Christmas 1

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10–62:3

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
  my whole being shall exult in my God;
 for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
  he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
 as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
  and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
  and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
  to spring up before all the nations.

62:1For 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.
2The nations shall see your vindication,
  and all the kings your glory;
 and you shall be called by a new name
  that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
  and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm: Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
  praise God in the heights.
2Praise the Lord, all you angels;
  sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
3Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
  sing praise, all you shining stars.
4Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,
  and you waters above the heavens.
5Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  who commanded, and they were created,
6who made them stand fast forever and ever,
  giving them a law that shall not pass away. 
7Praise the Lord from the earth,
  you sea monsters and all deeps;
8fire and hail, snow and fog,
  tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
9mountains and all hills,
  fruit trees and all cedars;
10wild beasts and all cattle,
  creeping things and flying birds;
11sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
  princes and all rulers of the world;
12young men and maidens,
  old and | young together. 
13Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
14The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants,
  the children of Israel, a people who are near the Lord. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

4When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] 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”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
  25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
  according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
  31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
  and for glory to your people Israel.”
  33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him34Then 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 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
  36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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.
  39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


Prayer:  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

         The new calendar year will start with January 1 at the end of this week and we will reflect over the events of this year, bemoaning how hard 2020 was and how we hope not to have another tough year like this one.  Many of us are more than ready to be finished with politics and all its accusations, ready to be finished with Covid 19 and all its restrictions and fear, ready to be rid of financial restrictions from lost jobs, ready for kids to return to school so adults can work…oh my, ready for a change.  Our prayer is that 2021 will be easier than 2020.  I note, though, that our focus of this prayer is on the desire for the events of our life to be less stressful.

         On the other hand, if there is another hand, the liturgical year started November 29, 2020, with Advent, a time of waiting for the fulfillment of promise by God. It does not track life chronologically by events of today but looks through a different lens.  It centers around the anticipation of Jesus, his early childhood, his life, his death, his resurrection and how his reality impacts our life.  Christmas Day celebrates the Incarnation of the Eternal.  Perhaps we could call it the materialization of the Holy so that our physical eyes can see – the unseen.  The Christmas story has not ended.  We have read the preface to the book and now on to the introduction!  I feel like we have stepped into “the transport” circles on the star ship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Bones, and are being transported to a new world, going to “places where no man has gone before.” 

         None of the people we have met so far in the Christmas story have totally understood what is happening much beyond their present.  Certainly the Romans were looking for a Messiah whom they thought they could kill if they identified him.  Certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth had seen an angel and bore a miracle son they called John and whom they thought would rally their people to return to faith – in what? The law?  Certainly Joseph and Mary had seen angels and knew their baby was of God and would be the Messiah, but the popular belief was that the Messiah would bring salvation from the Romans.  The shepherds, well, they visited and returned to their fields and probably seldom were able to go to worship.  Things are happening within a known setting in irregular ways but how are they understood?

         Today we are being challenged.  Joseph and Mary are “amazed” by what they hear as they bring the baby Jesus along with their two doves to have Jesus circumcised – the eighth day, probably before the arrival of the wise men.  Joseph and Mary are amazed.  How will we be amazed by this message today?

         When Kirk, Spock, and Bones step onto a new planet with new forms of life, they go from the known to a new understanding, in some ways a new revelation.  In a similar way, the story of faith is an unfolding growth in seeing and experiencing life.  One of my favorite Star Trek original episodes involves a visit to a planet where life is based on nitrogen rather than carbon.  It was something like that in my memory.  They discover that the creatures they mistake to be rocks are actually animate and that the “mother” is protecting her rock eggs but they wound her with their lasers.  Once they understand the way the planet works, probably Spock did some sort of mind lock with the creature, they heal the rock being and the episode ends happy ever after.

         Today we have Joseph and Mary holding the baby Jesus as he is circumcised and Simeon and Anna who enter the story with new eyes, speak amazing words.  Why does Luke include this episode in his gospel?  Could it be that Luke wants us to understand that revelation does come just through angels to “key characters in a story” but it also comes to us, ordinary people?  Revelation enters our time and often is cloaked in mystery.  As we grasp it, we are amazed!  Are you ready to be amazed?

         Both Simeon and Anna have been waiting a lifetime for the appearance of “the promised savior.”  We know about waiting.  Stay six feet apart.  Wait for the stimulus check.  Wait for the vaccine.  Wait for the weather broadcasted environmental challenge or wait for the changing of the guard in the presidency.  We wait.  Simeon was an ordinary, righteous man, a common churchgoer like us.  He was not a priest, possibly not that learned but known to be righteous and devout, listening to the Holy Spirit.  He is like me.  He is waiting “for the consolation of Israel.”   Simeon challenges me to ask myself how I wait.  Am I listening to God on Sunday and news the rest of the week, or gossip, or whatever?  Simeon understands that God’s salvation plan will unfold in his lifetime and so he looks for evidence of God working in his world.  When all the events surrounding Simeon are confusing, Simeon looks and listens.

