"Waiting and Witnessing"

LUKE 2:21-38

29 Dec 2013

 

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           Most of us experience a letdown the week after Christmas.  Christmas demands so much of us, and now its back to ordinary living accompanied by a few extra bills to pay and a few extra pounds to work off.  Some unknown author spoke for many of us:

 

Twas the week after Christmas and all through the house

Nothing would fit me, not even a blouse.

The cookies Id nibbled, the eggnog Id taste

At the holiday parties had gone to my waist.

When I got on the scales there arose such a number!

When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber),

Id remember the marvelous meals Id prepared:

The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rared,

The bread and the cheese/ And the way Id never said, No, thank you, please.

As I dressed myself in my husbands old shirt

And prepared once again to do battle with dirt

I said to myself as only I can: You cant spend a winter disguised as a man!

So away with the last of the sour cream dip,

Get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker and chip.

Every last bit of food that I like must be vanished.

I wont have a cookie‑‑not even a lick.

Ill only chew on a long celery stick.

I wont have hot biscuits or corn bread or pie.

Ill munch on a carrot and quietly cry.

Im hungry, Im lonesome and life is a bore.  But isnt that what January is for?

Unable to giggle, no longer a riot.  Happy New Year to all and to all a good diet!

 

            Thats how some feel a few days after Christmas and I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt after the shepherds had left them and the angels stopped singing.  After these amazing events, they had to return to the real world just as we do following Christmas.  The Gospels vary in what comes next.  Mark, of course, tells us nothing of Christs birth.  He begins with John the Baptist preparing the way in the wilderness.  John also doesnt say anything about Christs birth, but he does give us a beautiful theological discourse on the meaning of Christs coming when he says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Then John also begins with the baptism by John.

            Matthew gives us the story of the wise men, but Luke tells us the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple to be consecrated.  At the temple they meet two very old people.  Let's begin reading in chapter two, verse 21.  Let's begin with the three ancient ceremonies.

 

            After 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.

 

            That's the first ancient ceremony ... the circumcision of Jesus.  Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.  So sacred was the ceremony that it could even be carried out on the Sabbath, the day on which the law forbade almost every other act which was not absolutely essential.  It was only on this day that a male child received his name.  If you had a baby girl, no circumcision of course, and you could wait up to thirty days to name the child.  Let's continue reading as we come to the second ancient ceremony. 

 

            When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to The Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

 

            The second ancient ceremony was the Purification after Childbirth.  When a woman had borne a child, if it was a boy she was unclean for forty days, and if it was a girl, she was unclean for eighty days.  At the end of that time she had to bring to the Temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering.  That was beyond the means of some families so the Law made an exception.  If the woman could not afford a lamb she might bring another pigeon.  The offering of the two pigeons instead of a lamb and pigeon was called The Offering of the Poor, and that's what Mary brought.  In other words, Jesus grew up in a home with few luxuries, a home where every penny had to be valued, a home where family members knew all about trying to make ends meet.  A good number of us grew up in families like that. 

            The third ancient ceremony is easy to miss because Luke combines it with the Purification after Childbirth.  This ancient ceremony was The Redemption of the First Born and Luke alludes to it in his parenthetical comment.  According to Exodus 3:2, every firstborn male was sacred to God, and it was laid down in the Law that for a sum of five shekels, parents could, as it were, buy back their son from God.  The sum was paid to the priests and it had to be paid no sooner than thirty one days, but not too soon after that.  So on the forty day mark, Joseph and Mary, during the Purification after Childbirth, would have paid the five shekels.  But note, Luke does not say they paid the five shekels, leading us to believe that they let it go, they left Jesus completely dedicated to God, they did not buy him back. 

            So those are the three ancient ceremonies.  Now let's turn our attention to two ancient people.  We begin with Simeon, verse twenty-five.

 

            Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lords Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

             Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,  according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

            And the childs father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealedand a sword will pierce your own soul too.

