1st Sunday of Christmas – (B) Luke 2:22-40 December 28, 2008
In the name of our new-born king, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Just four days ago, we heard and celebrated the first part of the Christmas story – a story that we have all grown to know and love. Of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Of how angels appeared to shepherds in the field to proclaim the good news of Christ’s birth – and of how the shepherds then went to Bethlehem to see their newborn Savior – and afterwards returned glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.
And now today, on this first Sunday after Christmas, we hear the rest of the Christmas story according to St. Luke in his gospel. It may not be nearly as familiar to most people as the first part which we heard on Christmas Eve – but it is nevertheless very important. Because this second part of the Christmas story gives us some insights as to how Jesus’ parents and other significant persons helped to shape and mold him into the kind of person that he grew up to be.
I can imagine that perhaps some of you may be a bit confused about what I have just said. Many people believe that Jesus arrived “fully formed” as the divine Son of God. But not according to Luke in his gospel! Luke twice mentions that Jesus grew and increased in wisdom and also increased in favor with God as well as with humans. All of this did not happen “in a vacuum” – it happened because Jesus was raised in a godly environment by his parents and others. And that is what I wish to discuss in my sermon today.
In his “second part” of the Christmas story about Jesus’ infancy, Luke tells us how Mary and Joseph faithfully observed all of the ritual requirements of the Jewish law. In the verse immediately before today’s passage, they had Jesus circumcised eight days after his birth as they were supposed to do. Then in today’s passage, they brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him as their firstborn son to the Lord, and to also offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification.
The point here is that Mary and Joseph took their faith seriously – it was a focal point of who and what they were. We also know that this continued to be so as Jesus grew up as their child. For example, immediately after today’s passage Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover (Lk. 2:41). I am sure that in Nazareth they also brought Jesus to the synagogue every Sabbath. Luke tells us later that this was Jesus’ “custom” (Lk. 4:16) – one that he certainly learned from his parents while growing up. And I am sure that they also taught him how to pray as a part of their daily routine.
God had blessed and chosen Jesus to be the Messiah even before he was conceived in the womb, but Luke also wants us to understand that his earthly parents were an essential part of his becoming who and what he was. Would Jesus have become the Messiah if he had not been blessed with faithful and righteous parents who helped make his heavenly Father real to him? Possibly. But we know for certain that Mary and Joseph through their loving guidance and example made it much easier for Jesus to grow as God’s Son.
It is the same for us today. When we baptize a child – as we will at the 10:30 service today – we ask the child’s parents and sponsors to faithfully bring the child to the services of God’s house, and teach the child the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. And as the child grows in years, to place in the child’s hands the Holy Scriptures and to provide for their child’s instruction in the Christian faith. Later in the baptismal service, we also pray for the parents that might be “teachers and examples of righteousness” for their child.
We ask these things because we realize that a child’s faith in many ways is learned from his or her parents – and also from all of the rest of us in the larger faith community as well. When faith is nurtured well, that is how a child grows and increases in wisdom and in God’s favor – just like Jesus did.
Getting back to our gospel, Luke also highlights two other persons as part of the total Christmas story – the prophets Simeon and Anna. Both of them are shown as being persons whose hearts were attuned to God and who were guided by the Holy Spirit.
A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a sermon on TV by Pastor Bill Hybels at the Crystal Cathedral. His main theme was about “listening for God’s whispers” and paying attention to them – because some wonderful things could happen as a result. Perhaps that is what was going on in today’s gospel in the case of the prophets Simeon and Anna. When they saw those two parents with their child coming into the temple, something whispered in their hearts that they should go over and introduce themselves to them. And in the course of their conversation with Mary and Joseph, they heard their stories about what angels had told them about this child – and also about what the shepherds had told them when they had come to them on the night of Jesus’ birth.
As they heard Mary and Joseph’s stories, Simeon and Anna came to the realization that this child Jesus must indeed be the long-promised Messiah – and they praised God for the privilege that they had been given to actually see him and hold him in their arms. But all of this came about because they had first been open to “listening for God’s whispers” and acting on them.
As he grew in years, Jesus also learned to more and more “listen for God’s whispers” in his heart – and as a result God became more and more real to him. And he learned to do this from his earthly parents, and from spiritual mentors like Simeon and Anna.
And that is how we grow in our life with God as well. As we take time to be with God and with God’s people, our hearts become more and more attuned to “listening to God’s whispers” and acting upon them – like Simeon and Anna did, and like Mary and Joseph did, and like our Lord Jesus did.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, Jesus grew and increased in wisdom and also increased in favor with God as well as with humans. This did not happen “in a vacuum” – it happened because he learned to be righteous and faithful and to listen for God’s whispers from people like his earthly parents and from people like Simeon and Anna. The godly environment in which he was raised is what helped to shape and mold Jesus into the person which he grew up to be.
Perhaps that is the “rest of the Christmas story” which Luke wants us to understand in his gospel. God wants US to also be able to grow and increase in wisdom and in favor with him and with each other – just like Jesus did. God also wants US to be able to more and more experience the reality of his love in our lives – just like Jesus did. God provides us with people who can help us in this journey – and can also use us to help others along in their faith journeys. And most of all, as we live with his people God provides us with the presence of Jesus himself in our hearts – so that his love, and joy, and peace can abide with us and fill our lives – now and forever.
Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270