28 December 2008

Christmas 1 2008- Sermon

First after Christmas – Holy Family

28 December 2008

Luke 2: 22-40

By Stuart Pike

Luke’s Gospel is truly amazing in all of the detail which it captures. Mark’s and John’s Gospels don’t even contain any stories about Jesus’ birth or his infancy, but basically begin with Jesus’ baptism when he was 30 years old. Matthew’s Gospel does have some stories of Joseph and Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus. But no one can top Luke for such a vivid story.

In Luke’s Gospel we have stories of the appearance of the archangel Gabriel, once to Zechariah, and once to Mary, announcing about Jesus’ birth. Then, on the actual night of Jesus’ birth, we have clouds of angels singing and praising God for the wonderful event and the poor shepherds who are witnesses are quaking in their boots and then rushing to the stable to see the amazing sight.. When it comes to the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke’s Gospel is in technicolour .

And then in today’s Gospel story from Luke we skip ahead 40 days to the story of Jesus being brought to the temple to be dedicated to God. In these days they didn’t do baptisms to mark the beginning of a life of faith, they did a rite of dedications. And Mary and Joseph, being devout people of faith are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. In Mary and Joseph’s culture, this ritual would feel very much like an infant baptism, which we do today.

And yet, here we have very little fanfare – there is not one single member of the heavenly host to be seen! They are just about to start the service of dedication when two very ancient senior citizens show up and interrupt the proceedings.

I wonder how we would feel if, in the middle of a service of baptism, an ancient old man like Simeon were to hobble up to the front, snatching the baby out of the arms of the mother and then spouting on about how great this child is going to be.

I imagine that we would think that the poor old geezer had gone off his medication again. And then, to top it all off: what if we were to have another one – and old widow this time, praising God and working her way through the congregation telling everyone about the baby. Perhaps the two had just swapped their medications by mistake, we would think! Someone might think to take out their cell phone and dial 911.

But St. Luke says that Mary and Joseph were amazed by what was being said about their son. Simeon calls Jesus a light for all people and Anna speaks to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In some way, these two were talking about how Jesus would bring healing and salvation to people. What could they mean? I doubt that they knew entirely what it meant, but they did know that they were being guided by the Spirit of God to speak their truth.

So why did God not send legions of angels this time? Why did he speak through two very old and ordinary-seeming (though admittedly eccentric) human beings?

None of us are ever going to be able to understand God’s reasoning behind his specific actions, but I think events like these do show something of how God views us and values human beings.

Although we would expect the son of God to always be heralded by a heavenly host, and to be received by the nobility of the earth, we see that when the heavenly host is present, it is to the poor and lowly that the great news is announced. Or it might just be the poor and lowly, the ancient old man or the widow who is doing the announcing.

God’s revelation is not only through glorious visions and marvelous people. God also works through ordinary everyday and even powerless people: shepherds, senior citizens, widows. Even Mary and Joseph themselves were of the poorer class, only being able to afford the poorest of offerings for this service of dedication.

In fact, God does his most loving and life-giving work by giving up all of his glory and wealth to become a human being, and not just any human being, but a destitute new-born baby who was born in a barn and laid in the animal’s feeding trough for a crib. Indeed, God welcomes us in and gives us life, by dying a torturous criminal’s death. God’s self-emptying is so complete in this act of giving that it proclaims how great God’s love is for each one of us and, as Simeon says, to all people on earth. God gave all of himself to for us.

The message for me in this Gospel is that if God works through even the most unlikely of people – the poor, the infirm, the widow and the infants – then God can work through any of us! God can even work through me, through you!

That is why part of our baptismal covenant is that we will seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbour as ourself. Jesus approaches us today in the guise of the stranger, or the neighbour, or the person in need. God works through ordinary people- and sometimes in the doddery old man and the aged widow. May we have the grace to see the holy in the ordinary.  And may we know that Christ was born for each one of us. Amen.

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