         Do I hear the voice of skepticism, that little voice whispering in your ear – right???  Good enough for Bible characters but not for me.  Does God rrrreeeaaallllyy speak today?  Does God speak to ordinary people like us today?  My answer is yes.  We call it inspiration.  There are those “aha” moments as we wrestle with the direction of life, do I marry him or her – is there another, is this the right job or is there another, which major to choose in college, or even which gift to buy at Christmas – suddenly the “light dawns,” as we say, and we know in our gut which way to go.  God speaks through nature, through music, through friends, through Scripture and through experience as he journeys with us.  He speaks into reality but does not contradict himself.  Like Simeon we wait for God’s truth to become real in our life and we receive God’s revelation. But we only understand partially, seeing through a glass dimly.

         Let us not forget Anna, a widow of many years, perhaps as much as sixty, who also was an ordinary person, waiting for God to speak. She also committed her time to prayer and fasting. Many years of waiting for an answer!  Wow, we have trouble waiting through commercials.  Prayer and fasting imply to me that her actions were congruent with her desire to live faithfully.  She was not passive but active.  A deep skepticism has settled on us these days, I believe.  All the political indecision and medical indecision can lead to a futile resignation and sense that – what will be, will be, “que sera”.   The news media has lost credibility and the intense campaign to get us to be vaccinated resonates as “the lady doth protest too much.”  So, let us do a little mental check on our spiritual disciplines that help us actively listen for God’s voice. Spiritual disciplines often involve habits of reading Scripture, journaling, prayer, fasting, meditation, fellowship and even stewardship.  We may be willing to receive a revelation but is our cell phone charged, our antenna connected?  Anna was an ordinary person like us, listening and investing energy in her relationship with God through prayer and fasting.  How are we investing as we wait?

         Revelation amazes us as we are challenged to see the future in new ways that we don’t really grasp.  Kirk and Spock had never thought of life being organized with rock beings.  They don’t really understand what that means and are amazed.  Joseph and Mary listen to Simeon and are equally amazed.  What did his prophecy mean about that little baby, so helpless in their arms?  What is the implication for their lives?  Revelation is cloaked in mystery, in the future, in the unknown, taking us to “places no man has ever gone.”

         “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of     many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hmmm.  I would be hesitant to say this has truly been fulfilled and how but again I see “revelation” at work.  The Christ child will reveal “the inner thoughts of many.”  Simeon and Anna cause me to reflect on if I am listening as an ordinary person and how I am listening.  Simeon’s words cut deep into my heart.  Am I listening and acting like I do to the evening news broadcast, a bit passively and critically and doubtfully, or am I listening with faith that the unseen, that which I don’t understand, that which leaves me out of control – is possible.  Revelation reveals if I listen with human ears or spiritual ears.  The mystery of revelation calls me to faith in a God who is acting in history – yours and mine, who acts for my good whether today or in the future, and who holds the whole world in his hands even if we don’t see and understand.  Revelation amazed Joseph and Mary and amazes me because I don’t understand and I am called to trust God.

         Revelation is not necessarily about predicting a happy-ever-after ending and often acts as “a sword that pierces our soul.”  We are afraid to hear we will die.  We are afraid when our candidate loses.  We may have questions about the unknown of the new vaccine. Yes, I want to go to heaven.  Yes, I want the Romans conquered.  Yes, I want the Messiah but hearing what that looks like is more challenging.  My inner thoughts and desires are revealed and I am challenged to trust God.

         Revelation amazes us as we step into new territory.  Revelation amazes us as we realize our selfishness and must bow to the God who knows and leads.  But revelation also leads us to praise and to speak to others.  Anna could not be quiet when she met the Christ child in the temple.  Her prayers and fasting had been answered!  God is acting into the future in ways like a baby that she could not understand but Anna sees the bigger picture, not the baby from God but the God in the baby.  Anna bursts into praise.

         Today we have gone where no man had ever gone before.  Ordinary people like Simeon and Anna who were waiting for God faithfully, saw a baby brought for an ordinary circumcision.  Ordinary people doing ordinary actions but revelation is seeing the extraordinary, seeing the hand of God in the ordinary events of our lives.  He is not defeated by Rome.  He is not defeated by poverty.  He is not defeated by our lack of understanding.  God is active in our world today and THAT, my dear friends, is grounds for praise and sharing.  May you see with the eyes of your heart this week and may you find time to practice spiritual disciplines and listen to a God who reveals to ordinary people like us, his mysterious love.  Blessings.

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