Spiritual writer Richard Rohr well sums the significance of Christmas in one challenging sentence:
“Frankly, Jesus came to show us how to be human much more than how to be spiritual, and the process still seems to be in its early stages.”
Jesus’s birth indeed challenges those who celebrate the gift of the Christ Child with the obligation to become a whole new people leading wholly different kinds of lives.
If you kneel dutifully at the manger every December but then leave Bethlehem, head home, and flip over the calendar to January only to resume acting out of control and behaving out of your mind, well then, sorry, but you’ve not properly or fully encountered Christ and his Spirit, and you’ve not faithfully or honestly let Christ and his Spirit take hold of your heart and mind.God comes to us in Christ to inspire a new kind of living that really does reveal we truly do know “the reason for the season.”
Keep those truths in mind as we round off Luke’s telling of the Christmas story this morning.
When Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the temple to dedicate him to God, they encounter a Spirit-filled man named Simeon, who immediately recognizes and celebrates Jesus for who he is. But Simeon also makes some staggering predictions about the destiny of this bouncing baby boy.
A woman named Anna joins in the praise and thanksgiving over the birth of Jesus, and she, too, has high expectation for the Christ Child.
Listen for God’s Word to you this day from Luke 2.
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.
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”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
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 Lord’s 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; 30 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 child’s 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 revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
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.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:21-40)
In the United Kingdom, today – December 26 – is called Boxing Day. But the British holiday has nothing to do with two guys duking it out in the ring.
Several centuries ago, it was the custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as gestures of thanks and tokens of appreciation for good service throughout the year.
This custom of giving linked to an even-older British tradition by which the wealthy gave their servants a day off on December 26, so they could go home and spend time with their families after serving their masters on Christmas Day.
As someone who serves you and our community, I’m going to leverage the Boxing Day tradition by taking part of the morning off and sharing the work of preaching with another.
This, then, is “Is There Any Better Gift?”, a short video created by a YouTuber who goes by the alliterative handle “Dude Dad.”
As a new variant of COVID spreads across the country in the middle of the usual cold and flu season, everyone remains on the high alert for signs and symptoms that you’ve been exposed to something really nasty.
And if we truly hear and take to heart everything that Simeon and Anna are saying, then we also need to be on alert for symptoms that we’ve been exposed to something – someone – gloriously infectious: the Christ Child on whom God’s favor rests.
You and I need to be on alert for signs and symptoms of hope, peace, joy and love invading our bodies, and here are a few things to watch for:
A loss of interest in drama, conflict and judgment.
An inclination to see the glass half full more often than you see it half empty.
A tendency to think and act based less on terror and worry and more on courage and strength.
A preference for letting things happen in God’s good time rather than making things happen on your anxious time.
A desire to seek out the friendship and fellowship of others similarly infected.
A feeling of contentment that comes from being connected to things larger than yourself – the eternal expanse of heaven and the immediate needs of friends, neighbors, and strangers.
Frequent attacks of smiling, and overwhelming moments of appreciation.
Spiking a high fever for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Welcoming newcomers, outcasts, and foreigners and being blessed by the gifts they bring.
Feeding the hungry and finding yourself equally fed by your guests.
Building bridges of trust rather than walls of fear.
Greater openness to the love that others extend along with the uncontrollable urge to extend it yourself.
Can one who comes in so lowly a form –and who ultimately shatters everyone’s fondest hopes by dying on a cross –really manage to infect us like this?
That answer speaks volumes about the surprising nature of God, and the real work of Christmas that God calls us to do.
Truly, as Dude Dad proclaims, you’re already enough –because the spirit of Jesus in your heart and mind has made you so –but only if you properly and fully encounter Christ and his Spirit, and you’ve faithfully and honestly let Christ and his Spirit take hold of your soul and spirit.
And when that happens – and it will if you let it happen, the gift of your presence will be the best present that anyone can ever receive.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all!
Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, December 26, 2021. Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by R. Allen Culpepper, L.T. Johnson, and Richard Rohr inform the message.