Tag Archives: Baby Jesus

The Birth

A Sermon for 31 December 2017 – First Sunday of Christmas

A reading from the gospel of Luke 2:22-40.  Listen for God’s word to us in this reading of Jesus’ first weeks.

“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 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.”  25 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.  26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  27 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which 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 the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  36 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, 37 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.  38 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.  39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

The birth of a baby heralds hope!  Excitement fills the air!  A tiny, precious, helpless little one is born!  No one can resist the rejoicing; for, with this new life comes the chance for anything.  Press up close to the nursery window.  Scan the newborn crowd.  Look:  That may be the one to grow up to find the cure for cancer.  And her.  Perhaps she will move us closer toward world peace.  Oh, and how about that sweet one.  In this little darling lies the potential to do for the world whatever he desires.  . . .  Remember the last time you welcomed an infant into the world?  You stood there peering into that delicate, tiny face.  Saw the wee fingernails.  Felt the warmth of that little bundle.  In an instant, the child stole your heart away.  Oh, the birth of a baby resounds with rejoicing.  No matter the circumstances surrounding the child’s conception, whatever conditions will be this one’s reality; at least for a moment, all pause beholding the miracle.  We give thanks for such a perfect gift!

Today we give thanks for such a child.  The baby Jesus:  God come among us, putting on the flesh and bones of humanity, making a home with us in our circumstances – from the depths of despair to the pinnacles of praise.  Lying in that lowly manger is the infant God.  The teeny-tiny speck of light bursting into our darkness; the child given as our hope.  .He’s an ordinary little one with a future yet unknown to the world.  At the same time, he’s not quite an ordinary little one – unlike all the others.  Atypically, this one comes with a few instructions:  name him Jesus (which means literally he saves) for he will be the Savior of his people.  . . .  Don’t you wish you could get inside Mary’s mind?  What could she be thinking?  Every time she turns around, someone else is proclaiming her child’s greatness!  “He will be the Son of the Most High God,” announces the angel.  “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).  Pride swells as Mary takes it all in.  She goes to visit her aging relative Elizabeth.  “Ho!  Blessed!  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Leap for joy Mary; for within, you carry the miracle!” (Luke 1:42)  Face it – under such circumstances, there’s no way any of us could hold back a stunning smile. …   Sure, there’s no room in the inn.  The cave for the animals out back is all that’s available – which is far from the sterile walls of our delivery rooms.  But those shepherds:  “Good news.  Don’t be afraid.  Great joy for all people.  Born a Savior to you.  The long-awaited Messiah – God’s chosen one!  The LORD come to dwell among us!” (Luke 2:10-11).  Indeed, amazement fills the air!  “Born like every other baby is Mary’s little guy.  But certainly, unlike every other child.  Does she know?  The one she cradles at her breast is God’s Christ – the cure to creation’s ills!”  How can she contain herself?  Surrounded by all the hype, her heart had to race with great gladness!  At the shepherd’s declaration, the description from the gospel is that Mary:  “treasured all these words, pondering them in her heart.”  (Luke 2:19).

All this took place before she learned the hard lessons of motherhood.  The initial jubilation must have subsided a bit.  Some young mothers say, pretty much by the first night.  It’s coming.  For, son of the Most High or no, this kid’s diapers stink like rotting eggs, just as bad as the next.  And, of course, the angel didn’t mention the difficulties of breast feeding.  The 2am sleep interruptions.  What to do to stop the endless cry-fests.  After all:  the one Mary tends is the Word – the Word by which God declared in the beginning for all things to come into being.  The Word made flesh.  Powerful voice as all that, you gotta figure the kid’s got some lungs!  The greeting cards may portray an infant sweeter than the Gerber baby, but it’s quite possible that this one destined to shake things up through proclamation, probably began exercising his vocal cords at a wee age.  But before all that – before the truth of motherhood sank in, prior to Mary being taken over by the tiredness, she treasured every bit.  Riding the high of all the wonderful words regarding her precious package, clinging to the prophecies of greatness, Mary enters the Temple.  . . .  He’s the firstborn son.  And being devout Jews, Mary and Joseph desire to designate the infant as holy to the LORD.  It’s a big day for the family.  They probably primped him all pretty – the silky white gown, that sweet baby smell, little tufts of hair combed all smooth.  The precious child is paraded with humble pride.  You know how that is:  like when there’s a baptism.  It’s a big day.  The words ring in Mary’s mind:  “Greatness.  This child’s bound for greatness!”

