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Jesus Presented In The Temple, December 31, 2023

Luke 2:25-32   Today is a day of hope for many people.  Tomorrow is the first day of the New Year and is a sign of hope; but many of our sisters and brothers have lost hope; or their hope is not very strong. 

          They’ve tried year after year to make resolutions, to lose weight, to get in shape, to save money, or praying for healing for themselves or their family or their friends.  Way too many people put their hope in their own will power and that will never work, by itself alone. 

          Real hope only comes from GOD.

          Folks, we need to trust GOD and develop a deep and right relationship with GOD.  Then we can share GOD’S HOPE with those around us.  We can learn from Mary, Joseph, Simeon and the Prophet Anna.

          The major point of this part of scripture is that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the Law of the Lord, after Jesus was born.  This section is held together by repeated references to the law, all the actions taken by Joseph and Mary fulfill what the law prescribes, circumcision and purification, and the transition to their departure from Jerusalem is marked by Luke’s report in verse 39 that “they finished everything required by the law of the Lord.”

          Some folks over look this part of scripture and miss the importance of the Holy Family traveling to the Jerusalem,

          the Temple, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of GOD’S promise of salvation for both Israel and the Gentiles.

          Although this section seems to involve arcane details of the law regarding circumcision and purification of the mother after birth, we should not miss the IMPORTANT POINT that it conveys THE GOSPEL; and the PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL is to declare who Jesus The Christ is and share the good news of what he will do.

          Luke underscores the significance of the name by reminding the reader that the name Jesus had been given, not by Joseph, but by the angel of the Lord.  This name declared the child’s future role as “Savior” of all people.  The conferring of the name, therefore, was itself an act of fulfillment.

          Please hear the next few verses of Luke’s Gospel on pew Bible page 857 starting with Luke 2:33, just after what Linde read earlier.  “And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

          This oracle foreshadows the rejection of Jesus.  Not all will receive the salvation that has been prepared, or see the light of revelation, or recognize the glory of GOD in the coming of Jesus.

          Simeon said, (Jesus is) “The one is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel…”  Jesus is the he one who would bring salvation would also bring judgment; the cornerstone would be the stone of stumbling for others.

          Verse 36, “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

          The Return to Nazareth

          Verse 39, “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”

          Anna and Simeon gave HOPE to the people around them.  Hope is such a wonderful gift.  A baby, just by being a baby, gives hope to the family; but when a Mary, Joseph, and the people in the temple heard Anna and Simeon they were also given the gift of hope.  Remember the people of Israel were under a terrible, oppressive Roman government.  They were taxed at an outrageous rate; and the money didn’t go to help the people locally. 

          Simeon said, “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.”  It was a dark world with no help in sight.  The people knew that a Messiah, an anointed savior, was to come but they didn’t know when.  Now Simeon and Anna announced to all within earshot that the Savior was here!  Their word of HOPE gave those people hope and those people spread that hope to others.

          On pew Bible page 942 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, you will see that it contains an absolutely wonderful scripture about GOD’S HOPE; chapter 5 verse 1 of Romans, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” 

          This is the Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God!

          Boasting about our suffering is exactly opposite of what the world tells us to do.  We are told to run away from suffering; take a pill; do what feels good.  Real hope comes from God, even in the face of suffering.

          And that’s what Christmas is: REAL HOPE!!  It is the celebration of God breaking into human history with a saving act of love in and through the person of Jesus.  It’s RAW, ADUCAIOUS HOPE!!  At Christmas, we simply rejoice in the wonderful fact of Emmanuel, of God-with-us.  That’s the hope we need to carry into the New Year and share with others.

     The remarkable proclamation of this celebration is that God's saving love is poured out:

  •           not only for the rich and powerful

  •           not only for the righteous (it is Santa who divides the kids into naughty and nice)

  •           not only for the folk of a particular nation, geographic area, philosophical persuasion, or any other faction

  •           not only for humans ("God so loved the world" is the language of John 3:16)

     Christmas reminds us that God comes among us to bring Good News and HOPE to ALL PEOPLE, indeed, to all of creation.  Simeon and Anna shared the hope of God with the people they met.

          Christmas tells us that in the eyes and heart of God, all people, all creatures, all parts of creation, have intrinsic worth.  

          We are all worth loving and saving, just because we exist.

          God comes to us in a pure act of love and grace.  There's no exchange where we need to do something useful for God.

          We don't need to prove our worth.  We don't need to be better or more valuable than any other part of the creation.  

          God loves and cares for each of us, JUST AS WE ARE!!  

          That's NOT the way our world works.

          We like to think that we are living in The Technological Age, defined by wondrous advances in science.  But even more significantly, we live in The Economic Age, when our understanding of the world, and all things in it, is shaped by economic perspectives.  People, other creatures, and "natural resources" are deemed to be valuable, or not, for what they can provide to others.  

          Much of the time, both individually and institutionally, our relationships with people and the rest of creation are grounded in the exchange value of labor and commodities.  The value of others is often defined in dollars.  God doesn’t look at dollars.

          The Israelites were slaves to the Romans.  Simeon and Anna announced the Savior of God had come; THEY WERE THE PROCLAIMERS OF HOPE.  The great anti-slavery movements of the 1800s were driven by the moral passion of those who saw the intrinsic worth of enslaved humans.  

          That movement for freedom was driven by the radical notion that all people -- however oppressed or despised -- have moral standing because of their innate value.  The abolitionists, the anti-slavery folks, made clear that people are not things to be bought and sold, used and abused.  

          The labor of people has economic value; the people themselves have intrinsic worth; BECAUSE THEY WERE (and continue to be) CHILDREN OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD!!

          The claim of intrinsic value in the lives of the enslaved was clearly an attack on the economic system that brought prosperity to regions and nations.  Claims of intrinsic worth were practical and philosophical threats to the status quo.

          And the same is true today.  If we take seriously the premise of Christmas -- if we truly believe that GOD cares enough about creation to come among us with saving grace -- then we will be called to a different morality.

          Words can be powerful, especially in the context of ritual and celebrations.  The pressures of secularism and modern life have again reduced the significance of ritual observances in the lives of most Christians.  We allow so many differences to pull us apart.  Prayer before meals and family Bible study are observed in fewer homes today than just a generation ago.

          If we will open ourselves to GOD’S HOPE, we will be compelled to denounce systems and ideologies that recognize only the monetary worth of what God so profoundly loves.  

          Every person in this world needs to know that God loves them. 

          How are the people of the Warren County area going to hear that Good News!!??

          The answer is up to us.  I pray that God's loving HOPE will break into our lives, our families, our church, and all of Warren County churches.  I pray that we may be transformed by the astounding proclamation of CHRISTMAS HOPE.  I pray that we will be compelled like Simeon and Anna as a matter of our deepest faith to love, protect and preserve God's valuable creation, that includes ALL PEOPLE AND ALL OF CREATION!! and everything else.  Now that’s good news!!

         

          In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!

         

          Please rise and let us sing, “Emmanuel, Emmanuel.”  

          “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, his name is called Emmanuel.

          GOD with us, revealed in us.  His name is called Emmanuel.”

         

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