Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1 - 2018

3 January 2018

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (Isa 11:1-5, 2 Sam 7:1-16)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As the church drags her feet to continue our Christmas celebration, we are reminded of just how revolutionary our Lord’s coming was. 

Seven hundred years before the Lord’s birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” and “a branch from his roots.”  This is alluded to in one of the lines of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” 

For Jesse was the father of David: the boy who slew the giant, the man after God’s own heart, the mighty king of Israel whose descendant would sit on the throne forever.  But the line of Jesse seemed to have come to an end.  For his kingdom divided into civil war, chaos, and division.  The northern Kingdom, Israel, had already been wiped from the face of the earth by the time of Isaiah.  And Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was taken into captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BC.  And while the people returned to rebuild the Temple, they did not restart their kingdom.  They found themselves ruled by Persians, then Greeks, then Romans.  The tree that represented the children of Israel was like an old, dead, dry stump.

It remained so until the coming of Jesus, when a fresh green sprout grew out of that stump: the shoot from the stump of Jesse.  For that little child Jesus is a restarting of the People of God, the King who has appeared in the most unlikely of births.

Israel was old and worn out, tired and so long under occupation that nobody could remember what it was like to live in one’s own country under one’s own king.  And there were all of these hopeful prophecies that just never seemed to come true, year after year, generation after generation, century after century.  It was as though winter had become permanent, and a chilling darkness settled over the nation, without hope of even a ray of sunshine.

And yet, the old ones held on.  Simeon, the elderly priest, clung to life because he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  And like Abraham who believed God’s promise of a son, even as he continued aging and was nearly a century old, St. Simeon refuses to disbelieve.  Simeon clings to the Word of God no matter who may scoff or simply abandon belief.  For God always keeps His Word.  So Simeon is “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And another elderly Saint, Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, was an eighty-four year old widow whose life was devoted to serving God in the temple: “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  How ridiculous she must have looked to the young women!  Anna waited around “for the redemption of Jerusalem,” wasting her life with religion when everybody knows that this does no good. 

The old ones – at least these old ones – kept the faith while others made fun of them, or ignored them, getting on with the more important things in life.

So Simeon waited for consolation and Anna waited for redemption.  They waited as their bodies aged.  They waited as time passed.  They waited while everything seemed to go on as always.

And then it happened: a bolt from the blue!  The tender green shoot pushed its way out of the worn and dry old stump that people couldn’t even be bothered to dig out.  The virgin conceived and bore a Son: the Son of David, Emmanuel, Jesus!  The Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords: the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!  “Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins.”  Righteousness was to console Simeon and faithfulness was to redeem Anna.

When Mary and Joseph brought the Christ Child to the temple “according to the custom of the Law,” St. Simeon realized that his wait was over!  He held the Child and blessed God: “Lord, you are now letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word.”  St. Simeon had seen the Christ child and was now free to “depart in peace.”  His eyes saw salvation, prepared by God for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.  Simeon had a blessing and a prophecy for Mary and Joseph – for this work of Jesus was not going to be easy.  There would be resistance.  There would be war.  Mary herself would suffer the mother’s worst nightmare of seeing her Son suffer and die before her eyes. 

But Simeon knew what this meant: Christ was in our world to “strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips, He shall kill the wicked.” 

For Jesus has come to be the consolation of Israel, to vindicate them from the hands of their enemies – indeed through His righteousness and His faithfulness given as a gift to the Jew and the Gentile alike.

And indeed, there was also the faithful elderly widow Anna.  She was there in the temple as well to welcome the Christ Child.  Her wait was also over.  For “coming up that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Her wait was also over.  She waited for redemption, and that redemption came to her right there in Jerusalem! 

And all of the sudden, the tired became the fresh, the dreary became bright, the frail became the robust.  The shoot from the stump would grow to be a branch, and that branch would become the cornerstone of the church, the very Tree of Life with vibrant roots and green offshoots, sprouting every which way even to the ends of the earth!

Simeon and Anna knew that the world would never be the same.  Anna could not stop speaking about Jesus, and Simeon knew that he had held Salvation Himself in his arms.

This, dear friends, is the ongoing wonder of Christmas.  The world celebrates the child in the manger, and then moves on to more important things.  But the Church knows that nothing is more important than the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

That sword that would pierce the Blessed Virgin’s heart would be the cross, and that cross would be the salvation of her soul and the redemption of the universe. 

For as St. Paul reminds us: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

This, dear friends, is why we can pray with Jesus to “our Father who art in heaven,” “crying, ‘Abba, Father!’”

For we know what Simeon realized and what caused Anna to rejoice: “You are no longer a slave, but a son,” that is, “an heir through God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, you have inherited what Jesus has earned for you: salvation, eternal life, righteousness, and faithfulness.  Our wait is over.  The kingdom is ours.  Like our father Simeon, we can sing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”  And we can join with our mother Anna, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” and speak of Jesus to all who are waiting for His redemption.  For our wait is over.  

The shoot from the stump has become our Tree of Life, bearing the fruit that was once forbidden to our ancestors, but is now given to us as our consolation and redemption.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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