Christmas 2

First Reading: Numbers 6:22-27

the Aaronic benediction

22The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24The Lord bless you and keep you;
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm: Psalm 8

How majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:1)

1O Lord our Lord,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!—
2you whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children;
  you have set up a fortress against your enemies, to silence the foe and avenger.
3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
  the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
4what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them,
  human beings that you should care for them? 
5Yet you have made them little less than divine;
  with glory and honor you crown them.
6You have made them rule over the works of your hands;
  you have put all things under their feet:
7all | flocks and cattle,
  even the wild beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
  and whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
9| Lord our Lord,
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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 2:15-21

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Children’s Sermon:  As you think back over this past year is there something that you are pondering and wondering what God was up to in your life?  A time when you asked God, “What was that all about?”  Share with a neighbor.

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Today we turn from Advent and all the excitement of preparing for Christmas that celebrates the arrival of Jesus, to looking at his childhood.  We call these two weeks the Christmas Season.  This year we look at our faith through the Gospel of Matthew.  Advent we focused on the Matthew’s buildup to Christmas day. For our gospel text today, though, we are going to go over to the Gospel of Luke that includes experiences of Jesus as a child not included in the other gospels. Luke is the only one who includes these early childhood details as important so we will focus on the assigned text today and ponder what God is saying to us.

         The first half of the church year we look at the big question of learning more about who our God is.  The second half, Pentecost Season, focuses on who we are to our God.  Advent starts the year by leading us to the reality that our God is not a being far distant in the heavenlies, the CEO of life whom we never see but whom is ultimately “the big cheese.”  The buck stops with God!  God is not an all-present force like in Star Wars, a force we allign our lives with and learn how to master. We are not becoming Jedi masters.  We do not hold our hands up, fingers split to form a V, and say, “the Force be with you.”  No, the Bethlehem account brings the eternal God into our reality, incarnate, and in human flesh.  The angels announce to the shepherds “today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” 

         Houston, we have a problem.  The shepherds go to see this promised savior but the baby does not look like a Messiah, someone destine to save the world.  It is not quite obvious to anyone just what is happening.  In fact, I would say it is not quite obvious what God is up to at any point in time.  It is only as we look back that we better understand what was happening and even then we often have questions.  I want us to ponder today with Mary all these things and treasure them in our heart.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,

which the Lord has made known to us.”

         Every culture has rituals around the birth of a child.  Americans hold showers to help the mother prepare.  We send out announcements.  In Kenya they would kill a goat.  The mother would live in seclusion for a month and neighbors would bring in milk.  In one tribe, the baby would be called “little monkey” for its first year as everyone waited to see if the child liked its home and would stay or die and return to heaven.  At one year, a naming ceremony would be held, a goat prepared, and a feast was had.  Luke gives us a glimpse of some of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.  John the Baptist was conceived to prepare the way for the Messiah.  God sent an angel to Joseph and Mary. God, as father, declared the child would be named Jesus.  God claimed his role in the life unfolding.  He sent angels to shepherds announcing the birth of his son.  He made sure everyone knew.  A star shone above in the skys.

         We say, “Seeing is believing.”  But we also say, “I can’t believe my eyes,” and “Looks are deceiving.”  The shepherds raced off to see for themselves what the angels sang about.   They saw baby Jesus in the manger.  We have created movies, songs, cards and folklore around how this encounter must have been experienced.  The text says that the shepherds are not silent but share with others about this night and “all were amazed.”  I note there is no triiumphal procession as when Jesus enters Jerusalem before the cross.  There is no loud proclamation that the Messiah has been born.  I suspect, people heard with their ears, were amazed at the news report, went to see with their eyes but did not truly understand or believe the meaning of the happenings.  We turn on the news and hear reports about Ukraine and believe they are somehow true but it does not really impact our lives.  I suspect that like Mary, the shepherds saw and went back to their fields to ponder what God was up to.  God works in ways that are not always as we would expect.  God had started the world on a journey that we will learn more about as Jesus grows – leaves the manger and enters lives.

         On the other hand, the religious advisors of Herod heard about the possible birth of a new king from the Wise Men and they could even quote Scripture that said the king would be born in Bethlehem and they could look out their windows and see the star but they did not go to Bethlehem.  Hearing the news and seeing did not lead to faith and actions.  Herod who knew there was a prophecy of a Messiah that was to come, heard the Wise Men’s report but he did not go to Bethlehem either.  Hearing and seeing led him to fear and anxiety.  Neither the priests nor Herod walked the talk but watched as others went to “see this thing that has taken place.”  Seeing may well have been believing for the shepherds but it does not mean they understood what was happening.  Hearing for the priests and religious scholars and Herod, resulted in indifference and even fear.

         It is possible to see something and walk away marveling but not understanding or believe.  And so the question for us who hear the Christmas carols their “brave glad tidings tell,” is what is our response now that the babe is born.  Will we go to the manger like the shepherds and Wise Men and depart sharing or will we like the scholars and Herod move on to New Year resolutions about improving our lives?  A savior has been born but what does that mean to us today? 

“17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child”

“20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

The shepherds go to Bethlehem to see but the story does not stop there.  What they experienced moved their hearts to praise and their mouths to share with others.  Christmas for the shepherds could not stay in the manger and stable but moved with them back into their everyday lives.  The shepherds told others what they had experienced.  They did not understand the whole picture of what a Messiah being born meant but the little they understood, they shared.

