a journey through the Bible! For the last several years I’ve listened to Daily Audio Bible, a podcast that takes you through the Bible in a year. Every day Brian Hardin reads from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. It has been an incredible blessing in my life.
This year they are adding a second reading schedule, going through the Bible chronologically. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I’m thrilled that DAB will be doing it. I would love it if you would join me on either reading plan this year. If you decide to do this, please leave me a comment so we can all know we are in this together!
On to the lesson…
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40
We are in Luke again this week because Mark doesn’t really begin until Jesus’ adult ministry.
For our last reading (Christmas Eve/Christmas) we read through verse 20, and left Mary pondering everything she saw. We skip the naming of Jesus and his bris at eight days old in verse 21, and we pick the story back up in verse 22 with a trip to the Temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph make the trip after Mary has purified herself for 40 days, and they present Jesus at the Temple as they are directed to do in Exodus 13:2.
Luke has tons of themes to look at, and we will consider three in our lesson today. The first is SHOWING versus TELLING. This is an important distinction, and one that can separate great writers from passable ones. What does Luke show us about the Holy Family and the Jewish community in general? What do those things tell us?
They obeyed the law by journeying to Jerusalem. This was a four-to-seven day journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, depending on the route they took. Mary was around two months postpartum by the time they got to Jerusalem, not an especially easy time for a new mom! This tells us about the piety of Mary and Joseph, their devotion to raising their child in the faith of their fathers and their commitment to following the law and traditions.
They offered a pair of turtledoves as the sacrifice. A look back in Leviticus tells us that a lamb is typically offered for this sacrifice, unless the parents are too poor. Then a pair of turtledoves or pigeons will suffice. So now we know that Mary and Joseph are poor and pious. This journey itself was a sacrifice. Joseph had already had his job of carpentry disrupted for the trip to Bethlehem, and now was on a ten-day trip to Jerusalem. This could not have been easy for him to give up his work for that long.
Further on, we meet Simeon in the temple. Here is an old man who was told by God that he would meet the Messiah before he died. I think it’s safe to assume that many people knew of this old man and the promise God had made to him. He was known to be “righteous and devout.” We also meet Anna, a prophetess who meets the baby Jesus in the Temple. Both Simeon and Anna go on to declare that this baby is the one they have been waiting on. I think we can draw from this the charged atmosphere in the Temple, and among the Jewish community at large. They were looking and searching for deliverance.
Luke also uses pairs as a literary device. They help us to see each half of the pair more clearly than we might see them individually. Earlier we had the angel Gabriel appear to both Zechariah and Mary, and we were able to see their very different reactions to him. Here we meet the pair of prophets, Simeon and Anna. We know that Simeon was considered righteous and devout; he probably spent a lot of time in the Temple but didn’t spend all of his time there. (Luke says in verse 27 that the Holy Spirit guided Simeon into the Temple so that he was there when the Holy Family presented Jesus.) Interestingly, it doesn’t specifically say that Simeon was old, although we can infer from his language that he was probably pretty old. Simeon sees the baby and takes him from his parents. Imagine seeing this old man cradling a new baby, saying the beautiful (and very familiar) words of verses 29-32, and then warning Mary and Joseph of the pain they would also endure because of this child.
Anna is the second prophet we meet in the Temple. An old woman, devoted to working in the Temple, Luke tells us she never left. At the moment that Simeon took the baby, she too began telling every around her who the baby was and what he was going to do for Israel. Imagine the commotion that these two must have caused! Both were familiar faces, possibly to the point of being ignored around the Temple and their neighborhoods. Both knew they were looking for something, someone. And here, on this day, a young Galilean couple appear in the Temple, and THIS IS IT. The ONE they have been looking for. That brings us to our last theme.
Longing. Have you ever longed for something? Truly, deeply, in the pit of your stomach known you were meant for something that hadn’t happened yet? I remember when Bill and I were dating. I longed to be his wife. I knew it would happen one day–we had talked about getting married. But I waited for a proposal. There were actually a couple of times before he did propose that I considered good opportunities (a birthday, my graduation…), but he passed on those. Finally on a very cold day in November he asked me. What a great moment! A time I had longed for, although only for a couple of years.
Now imagine Simeon. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would “not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah.” (This is way bigger than my story, and I’m not mean to equate them, merely to draw you to a time of your own longing.) He has lived a long time in a state of expectation, watching and waiting. He has remained faithful, perhaps in spite of being questioned by friends and family. He has probably outlived many of his friends while he waits to meet this Messiah. Day after day, no Messiah. Until, one day, prompted by the Holy Spirit, he makes his way to the Temple on familiar streets. He sees familiar faces, familiar tasks and sacrifices performed around the Temple. And then he sees someone new.
And God whispers, “This one.”
Imagine Simeon’s joy and relief. Here is the Messiah. God has been faithful. It is all true. And now, he can rest. He has been faithful, and his longing has been satisfied. NOW read Simeon’s prayer:
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 peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Do you see this fulfillment? Can you hear Simeon’s gratitude, joy, relief in his prayer? As Lutherans we say this prayer almost every week in liturgy. This week, think of Simeon’s longing and relief as you sing this.
As we read the other sections of the lectionary this week, think of the longing of Israel for a Savior, for rest and for home. Think of how Jesus is the answer to their longing. Consider if you also long for these things. What do you long for?
Old Testament: Isaiah 61:10-62:3
We have spent considerable time in Isaiah 60-62 during Advent. Remember that these words were written during the Babylonian exile, waiting for deliverance. God has promised that a person WILL come to deliver Israel (Chapter 61) and that Yahweh himself will support this deliverance. In Luke 2:25 we are told that Simeon is looking for “the consolation of Israel.” Chapter 62 describes what the consolation of Israel looks like, when they are rescued by God.
I don’t want to give short shrift to Isaiah this week, but today the important thing is to hear the longing, not yet fulfilled. (But fulfilled in Luke.)
Why praise God? “Because His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and Heaven.” Because God is God and we are not!
I love this Psalm for its simple call for everything–not just every ONE, every THING–in the universe to praise God. He does fulfill his promises. Just ask Simeon.
New Testament: Galatians 4:4-7
Paul’s letter to the Galatians talks a lot about the Law, and specifically how the Law and the Gospel relate to one another. This is the book that tells us “Christ has set us free…” but free to do anything? Free to follow the Law? They were confused and Paul was writing to explain how Jesus had indeed set them free. These mostly Gentile believers had taken up following the Law as part of following Jesus, and Paul needed to reassure them that Jesus had indeed sent them free.
Our passage today comes from the point in the letter where Paul is transitioning from talking about the Law, and its purpose in the promise of God, to the purpose of Jesus. Note the language in the v. 4: “when the fullness of time had come…” This is the time for the “consolation of Israel” that Simeon had been looking for. Read this as the release from the Law that it is.
Happy New Year! I pray for blessings in 2018 for all of us, that we can continue to grow in faith, and grow together. Thank you for the opportunity to teach this class.
I will probably prepare lessons for both the readings on Epiphany (Saturday) and the Baptism of the Lord (Sunday) for next week. Stay tuned!