 

            There is an amusing story about a man named Maurice King.  Maurice's barber was not good with straight razor and rarely would Maurice leave this barbers shop without a new collection of nicks and scratches.  Even more disturbing, Maurice became a little concerned that his barbers tools werent as sanitary as they could be.  So he invented a germ-killing blue liquid that he began marketing to barber shops and hair salons.  Even today, you walk into a barber shop and youll see glass jars of this pale blue liquid on the counters.  Its used for soaking razors, scissors, combs and other equipment.  Whats the name of this blue liquid?  Barbicide.  The name is a little inside joke thought up by Maurice King after a particularly bad trip to the barber.  I say its an inside joke because the word Barbicide means kill the barber.  Look for it at your favorite barber shop.[1]

            Well, Simeon made it clear that Mary and Joseph would not escape lifes nicks and scratches.  Neither would Jesus.  He said,  A sword will pierce your soul.  I wonder that day if she had any idea that her time with her beloved husband and her beloved son would be so brief?  Mary may have lost Joseph when she was still in her twenties or early thirties, and there is no record that she ever remarried.  She was likely in her late forties when she experienced the tragedy of watching her son die on the cross of Calvary. 

            When the World Trade Center was brought down by terrorists, many families had their lives forever torn to pieces.  One man got home from work the evening of September 11th to hear a message from his wife on the answering machine.  She worked in the twin towers and on the answering machine, she asked him, Honey, can you get the kids up from soccer today?  Someone in the car pool cant make it.  Were out of pasta if you think of it for dinner.  I love you. See you around seven.  And in the days following the destruction of those twin towers, he sat, playing that message over and over.

            I doubt that Mary thought very much about losing her loved ones until it happened. Thats really for the best.  We would worry ourselves sick if we did think too much about losing those we love.  I guess its best that we dont know what the future may bring.  Life can be very cruel even to the best of people.  Mark those words down.  Life can be cruel even to the best of people.

            Now let's turn our attention to the other ancient person.  Anna.  Verse thirty-six.

 

            There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty- four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

 

            Anna's life had not been easy.  She had been widowed only a few years after her marriage.  And the imprint of time was written in the lines of her face and the years had left painful reminders in her old joints so every movement became an adventure of endurance.  But Anna forgot all that as she looked across the Temple courtyard and saw the Baby.  She couldn't take her eyes off of him.  Never before had her dim eyes seen so completely the freshness of a new life.  Never before had she sensed such Love and Joy and Hope as she did as she peered at that tiny new life.

            Anna held onto the hope of the ages before her.   As she made her stiff joints move among the people in the Temple there was a new sparkle in her dim eyes and there was a melody about her cracking voice as she told all she met about the tiny Baby, the joy of all humankind and the hope of the ages.   

            It's important to hold onto hope.   I few years back Rush Limbaugh had an interesting conversation with a young listener. Having just completed Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation, a book filled with inspiring stories of the WWII generation, Rush had taken the position that the current generation of young adults, those in their 20's, are, for the most part, a bunch of whiners.  He said that while they are constantly whining and moaning about the difficulty of their lives, in fact, when compared to the hardships faced by their grandparents' generation, they've actually got it easy.  Their grandparents had endured truly devastating events like The Great Depression and WWII.  The current crop of young adults, he concluded, doesn't even have a clue about real hardship.

            Once Rush had finished his monologue a self-professed member of this younger generation of adults called in to offer a different perspective.  Bright and extremely articulate, the twenty-three year-old caller said that, while The Great Depression and WWII certainly created terrible hardships for the people who faced them that he, nonetheless, believed his generation faced an even greater hardship.

            Limbaugh asked, "And what exactly would that be?"

            The caller said, "The loss of hope."  He said that his experience indicated that many of today's young adults had simply stopped believing that things were going to get better.  They didn't expect to live as well as their parents had lived.

            They weren't expecting a brighter future.  They have simply given up hope.

            He said, "The Great Depression, as terrible as it was, in many cases brought families together as they worked side by side in the hope of saving their families.  Most of his friends, he said, grew up in families in complete disarray and have given up the hope of ever having a real family experience of their own."

            Today the world is on the dizzy edge of disarray.  Doubt and injustice and all the sinfulness of humanity afflicts us.  Still, Christ's presence today is a blessing as profound as it was in the first century.  Christ's presence can be as full now for us as it was for Anna. The Christ of Christmas brings hope and so much more.



[1] Charles Kuralt with Peter Freundlich, American Moments (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), pp. 70-71.