1st Sunday after Christmas

December 26, 2021

Summary

The Christmas letter not on easy street

22 And 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 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

        according to your word;

30  for my eyes have seen your salvation

31  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marvelled 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.”

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, 37 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. 38 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.

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22-40 ESV)

Do people still write Christmas letters? The annual summary of the family events to share with the Christmas card? I wonder whether social media and it’s immediacy has rendered the old Christmas letter somewhat redundant. Our Christmas letter has certainly changed over the years where it is now less words and more pictures. It also has more adverbs and adjectives in them if Charlotte writes it and I’ve been known to be told to make less ‘heavy’. It has been hard to know how to pitch it when telling the story about our family not wishing to make them seem so great and marvellous – you want to share the achievements rather than the problems – but you want to be honest – and you want to be brief and so we have acquired our style over the decades – helped by the fact that it begins with ‘Samiec Christmas Letter 2021’! The year 2021 was summarised in just under 500 words and 13 photos.

Could we call The Gospel according to St Luke a Christmas letter? It is a letter to Theophilus but it doesn’t have any pictures. Nevertheless Luke tells the story of Jesus – our reading today – covering about 11 years of Jesus’ life in just over 400 words. It is not 40 words per year or thereabouts but he has zeroed in one specific key points that he wants Theophilus to know. And the Early Church wanted everyone to know so it kept reading Luke’s letters – Luke and Acts.

We can summarise a day in one word as parents might be told by their children about school. Or we can hear a minute by minute account of it all. Luke doesn’t give us details we’d like to imagine about Jesus in his childhood, about his family life, about living in Nazareth. What Luke gives us is a specific incident about 40 days after Jesus’ birth and then a general summary of Jesus’ life in Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph are in their situation because of God’s messages to them and if God is not going to send Gabriel again or speak through a dream then they will do what they have always done, follow God’s Word – particularly the first five books of Moses – to guide them in what happens next. And so they attend to the purification rites from Leviticus in the temple in Jerusalem and that seems to go according to what was expected except for two strange occurrences – old people meeting them and saying things. And if we don’t hear them as messengers, then we’re not listening.

Simeon has been told by God that he would see the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah before he died and he is guided – led – by the Spirit to be in the temple – and we sing his words at the end of Holy Communion when we have seen the Lord’s body and blood – and a person is where their body and blood are – ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace …’. God is saving all people through Jesus – revelation to the Gentiles, glory to Israel – so that they will live with him together. 

It is the quiet personal message that sends a shiver through us when in handing Jesus back to Mary, Simeon talks about opposition to Jesus – his rescue mysteriously will not be welcomed by all – but he will reveal all about us – the truth will come out – and in the process a sword will go through Mary’s soul – so it’s not something physical. Is that what you tell a new Mum?!

The prophetess Anna is also led by God to tell anyone who will listen in the temple to thank God because of this little one for he will redeem – rescue – Jerusalem – meaning all of God’s people. We don’t know whether Mary and Joseph heard Anna – if they did, they have more words to contemplate – and if they didn’t, then Anna’s role was not for them but for those in the temple and for us – God is active and the rescue has begun with this infant, Jesus!

And then Luke summarises Jesus’ life back in Nazareth – And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him (Luke 2:40 ESV).

The accounts of Jesus if being heard for the first time – hello Theophilus, what have you heard about Jesus already? – talk about amazing things but there is still an unsettling quality, a foreboding something that is lurking near. A strange pregnancy, a birth while on orders from the empire to travel when so pregnant and in circumstances that a feed trough is the crib, shepherds turning up with strange messages – even though their message wouldn’t be recognised in a court of law because their disreputable profession in those times – and then doing the right thing at the temple and getting wonderful, affirming messages but also strange and fearful messages about opposition and a sword.

God, what are you doing?! 

That is a question often asked of God!

Pandemic, refugees, corruption, violence, stupidity, shame, guilt and so much more have all made an impact on our world and God is often called on to be the puppeteer, pull the strings, fix things for others – but leave us alone to live our life as we want. That’s the tension humanity faces wanting to be in control – but finding ‘other people’ in the way to making their lives better.

The ‘god solution’ depends on the god followed but it will basically be our good deeds – and we can always do better – will earn our rewards – or not. Christianity poorly taught can say similar but if it does then it hasn’t understood Christmas or Easter. 

God doesn’t need to become human to teach us morals or scare us into trying harder – he could just turn up as he is and try but we would not survive the encounter – and so God has come as one of us to rescue us from the mess we’ve made in a way that actually achieves something – new life, hope, love that is undeserved – grace – and people can live with this God and follow him because Jesus is not immune or remote to the perils and evils of this world – and he is with us in the life we live and the world we have made because he has defeated our sinful self and the corruption and oppression of the world to win.

This Jesus will not walk easy street – and following him won’t be easy street for his followers – but life with him in this world is the best life that you can live.

 

Bible References

  • Luke 2:22 - 40