Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Isaiah gives voice to our praise — “I will not be silent!” When it comes to the blessing of God, what do you have to shout about?
Psalm 148 gives a nice baker’s dozen invitations to praise — 13 times in these 14 verses the word occurs. Notice also all the members of the “Choir of Creation” that are invited to join the song: from angels and the starry host to sea monsters and all people (young and old.) Talk about “We Are the World!”
Galatians makes a nice play on an image for today — God has sent His son (a child) into the world, so that we might be made the children of God.
From Luke‘s account, I nominate Simeon and Anna for most outstanding characters who are most often overlooked in the Christmas story. These two Spirit-led senior citizens have an awful lot of good stuff to say. Listen to them closer than you would to E. F. Hutton (if you don’t get the reference, ask someone who watched TV during the late 1970’s and early 80’s! Or, catch a vintage repeat here.)
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Believe it or not, 2014 is almost over. New Year’s Eve, and its attendant parties, is Wednesday night. While the new Football Playoff System has taken some of the finality of the games away, New Year’s Day will be still be a big day for College Football Bowl games and their attendant parades. One of the most enduring symbols of the New Year is Old Father Time, with a long beard and dressed in a robe, walking away over the hill while the Baby New Year, wearing nothing but a sash with the year emblazoned on it, bursts onto the scene. I thought of that image as I read about the old man Simeon taking the little baby Jesus into his arms.
Now the secular image often portrays the old year as stooped, weary, worn out, almost disgusted looking, ready to be shed of the whole thing. Looking at the New Year with a combination of envy and pity, as if to say, “Yeah, I used to be full of pep, energy and enthusiasm too. But you’ll learn, my boy, you’ll learn. They’ll wear you out too.”
There is none of that in our Gospel Lesson, not from Simeon, nor from the prophet Anna, she of great age. Both of these elders recognize in Jesus the dawning of a new age, the coming of a new blessing for God’s people; not only for Israel, but also for everyone. Echoing the prophet Isaiah, Simeon sees in Jesus the promised salvation “which you (God) have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Anna sees in the child as “the redemption of Jerusalem,” and both praise God and spreads the word. Instead of looking at the baby and the changes he is bringing into the world with both jealous envy and cynical pity; both Simeon and Anna see in Jesus a new thing God is doing and they praise God for it and spread the word.
Most of us have seen more than a few Christmases come and go. We have listened throughout many Advents to the promises of a Messiah, a Savior who is coming. We have heard, year after year, that John the Baptist is the one preparing the way of the Lord. We have come faithfully to Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion, singing joyfully and lustily, hymns and carols full of words about the Son of God coming to bring hope, and joy, and peace. And we believe it, we really do.
But here, on the back side of Christmas Day, after all the parties and the presents and the family dinners; as people begin to go back home and go about their regular business – just as Mary and Joseph had to leave the stable at Bethlehem and go to the temple to tend to the requirements of the law and then hit the road for Nazareth because, after all, Joseph has a business to run and they have a son to raise; we find ourselves staring at bills and empty boxes and a world filled with the same old problems of race and politics and poverty and violence as before Christ came and we have to wonder – did Christmas actually change anything?
If we’re not careful we can become more Old Father Time, looking upon the gospel of Jesus Christ with a combination of envy and cynical pity, than spiritual descendants of Simeon and Anna. We can begin to think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s all very nice – you can try that peace and love stuff, but in the end, it doesn’t work. You’ll learn, my boy, you’ll learn.”
Part of our problem is that we have failed to pay enough attention to the hard-nosed practicality of the Bible itself. We have somewhat cleaned up the Christmas story itself, leaving out the hard parts in the interest of having a pleasant and joyful Christmas. In this, we have failed to pay enough attention to the harsh and mean world into which Christ came. We have failed to talk enough about the “Slaughter of the Innocents” that happened in Bethlehem after Jesus birth. We have too often failed to draw the straight line from this bouncing baby boy’s birth and his cruel yet redemptive death just over thirty years later. It’s all there in the Bible, including in this text. Simeon tells Mary the hard truth that, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your side too.” (vs.34-35)
On this first Sunday after Christmas, our call is to embrace the Christ Child with the clear-eyed enthusiasm modeled for us by Simeon and Anna. They are both joyful and realistic. They are joyful that God has acted. They are realistic about what God’s action means. What begins in the Christ Child will take an eternity to accomplish. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the arc of history is long and it bends toward justice. We are called to follow Jesus, to grow and become strong and wise in battling the injustices of our world. Our hearts will be pierced with compassion and our souls filled with love; for once we have seen God’s salvation, we have no option but to praise God and join the parade.
Amen and amen.