Pastor Kris Ross
So here we are, the continuation of our Christmas story. The angels have returned to heaven, the shepherds have gone back to their fields and flocks and Mary and Joseph find themselves the parents of this tiny new life, responsible for his care and upbringing until he takes his place in the world. And even then, the place they imagine is nothing like what will come to pass.
So they do what all good, devout Jewish parents do after the requisite 40 days – they bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to the Lord. Since he was the first born child and a son, he was to be especially dedicated to God.
They get to Jerusalem and offer the required sacrifice. Our text tells us that the sacrifice was a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. In truth, the sacrifice for dedication of the first born was a young lamb. You could only offer turtledoves of pigeons if you were too poor to afford to offer a lamb. Luke would know this, and so his telling us what they could offer, says that he wants us to know that Joseph and Mary were poor – the very kind of folk that Jesus came to lift up.
As they leave the Temple they are greeted by two people who spent much of their time there, Simeon and Anna. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see God’s Messiah before he died. He had been waiting for a long time. Simeon was longing to see the hope of Israel, having seen his nation under the thumb of Rome and knowing it’s history of oppression by other nations. So when he saw the little family coming to do what the Law required of them, he rejoiced. He took the child and began praising God.
“Master now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people, all light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”
We know Simeon’s words as the Nunc Dimittis, a saying used to end our worship.
But imagine if you were Mary and Joseph, hearing these words about your weeks-old baby. Our text says they were amazed. I’d be wondering if Simeon was talking about the right kid, if it were me.
Simeon goes on to tell Mary this child is destined for the rising and falling 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 own soul, too.
Mary and Joseph had both heard from angels that this child of theirs was different, that he was “God with us,” that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever. That he was blessed by God.
And now, they’re hearing from old Simeon that Jesus will be all kinds of things both good and not so good. He will be the glory of Israel and a light to the Gentiles, but he will also be someone who causes the rise and fall of powerful people and a sign that will be opposed. And Mary is told that a sword will pierce her own soul? What is this?
That doesn’t sound quite as nice as what they heard from the angels.
Simeon is making it sound like Jesus will be a troublemaker, a rabble rouser, someone whom Rome might come after.
What does all this mean? All they wanted for Jesus was the life that the angel told them about.
I would bet that we all have young people in our lives whose growing up we watch very closely, excited to see what their lives will be as they grow.
I have three sons. I knew that my oldest loved to work with computers with his dad while growing up. If I had a problem, Matt was the one I called. I figured he would that would be what he did for a job (that or law, because he could argue his way out of anything).
Imagine my surprise when he announced at 17 that he was planning on enlisting in the Marines after high school. As proud as I am of those who serve our country, it’s very different when it’s your own child so far away. As a mom, I admit I was very selfish and didn’t want him out there, and when he deployed to Iraq it felt like I couldn’t breathe properly until he came home for good. But now I can see that without that experience he would not be the expert Emergency Manager he is now. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have a child go off in a direction you’d never think of.
We all have dreams and hopes for our children, just as I’m sure Mary and Joseph did. They were given a bit more info then most of us are, but even with what the angels told them, there nothing like what Mary witnessed throughout Jesus’ life. And to stand there at the foot of the cross her son hung from – the death of the worst kind of criminal –that’s not a piercing sword, that’s like a rusty spear!
Mary and Joseph knew that God favored their child as he grew. They raised him as a devout Jewish boy, teaching him everything he was required to know. Even after hearing what Simeon had to say, they still prepared Jesus the best way they knew. They trusted what God had told them. They trusted both their lives and Jesus’ life to God, and they didn’t back away. And through that trust God brought salvation to the world.
How much do we trust our lives to God? How much are we willing to say, “God I trust you more than anything. Let it be to me, according to your will? I surrender my will, my fears, my wants to you, teach me how YOU want me to live.”
When things are going well for us, it’s easy to trust. It almost feels like God is on our side. What we’re doing has God’s approval.
But what about when things get tough? Are we as quick to trust God when we are afraid, hurt, or angry? When life seems out of control and we want to make decisions based on fear and self-preservation, not on trust in God?
Mary and Joseph trusted this tiny life they had been given to raise to the care of the God who had given it in the first place. They knew from Gabriel and Simeon that Jesus’ life, and theirs, would not be easy. They knew there would be difficult times ahead. Jesus’ life wouldn’t be ordinary. He wouldn’t be their son, caring for them as they aged, as was customary. He was the Son of God, born to the world and for the world. But they trusted in the God of their ancestors who had always provided and always would provide. All through their lives and Jesus’ life their faith in the promises of God sustained them.
Why is it hard for us to do the same?
Perhaps it’s because we’re brought up in a culture that stresses taking care of “number one” (me) and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. No matter what happens to anyone else.
But if we are followers of Jesus – the man that little child became – we cannot do that. Jesus commanded his followers to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Even if that means things don’t always turn out the way we would like.
Mary and Joseph would have preferred a much more normal son, I’m sure. One who married, had a family and cared for them in their old age. But God had bigger plans for Jesus.
Like Mary and Joseph, we must trust that the God who gave us life, who named us and claimed us will sustain us through life, caring for us as Joseph and Mary cared for the infant Jesus. God’s plan for the world is much bigger than our individual lives and needs.
As we close out 2017, let us commit ourselves to seeking God’s will for our individual lives, our congregation, and for the world. And ask God boldly to show us where we can show Christ’s love and salvation to a weary and hurting world. A world aching for God’s kingdom to come…right here. Right now.