December 31, 2023 ~ First Sunday after Christmas
Rev. Beckie Sweet
I am going to ask you a couple of questions, to which I do not expect a response! Is your Christmas tree still up? Are your decorations still brightening your home. It’s still Christmas, you know. In fact, today, December 31st is the SEVENTH Day of Christmas! In the familiar Christmas carol, the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” believed to have been written by Frederic Austin, on the 7th day of Christmas, the “true love” gives seven swans a-swimming, which is believed to represent the seven gifts of the Spirit from scripture. BUT, I digress!
On the 7th Day of Christmas, the angels have returned to their heavenly realms, after breaking into the earthly realm to announce peace and good will to the shepherds. The shepherds have told everyone they know and meet the story of their encounter with the angels and with baby Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph. Now they are back in the fields with their sheep.
Most of Joseph’s relatives, who had also come to Bethlehem for the census, have gone home, leaving a little more room in the inn for the new family to get stronger before they set out on their own journey.
The magi from the East are on their way, but it will be some time before they show up to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Spoiler Alert ~ they arrive next Sunday!) You see, it’s still Christmas.
Luke continues the story with the narrative that Tim shared with us this morning. Today is what some call the “Feast of the Presentation.” According to Jewish law, which we can find in the OT book of Leviticus, Mary and Joseph attend to their obligations by taking Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, where they make sacrifices to show their gratitude and their commitment to raising Jesus according to the faith. That means that Mary needed to complete the first obligation of her purification. Jesus would be circumcised and dedicated to God as their first-born son. Luke mentions all of this to assure his readers that Jesus will be taught to strictly adhere to the laws of God.
But it is not these acts which are most poignant. The Holy Family has two amazing encounters while at the temple. First, they capture the attention of old Simeon. Tradition tells us that Simeon was one of 70 scholars who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, what we call the Septaugint. While this service took many decades, Simeon aged to at least a century old. Simeon believed fervently in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Immanuel.” And so, he visited the temple every day, awaiting the appearance of the Savior of the World.
Simeon’s life was one of expectation, anticipation, and waiting. And who among us has not had their life characterized by expectation, anticipation, and waiting? We’ve all stood in that place waiting for and needing something to happen, living in expectation and hope, anticipating the future, and wondering if today was the day. We got up each morning and had to decide whether we still believed in God’s future or whether we would give up.
We all know what it’s like to wait – waiting for life to change, for the grief to go away, for the prayer to be answered, for joy to return, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for clarity about a decision, for meaning and purpose, for healing and new life. We wait and hope for all sorts of things.
We have all sorts of hopes and expectations for what God is doing in our lives and in our world. Most of us have come to worship today with some hope, some need, some expectation. We come to meet God trusting and anticipating the promise that God is present and working in our lives even if we can’t recognize how God is at work or clearly understand how that will affect us. So, like Simeon, we show up and we wait for the miracle.
And then there is Anna, an octogenarian who stayed close to the temple and served God through fasting and praying. She was a prophet who often spoke about God’s promises being fulfilled. Some thought she was crazy. She was a widow, and in that day was unable to own land or seek formal employment. So, she hung around at the Temple awaiting God’s next move.
God blessed her by allowing her to see the Savior of the world as a tiny, newborn baby. God fulfilled the promise made to Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. And each one sang their praise for God, and their words of prophecy for Jesus and his parents in their own way. Multiple miracles happened in that short time. Both Simeon and Anna were blessed by seeing the Messiah of God. Mary and Joseph were blessed through these human encounters with the divine purpose of again identifying Jesus as the one sent to save the people. Showing up, according to God’s calling, has it’s rewards!
What Simeon and Anna experienced can be ours too, if we but show up for God. The presentation doesn’t happen for us this year in the Jerusalem temple, but in the temple of our lives, every moment of every day, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. It happens in the midst of waiting. It happens every time we show up for the sacred purpose of serving God.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a poem/song about this scripture text just last Sunday. She suggests singing in to the tune of “Away in a Manger,” but I will just read it for you today.
CRADLE SONG (“Away in a Manger”)
The old ones among us have wisdom to share;
we learn from their joy and the pain that they bear.
Their years of experience point to the way
that we can be faithful and hopeful each day.
Old Simeon knew he had waited so long.
So when he held Jesus, his heart filled with song:
“My eyes have now seen the salvation God brings;
this baby will bring us incredible things!”
A prophet named Anna— a widow— was there;
her life was a pattern of worship and prayer.
So when she saw Jesus, she spoke of the boy;
her heart overflowed with God’s good news of joy.
O God in this pairing— in two stories told—
may we find new hope through these ones who were old.
May we see, through them, what’s in front of our eyes—
the blessing of Jesus who changes our lives.
Biblical Reference: Luke 2:22-40, Text: Copyright © 2023 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.