In the Temple, the newlyweds are greeted by the righteous Simeon.  His whole life he’s been waiting – and you thought keeping your patience until Christmas so you could rip into those beautiful packages was tough!  Simeon has spent his life looking for the consolation of Israel.  He’s been awaiting restoration – perhaps expecting a return to Israel’s greatness.  His eyes have been scanning the scene, searching diligently for a bridge bringing the people back to God.  Then, at long last, he declares.  “my eyes see your salvation, Holy God!  Thanks be to You!”  As he praises, he takes the child in his arms.  “You, O LORD, have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel!” (Luke 2:30-32).  Can you imagine Mary and Joseph standing in absolute splendor?  Never have two parents bubbled with greater joy.  “That’s my boy!” Joseph’s smile beams.  Mary murmurs, “Our delightful son!”  Simeon turns, lowering his voice to say:  “Mary, this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).  “Greatness!”  Her thoughts are all wrapped in greatness, when Simeon delivers the shocking blow.  He will be a sign that will be opposed, so the inner thoughts of many are revealed.  And Mary, poor Mary, your own soul will be pierced as well.

How can such happiness, such hope, such rejoicing be dashed on jagged rocks so quickly?  Like parents receiving the horrible news of in-utero complications.  What begins as a mother riding high on the wave of life, ends with a stricken soul.  Young Mary quickly learns the definition of greatness according to God. . . . Oh, if you only will hold on, dear Mary!  If only you too will keep watch for God’s salvation.  Then with Simeon and the angel and all disciples-yet-to-be, your own sorrow will be turned to dancing.  Indeed, this child’s birth heralds hope!  For in the blink of an eye, the father of the child will begin the revolution.  Through death – his death:  resurrection!

We too come with rejoicing.  Ecstatic about the precious package delivered a night so very long ago.  But the excitement of the birth is only half the story.  The sword that pierces Mary’s, pokes our souls as well.  Rejoice today, believers!  But remember:  the child we celebrate is the child that calls us all to follow.  Life’s not fun and games for him – pretty ribbons and bows.  He was born to be opposed.  Those who’d rather set up road blocks on the pathway to God – piling on requirements, defining greatness with words like status, wealth, privilege.  Ones who’d rather live for themselves will hunt down dear baby Jesus.  The darkness will try to snuff out the Light.  . . .  So shall it be with those who slip on Christ’s sandals, seeking to follow in his steps.  . . .  The road will be treacherous.  Faithfulness will require courage.  . . .  But look!  My eyes can see God’s salvation!  The Way, which the LORD has prepared, in the presence of all peoples!  Look:  just beyond the cross.  Can you see it?  Do you know?  It’s a tomb, a grave.  And it is empty!

Glory be to God!  The baby King lives today and evermore!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

 

The Disruption of Christmas

A Sermon for 1 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:13-23. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now after they (the wise men) had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This text leaves me wondering if Joseph and Mary had any clue about how disruptive the birth of Jesus was going to be. What parents-to-be ever do? If you’ve had children – or maybe just had a few grandchildren stay at your house over the holidays – then you might know how such sweet little ones can absolutely turn your world upside-down, inside-out, and backwards all at the very same time! Little ones come into our lives as such vulnerable gifts. When first they are born, they can’t do anything – you remember, don’t you? They cannot do one little thing for themselves. But they sure can cry. They sure can let out plenty of nasty stuff from the other end too. And they sure can make their presence known – especially when one of their mysterious needs is not being met! I remember when first my sister brought my nephew here for a visit. He was crawling around by then and nothing could be left in its regular spot. He reached for it all. And had a little schedule all his own to which us grown people just had to adjust. And he came with so much stuff! Blankets and bottles and sit-up chairs and special beds. Not that it’s not totally worth it, but man do little ones entirely disrupt life! Again, if you just had one or two of your precious grandchildren or other special little ones in your life – if you just had a few of them around for the holiday week, you might find your house still completely out of order and yourself totally exhausted! But, of course, it’s absolutely worth it!

