Eyes to see
2008-12-23 by Alan Meyers
Simeon and Anna could recognize Christ in the ordinary-looking baby Mary and Joseph brought to the Temple . They could recognize him because the Holy Spirit enabled them to do that (see Luke 2:27 ). But surely, also, they were PREPARED to recognize him. They were LOOKING for the Christ. They were "spiritually conditioned."
We read about Simeon that he "was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel ... It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah" (Luke 2:25-26). You get the impression about Simeon that he was just very eager to find God's purpose in things, to see what God was doing for his people. To see God's Messiah was the big concern of Simeon's life; he wanted that more than anything else. He was like the speaker in that passage from Isaiah we read on December 28, who says, "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch" (Isaiah 62:1).
And look at Anna. We read about her that "She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day" (Luke 2:37 ). Through her worship and her prayer and her devotion, Anna, too, had developed a great sensitivity to God's purpose, to what God wanted, and so she was able to recognize God's moment when it came. She was able to recognize Christ when she saw him.
You have to look to be able to see. You have to listen to be able to hear. Anna and Simeon did look, and they did listen, avidly. They prepared to meet the Messiah. And they did meet him.
You and I need to prepare, too, if we want to have the joy and wonder of meeting Christ in our ordinary daily lives. We need to prepare like Anna did, by prayer and devotion. We need to be like Simeon, letting what God wants and what God is doing be the big concern in our lives.
When you are feeling down and discouraged, and someone pats you on the shoulder and says an encouraging word that helps you get through the day -- or when you do that for someone else -- Christ is born in that moment, the love of God comes into the world and is made real and visible. That moment is Christmas, whatever the calendar may say.
When I was a pastor many years ago, I made a condolence call one day on a woman whose husband had just died suddenly. A kindly neighbor was with her when I entered, and I was introduced to this neighbor as the pastor. The neighbor turned to the widow and said, "Now you listen to him; he comes from God." Wow! I was impressed. When she said that I was suddenly terrifically aware of the importance of what I was doing, and the meaningfulness of it: I had come from God! Christ was visiting this sorrowing woman through me. The Word was becoming flesh in me. And of course this is not something limited to ordained ministers. Any word of comfort spoken in due season by any Christian, or indeed anyone, can be understood as the appearance of Christ in the world. That moment is Christmas.
When you forgive an enemy, when you become reconciled with someone you haven't spoken to in years, when an old quarrel or an ancient grudge is brought to the surface and healed and finally ended, that is Christmas. It is the birth of the Prince of Peace, who came into the world to bring about reconciliation.
When in your daily reading of Scripture and in your prayers a light dawns, and you know yourself to be in communication with the living God, that is Christmas. Christ the living Word is alive now in a new way for you.
When we baptize, a child or an adult, the love of God, God's wonderful, welcoming, saving love, is made manifest, set out where we can see it. It's set out where we can see it, in the sacramental sign of the water that cleanses and renews. And it is Christmas: Christ comes out into the world where we can see him.
For those who follow the example of Simeon and Anna, post-Christmas let-down will not be nearly so harsh. It really can be Christmas any time of the year.
May it be so for us.
2008-12-22 by David Howell
Jennifer, the good news is that you received the most votes for "most helpful" sermon for the first week of the GoodPreacher Award. The bad news is that you did not leave any contact information. Please email me at email@example.com.
The Ordinariness of Christmas
2008-12-21 by Alan Meyers
I am Alan Meyers, a Professor of Religion at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. I am also Parish Associate at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Parish Associate positions are for ministers like me, whose primary ministry is not in a parish, but who want to stay connected to ministry in a congregation and are invited by a local church to assist its pastor in some areas of the church's work. I enjoy preaching and have blogged here twice before.
