Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 1st Christmas

Christmas Courage
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

There is very little written about Jesus as a baby. The only Biblical sources of information about the baby Jesus are in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, where you will find four stories about the baby Jesus:


• The first, and, of course, best known, is the story of Jesus’ birth as told by St. Luke – Jesus’ birth in a stable, the singing angels, the shepherds. We all know and love this story.

• The second is often combined with the first, the visit to the baby Jesus by the wise men from the east, as recorded in St. Matthew. In our Nativity scenes we want to put the wise men at the manger with the shepherds the night of Jesus birth, but good scholarship suggests they came days or weeks after Jesus’ birth. And tradition makes them three, but Matthew does not tell us that.

• The third, also from St. Matthew, is related to the wise men’s visit. Right after their visit to the baby Jesus, Joseph gets a message from an angel in a dream that Jesus’ life is in danger from King Herold and that Joseph and Mary and Jesus need to leave quickly and be refugees in Egypt for a time. After King Herod’s death, this story continues, Joseph is told in a dream that it is safe to return to Israel. As Joseph travels back to Israel he receives a third dream warning to stay away from Galilee since the ruler of Galilee, Archelaus, Herod’s son, is as evil as his father. Joseph then takes Mary and Jesus to Nazareth where Matthew tells us they made their home.


Most of us know the basics of these three stories of baby Jesus – Jesus’ birth, the visit by the wise men, the flight to Egypt and Jesus’ return to Israel where the family settles safely in Nazareth.

 

However, the fourth baby Jesus story, today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, is much less well known. Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, have taken baby Jesus to Jerusalem so that he can be circumcised. Scholars believe that this would have happened within the first two weeks of Jesus’ life which makes the timeline a bit confusing if we try to combine Matthew’s and Luke’s baby Jesus stories.

 

No matter. In today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus, most likely still from Bethlehem, to the temple in Jerusalem for circumcision. They bring along a temple sacrifice, Luke is uncertain whether they brought turtledoves or pigeons, and head to the temple in Jerusalem where they meet two elderly and amazing people, Simeon and Anna, both of whom have waited their entire lives for the birth of the Messiah and now rejoice and pray and sing as they meet their Messiah, the baby Jesus. If Simeon’s song, “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace,” sounds familiar, it is because we use it at times in our Lutheran worship liturgy.

 

Today may be the 7th day of Christmas in the old song, but, for most people, Christmas is now past. It is now time to celebrate New Year’s Eve, make resolutions and look ahead to the football playoffs.

However, perhaps today’s Gospel lesson and the story of Simeon and Anna might be just the passage we need to hold on to Christmas just a bit longer.

 


Notice, first, what an odd song Simeon sings to the new parents, Mary and Joseph. It is a song about his death. He has been waiting to see the sign of God’s redemption and, having beheld God’s commitment to Israel and the world made manifest in this child, now asks to depart; that is, to die.

 


That’s beautiful, but I suspect it would have been more than a bit disturbing to Mary and Joseph. And the peculiarity of Simeon’s song does not end there. After praising God for the light Jesus will shed on all nations, Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, but also tells them that their son will inaugurate the rise and fall of many and be a sign that will be opposed. If that is not enough, Simeon concludes by telling Mary that a sword will pierce her heart also.

 


Glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, gladness and opposition. All these and more will be contained in this child. And, they are also part of our own lives, too.

 


quote giftsgiveninloveAnd that is just why we need Christmas to last longer than 24 or 48 hours, why we need it not simply to persist into the new year, but to keep us strong throughout the year. Because, and you all know this all to well, this life is both wonderful and difficult. And God came in Jesus to be with us and for us through all of it: the ups and down, hopes and fears, successes and disappointments, accomplishments to savor and mistakes to regret; all of it. God is with us and for us. And God is not just there and for us some of the time, but all of the time, even when we do not act as we want, even when we do not live into the identity God has given us, even when we do not make it to church on a regular basis.

 


Which brings me back to Simeon’s plea: “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace.” Yes, Simeon is talking about dying, but it is dying in peace. That is, he is ready to die with the confidence that God is with him, that God is keeping God’s promises, that God loves and will care for this world. Whatever Simeon may see or feel or experience in the end the world will be shaped by God’s “yes” that stands in in contrast and opposition to all the various and sundry voices shouting “no” across the land. Simeon can depart in peace.

 


And that is my prayer today for you and me, for our nation and for the world. That we enter into the new year with a measure of courage that comes from confidence that God continues to keep God’s promises, that God is indeed walking with us, that God will in time bring all things – including the work we do and love we offer – God will in time bring all things to a good end, and therefore we and the world will experience peace.

 


Let’s call this “Christmas courage” for it is rooted in the promise that in Jesus God became one of us and so is, indeed, Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is the courage that allows us to anticipate opposition without fearing or, perhaps worse, without hating those who oppose us. It is the courage that allows us to acknowledge when our hearts are pierced in a way that does not harden our hearts but opens them to others who have also been pierced. It is a courage that grants the peace of which Simeon sings and leads us to the thanksgiving that his temple companion Anna offers. It is the courage that allows us to continue to love and sacrifice and dare because it believes that no gifts given in love are ever lost or without meaning.

 


So, today, let us take up and hold onto Christmas courage, courage that comes from knowing God is with us – every single day of our lives, that God grants us peace and confidence to face the new year. And then let God’s courage lead us to thanksgiving for all God has done, and is still doing, to us, with us, and through us.

 


Christmas courage for you and me. This still-Christmas season and every day. Our lives are full of glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, gladness and opposition. And through it all, God is with us and grants us the courage to face the new year and all the good and bad it may bring with hope and thanksgiving.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

(with thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose)

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 30-31, 2017


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