Which is why we’ve got to wonder if Joseph and Mary had one inkling of an idea of how disruptive the birth of little Jesus was going to be! Look at how their lives change – especially according to the gospel of Matthew’s details regarding the story. For something like the first four years of his life, keeping him alive meant incredible disruption. From Bethlehem to Egypt they have to move. Flee, actually. This little one is a perceived threat to the whole kingdom. Herod goes nuts – as was a routine Herodian response. He absolutely losses it when this little one is born, and the wise ones from the East fail to return to smoke-out where the precious darling is being kept. In a dream, Joseph is warned and doesn’t waste one minute, moving himself and Mary and the baby all the way cross-country to a foreign land. It’s kinda unbelievable because Joseph knew the land of Egypt was the land of enslavement. There his people had been treated terribly way back when. Of course, others had fled there over the years too. Some escaped exile in Babylon by returning to Egypt. Joseph had to trust that it was going to be ok. They had to hope that one day they’d also be able to return home. . . . It might have been nice, though, to remain in Egypt his whole childhood long. You know, get him started in the right pre-school, then kindergarten through twelfth at least in the same school system so he’d grow with his childhood friends. And Joseph and Mary would be known in the PTO to have the support of the other parents too. But another dream comes; and just about the time they’ve settled in as a family: disruption once again. Back to Judea they head. Until Joseph realizes Herod’s son now rules and is known as being more brutal than his father before him. They don’t want to chance it and another dream confirms it. So instead of heading back to the place of the child’s birth; they make the trek to Nazareth, way far north in the district of Galilee. They must have surmised that nothing big ever had come from there – certainly the family would be safe. . . . The gospel of Matthew tells it as if Joseph and Mary had never before been to Nazareth and just randomly chose the sleepy little town to set up shop. The gospel of Luke locates them there from the start – with relatives to be built-in family support. However it might have been, it could not have been easy moving around that much the first few years of the child’s life. Re-establishing themselves all along the way. Trying to protect this little bundle of joy God had given. Wanting to be able to feed and clothe him well. Teach him all he needed to know for the special work instore for his life. It couldn’t have been easy to have given over control of their own life plans for another way to be made. Indeed, this little one born to them in Bethlehem was a disruption from the start!

For most of us, these past few weeks have been a disruption from the regular routines of life. We spend the whole season of Advent preparing – if not our hearts, at least our homes and refrigerators and rituals of the season. For many of us Christmas disrupts our diets and our bank accounts and our sleep patterns. Hopefully we’ve had a little time out from our typical daily tasks and have been able to relax a bit with family and friends. Work can wait until the celebrations are over and everything gets back to normal. . . . But I wonder: how will his birth disrupt the days that lie ahead? Wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if we let all the preparations for his birth disrupt our Decembers, then leave us heading into a new calendar year tucking the little one tightly into a box along with the shepherds and wise men and animals of our favorite nativity scenes? It really would be terrible if we rolled right back into tomorrow without anything at all in our lives being much different. If we let the celebrations of a birth disrupt us more than the actual child. . . . He wasn’t meant to be relegated to holiday moments. He was meant to truly open us to the re-birth of God in us. He’s meant to disrupt the way we’d like things to be, in exchange for the wild adventure that Christ’s Way gives to us.

It starts with our baptisms, which we’ll be remembering next week when we gather for Baptism of the Lord Sunday. From the moment our lives are given over in the sign and seal of that sacrament, we no longer belong to ourselves. We are engrafted into a new family – children of the covenant, members now of the household of God. Disruption, disruption, disruption! We promise to work against evil and all its powers in this world. To take on the ways of Christ – which are summarized best in willingly living the path of self-giving love. We’re ambassadors, after baptism, for the very ways of God. Here to live peace. And joy. And hope. Which means not just in our thoughts, but in the actions of our lives too. We are to model the actions of that disruptive little baby! Posing a threat to those who want to live by force and fear and corruption. We’ll go wherever we must, according to the disruptive Spirit of that child, to protect the goodness that is to emanate from us out into this world. We set up shop among strangers, turning those we’d never otherwise encounter into family because that’s the way of the disruptive baby born in Bethlehem. We’ll learn new ways and adjust to what’s around us now so that the Spirit of God within us has an opportunity to be seen by all. That’s how disruptive Christmas is to be for us – leaving us, alongside Joseph and Mary, to give up our own life plans in order to nurture in us the one of Love. Disrupting, disrupting, disrupting the regular ways of this world for the ways of God instead. . . . And you know what? Whether we realize it when first it begins, it’s likely we’re going to find it’s worth it. Like the disruptive little baby himself, absolutely worth it! . . . Welcome to life disrupted, brothers and sisters of the covenant. Get ready to experience the bundle of joy God gives!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All Rights Reserved.)