The Sunday after Christmas! It may be one of the hardest days of the year to preach or teach. The energy is exhausted, maybe, that went into the Advent and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services and other church activities. Every year, after Christmas, a lot of people feel at least a little depressed. After the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the holidays, after the planning and working, after the fun and laughter, after all that is suddenly over, they feel what Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip used to call "post-Christmas let-down." We go back to our old routines, everything settles down to what we think of as normal, and we may feel like saying "Well, we've had Christmas. Now what?"But, perhaps post-Christmas let-down will be not nearly as much a problem if we consider anew the real meaning of Christmas. For someone to whom the most important thing about Christmas is that it is Christ's birthday, the special glow of Christmas continues; it is still there even after the tree is taken down and the decorations are put away. It may seem like a terrible cliché, but every day can be celebrated like Christmas. On December 25 we're reminded of the joy and the wonder of God's gift of his Son, in a very obvious way; Christmas comes out into the open, so to speak, and for a while, everyone talks about "peace on earth," and so on. But even during the rest of the year, that joy and that wonder are there -- sort of hidden, but still there -- in the hearts and lives of Christ's followers, ready to burst into visibility. The greatest thing in the world is to be a person who thinks about Jesus Christ and rejoices, not just at Christmastime, when the manger scenes are out, but all the time. The reading from the Gospel of Luke for this First Sunday after Christmas is about something that happened after Christmas, about forty days after the first Christmas, to be exact, long after the angels had gone back into heaven, long after the dazzled shepherds had gone back to their sheep. Simeon and Anna, these two elderly people in the Temple, have the great joy and privilege of seeing the baby Jesus. And they see him, not "on Christmas Day," so to speak, not heralded by angels, not proclaimed by a bright star in the sky, but only as a humble, ordinary-looking baby, brought into the Temple at Jerusalem by a humble, ordinary-looking young couple, Mary and Joseph.
One way we know that this little family, Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, must have been "ordinary" is by the particular offering they brought to the Temple. According to the twelfth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, a baby boy was supposed to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. And then, thirty-three days after that, the mother was required to go through a ceremony of purification, and she had to bring an offering to the Temple, an offering of a lamb and a pigeon. But if she could not afford a lamb and a pigeon, the Law said that she could bring two pigeons instead; this was called "the Offering of the Poor." And this "Offering of the Poor," two pigeons, was what Mary brought, according to Luke 2:24. This doesn't necessarily mean that Mary and Joseph were what you would call poor, but it does imply that they were not rich. Jesus was born, not into a very wealthy, prominent, upper-class family, but into a very ordinary one.
So, Simeon and Anna saw this ordinary-seeming baby, just like they must have seen hundreds of babies being brought into the Temple to be presented to the LORD. But in this normal, routine, ordinary baby, they saw the Christ, the promised Messiah, the longed-for Savior of the world and the hope of all humanity. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he took the child in his arms, and prayed joyfully to God. He said, "Master, ... 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." And he said to Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed." We're told that when Anna saw the baby, she "began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." She was bubbling over with joy about having seen the Christ in this child. The passage says that "the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him." No wonder they were amazed! How would a couple today feel if they were bringing their child to church to be baptized, and someone met them at the church door, and said these enormous things about their little baby, about how he or she was going to grow up and do all these wonderful, terrific things? Franco Zeffirelli directed a TV movie years ago about the life of Jesus. There is a scene in that movie in which Simeon meets Mary and Joseph, and makes this big fuss over the baby, exclaims loudly over him, and Mary and Joseph walk away from him looking back over their shoulders with the most hilarious looks on their faces, as if to say, "Is this a crazy old man, or what?" The most extraordinary things are said about this ordinary baby. The greatness of the Christ is hidden, for now, in the ordinariness of this child -- hidden, that is, to all except those like Simeon and Anna, to whom God has given eyes to see the truth.
Now, of course,to all parents who bring a child to be baptized, and in fact to all parents, their child is not "ordinary," but rather a most extraordinary, most special, most wonderful child. They know! To their eyes, their child is anything but "ordinary." And that really is something like the point I'm trying to make here. To anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, every child, every person, is extraordinary, is someone in whom the Christ may meet us. Every moment, every day, is a special day, is Christmas, the day Christ comes into the world bringing salvation.
Like Simeon and Anna, can you and I find Christ in the ordinary things of life, in the routine of everyday living, when things get back to "normal" after Christmas is over? Can we experience the joy and wonder of meeting Christ in every moment of every day, all year round?
More thoughts tomorrow.
Thank you to Susan
2008-12-18 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Susan Eastman for her creative post about the texts. She reminds us of the emphasis on God's initiative in our relationship and leads us toward thinking a-fresh about the Annunciation. Please scroll down to read her post.
Also, be sure to submit your sermons for the GoodPreacher award. We are eager for as many submissions as possible.
Borrowing from Hanukkah, I am considering preaching on how God rededicates humanity through Christ. That rededication begins with the Annunciation and then spreads to all of us through Christ. What if we thought of ourselves this way, as the rededicated, and then said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word"?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Good Preacher Awards
2008-12-17 by David Howell
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