December 28, 2008
1st Sunday After Christmas
The shepherds have returned to their flocks. Seared into their memory is the brush of angel wings, an angelic choir and the original version of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The angel choir rows are empty, and the angel trumpeters are silent. They have returned to their heavenly spots to watch the unfolding drama of the earthly visitation of God as He walks the dusty streets and trails of Israel. The angels will listen with awe as He interacts with humanity. They will especially be interested in His three years of “rabbinic teaching,” horrified at the crucifixion but elated at resurrection morning.
But there is a bridge that spans the birth of Jesus to the rest of His story. It begins in the temple of God on the eighth day of Jesus’ life. Joseph and Mary are ready to start their walk with Jesus. Snuggled deep within their spirits is the desire to be good, godly parents of faith. They have been entrusted with the care and nurture of God’s gift to the world. On five specific occasions in the passage they are observed carrying out the ritualistic laws of Moses (vv. 22, 23, 24, 27, 39). For them this was the day of new starts.
I. A new start begins with ceremony and symbolism (
Joseph and Mary bring the baby Jesus to the Temple to perform a very sacred symbolic act of ritual, the ceremony of circumcision. They were acting upon a rite observed since father Abraham’s day. God told Abraham that circumcision was “the sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham and his descendants (
This ceremony of covenant symbolizes Jesus’ entrance into the community of faith. It also identifies Him with the people of God; and since it is the first shedding of blood, it identifies Him with both Israel and the world.
Our sacrament is a ceremony of covenant with Christ and identifies us with the community of faith as people of God. It is our symbol that we have died and been resurrected with Him. Just as Jesus’ life would be lived out in obedience and devotion, so should ours.
II. A new start begins with testimonies of witnesses to the divine revelation (
Two faithful witnesses emerge, Simeon and Anna, to represent the past of Israel and the beginning of a new day with the arrival of the promised Messiah. They approach the young couple and their baby boy not in isolation but in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the temple activities. These two witnesses have pure hearts, clean hands and a vision for the future.
Luke writes of this touching, moving scene with the presence of Jesus in the arms of Simeon. He looks down on this baby and with eyes of faith is moved by the Spirit of God and the moment. He declares to the world, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (
Then with a heavy heart he looks into the eyes of this young mother, Mary and delivers these heart-wrenching words, “This child is destined to cause the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (
The second witness is an 84-year-old woman, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. Immediately after Simeon made his prophetic statement, Anna steps onto the stage. In a very positive way she gave thanks to God and spoke about the baby and the redemption He would offer.
These testimonies are a reminder to all of us that we are to be lanterns that burn brightly and light the way for the Savior. The fuel is constantly supplied by the Holy Spirit.
III. A new start looks forward to the future with hope (
A new start gives us…
A. Help for a lifetime. When we begin living for Christ it is not a short-term process but a lifetime together.
B. The ability to overcome trials for a lifetime. There is no getting around it: we will constantly come up against trials and temptation all of our lives. There will be times we fall, but we must not lie there helpless! God has given us the power of Christ to get up and go at life again! It is only if we refuse to get up that we fail.
C. The ability to focus on Jesus for a lifetime. Simeon and Anna blocked everything out that would distract them from Jesus-noise of the people milling around in the temple, sights and even Mary and Joseph. Their eyes were on Jesus.
There are many distractions in our lives; but our goal, our mission in life, is to keep our eyes on Jesus. When we do, the things of this world will grow dim and unimportant!