Christmas 1 – St. Luke 2:22-40
Our Gospel text this morning is to put it kindly, boring.
40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to the temple and do what is required by the Law so that Mary may be declared ceremonially clean and thus rejoin the community of worship after giving birth.
This is the modern day equivalent of writing in your Christmas letter that not only did you give birth to a child, but you also got him vaccinated. One detail is slightly more interesting to the reader, than the other.
Perhaps if it were only going to the temple 40 days after the birth of Jesus and making the required sacrifice, this occurrence would not be included in the Scriptures at all. While it does show us that Jesus and his parents were faithful, and did follow the Jewish Law, even when it involved the Christ child, the early readers and hearers of this text would not have flinched or thought otherwise when they heard this account told.
After all, verse 21 already conveys to us that Mary and Joseph are faithful Jews who followed the Law in that 8 days after He was born, Jesus was circumcised; so why include this account of the purification?
What does make this trip different from those that other parents would have made, is the encounter with Simeon and Anna; and while the encounter with each is certainly interesting, there is one aspect that is perhaps overlooked in this visit.
While Simeon rejoices over-seeing the Christ child, knowing by the Holy Spirit that this is the one that he and all of Israel have long been waiting for, and that even though the child was only 40 days old, He will do great things in bringing about the redemption for both Jew and Gentile; Mary and Joseph marvel at what he says.
That they marvel at what he says, that they seem stunned that such things would be said about their child that is so small and helpless right now, shows us that while they may have had a better understanding then most about the infant they care for, they do not know everything about what Jesus has come into the world to do. They know this is a special child, they know He was conceived in an unusual way, but there is still the unknown portion of the angel’s message of what does it mean that this Jesus will save His people from their sins.
And in that respect, Mary and Joseph take the position of many in the Christmas accounts. In St. Luke 1, after John the Baptist is born and Zechariah regains the ability to speak, the friends and neighbors marvel at what has happened. And on that first Christmas night, the people in Bethlehem who hear of the birth of Jesus from the shepherds, marvel at the news.
There is a certain aspect where the hearer is not sure of the full magnitude of what has happened. The news sounds good, but what does it actually mean?
On this First Sunday after Christmas in 2014, how many still marvel at what has happened?
How many hear the news of the Savior’s birth, and know that it is good news, but are not sure why?
For the world does indeed marvel at this Christ child. The world wonders why some people make such a fuss about where Nativity scenes are placed. The world wonders why people would go to church 3 times in 5 days. The world wonders why churches and some homes stay decorated until January 6th, when others declare Christmas to be over and done with at 4PM on Christmas Day, or December 26th at the latest.
Many are quick to gather around the stable, peer in and see the one lying in the manger; and as with any birth, there is much rejoicing.
Many marvel and wonder at this child, and ask themselves what will become of this child born in such an unlikely way to unlikely parents?
But at this point many walk away.
After all, it is the birth of a child; what more is there to see? When the neighbors leave the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, do they still marvel at the details of John’s birth a few weeks later?
Do the citizens of Bethlehem still marvel at the news of the shepherds the next morning?
What do Mary and Joseph think of the words of Simeon and the reaction of Anna when they return to Nazareth?
What do you still marvel at on this First Sunday after Christmas?
For most, the marvel wears off. After all, except for a few details, everything else seems to be fairly normal.
For the world, Christmas is over; the marvel is already gone, and it is on to the next. The story has been told, the carols have been sung, the gifts exchanged, the food eaten, and the harsh realities of life have come upon us once more.
When this is where the story ends: with shepherds rejoicing and parents pondering the mysteries, and maybe a few late visitors in the wise men arriving; that is to be expected.
But there is in fact more.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes that he is eager to visit the churches in Rome and hear the Good News of how God is working in the church and the lives of believers there.
For many, that seems strange; St. Paul certainly knew the Gospel, why would he want to hear it in Rome as opposed to where he was?
But for St. Paul, and indeed for all believers, hearing the Gospel one more time is never enough. Seeing another Baptism, receiving the Lord’s Supper again is never an inconvenience nor a hassle. The marvel, the wonder, the realization of God at work never grows old.
For St. Paul, for you, for the Church today; there was an initial marveling at the occurrences in Bethlehem 2000 years ago; just as there was at the teachings and miracles of this Jesus. Even at the resurrection and ascension, there is a marveling; an amazement at what has just occurred.
But this is just the beginning of faith. To hear the Gospel once is to treat it as though it were a novel or a fairy tale; to hear the Gospel again, not just once a year, but every day, is to believe.
For the Pharisees and Sadducees and many today, they never get beyond the stage of marveling. They see it all as a good story, one that is interesting and leaves you wondering what will happen to this one who lies in the manger box.
But for Simeon and Anna, for Mary and Joseph, for the disciples, for you and for me, this is not just something to marvel at. This is as Simeon describes, what you have been waiting your entire lives for. This good news of Jesus Christ in the flesh is what you have waited for, and now that He is here, you want to hear of the promises and receive the gifts that He brings for you again and again.
Marveling at the one who comes to the temple today is not enough; for there is more to the story than just an interesting birth narrative. There is the reality that this is the one who has come to save His people from their sins.
Simeon and Anna know it by the Holy Spirit making it known to them; Mary and Joseph will come to know it more fully as the years go by; you know it today by faith.
And now that you know it by faith, the marvel, the wonder, the mystery does not end when the decorations are put away, or when the carols are forgotten; the marvel, the faith, continues every day, for this is indeed the one who has come to save you from your sins.