         I suspect often we think the pastor’s role is sharing and explaining spiritual experience.  We pride ourselves as Lutherans that we are a confessional church and not dependent on testimonials from emotional people.  Back in the day, seeing spilled over into sharing.  Events that deeply touch our lives, we often talk about.  Getting that engagement ring most often becomes the center of our conversations.  Being accepted in the college of our choice is news worth sharing.  Holidays are days when we share our joy communally.  The birth of Jesus spilled over the confines of heaven as the angels praised God and shared with the shepherds.  The joy of the manger spilled over the stable into the lives of the Shepherds and the Wise Men as they shared their experience.

         So how do we want the joy of Christmas tio spill over in our lives this coming year?  Yes, we gave presents.  Yes, we sent Christmas greetings.  Yes, we decorated.  And for many, we bowed our heads and hearts in faith as we grieved the missing people and the hard times God carried us through this last year.  Life was messsy.  The birth of the Messiah did not mean the shepherds would no longer care for smelly, stupid sheep.  It did not end the Romans occupation.  It did not guarantee a car in every garage and two chickens in every pot.  So what did it mean that a savior was born?  And what does it mean to us?

         Houston, we have the on going challenge of living between the promise and the total fullfilment of salvation. Christmas is a seed that will grow but only as it is shared and cherished.  Our passage challenges us about how we will leave Christmas day and face the New Year wiith the message of the angels and the sights we have seen.  Will we too share with others the experience we have had?

“19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

         Mary challenges us to go deeper.  She had seen the angel at the announcement.  She had birthed the baby Jesus, but the text tells us she “treasured” and “pondered.”  Take a moment and think.  What do you treasure?  What is important and precious to you?  Turn to your neighbor and name that which is precious to you.

     How do we nourish, protect, and insure the continuing presence of that person or thing in our lives?  That is a good question.  My family has always had a silver box, somewhat like a safe deposit box, where our passports, identity documents like marriage and birth certificates, and other important papers are kept.  As a child, I was the oldest and in case of a tornado my assigned item to get to the basement was that silver box.  Scrap booking is another means of preserving those memories that bless us and help us hang in when life is hard.  As beloved people decline with dementia, we turn to our memories and remind ourselves that we are more than the fragile bodies we have.  Reunions and genealogy charts help us cherish.  We create physical ways to treasure that which we value.  We treasure someone by spending time with them.  We treasure Jesus by spending time with him and getting to know him.

         Mary not only “treasured” but she also “pondered” all that was happening in her life.  Pondering is an interesting word.  It would imply to me that Mary did not see life as random but realized something from God was unfolding.  College allows us to ponder and prepare for the future.  As young adults I suspect we pondered relationships as we asked if this was the person we wanted to spend our life with.  As parents we ponder the characteristics and talents of children and just how we can develop the talent and where it might lead.  As seniors our ponderings turn to decluttering and the inheritance we leave to the next generation, perhaps the contribution of our lives.  People who go to church on special occassions, may be guilty of neglecting pondering their faith like Mary and be more like the religious scholars of Herod.  Hmmmm?

         We believe God is not random and we believe God speaks into our reality.  BUT we often must stop and listen or ponder to realize what is being said.  Have you ever been driving home distressed about the burdens of the day and suddenly see a dazzling sunset and have the feeling that everything will be ok?  Perhaps a song comes on the radio or a friend calls or a verse comes to mind.  Then again we are delayed just that little bit that means we were not in the accident that happened that might have involved us had we gone earlier.  Life is not random and God speaks into our lives.  Pondering is sitting in an experience and listening for God’s message in the event.  Mary and Joseph had seen the angel.  But now as the shepherds come, Mary ponders.  May our prayer for the New Year be that we will have hearts open as we ponder events that touch our lives.  May our ponderings lead us deeper into seeing how Jesus, our Savior, speaks into our lives today.

“21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus,”

         We see, we share, we ponder, but also we must carry through with the good news.  Mary and Joseph were told by the angel to name the baby Jesus as he would save his people from their sins.  They named the baby Jesus.  We all know the New Year resolutions we make and by February, if not sooner, our determination fades.  Mary and Joseph by obeying and naming their child Jesus they are speaking into eternity a message from God. Jesus is “Savior.”

         Salvationn is a reality he is initiating.  Ultimately salvation depends upon what he does on the cross and our ongoing relationship with him.  Salvation does not depend on our actions like New Year’s resolutions. Salvation is a relationship.  It is faith and not works.  Jesus means God is acting and we are receiving by faith.  This coming year there will be dark days when salvation will seem as impossible as a little baby in a manger out in a stable.  We will be tempted to doubt and dispair but God has acted and declared.  May we spend time pondering life with Mary. God has come into our world and his goal is our salvation.

         The baby in the manger, the baby named Jesus, will grow and his story will expand even as through this coming year hopefully we will grow and expand in our awareness of salvation, Jesus, in our lives.  

         The Aaronic blessing that is our Old Testament reading for today says, perhaps summarizes it best:

“24The Lord bless you and keep you;
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
 

The name Jesus means that God is choosing to bless us and he will keep us in all situations we encounter in the coming year.  His goal for us is salvation.  The Lord looks at us and smiles.  His heart’s intent is love.  He wants to be gracious and kind to us.  The Lord lifts up his countenance upon us.  He is not so busy in Ukraine that he cannot be concerned about things that touch our lives.  His eyes are on us.  His desire is that we have peace or perhaps security in our relationship with him and with those around us.

         Allow me to pray this blessing over you this morning –

“24The Lord bless you and keep you;
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
 

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

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