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May we always be open to love over law

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Nelson

First Sunday of Christmas

December 31, 2023


Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:22-40

Because I am preaching this sermon at St. Peters, Ottawa, Ontario and the three lessons, in the lectionary I follow, other than the gospel for this Sunday, seem to vary so much I will try to stick with just Luke 2:22-40. If you have read or heard my sermons before you know that is against my DNA but…In many ways, Luke 2:22-40 is the after story that is rarely shared during the advent season.

For many churches the dramatic presentations of the nativity, [such as at a bus stop presented by St. Peters.] Stop at the scene of baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by angels declaring, “glory to God in the highest.”

We all take pictures and beam with pride and sometimes laugh in delight, the play ends and everyone disburses. But today’s lesson reminds us that there is more to share about the birth and purpose of Jesus in the world than simply the nativity scene, no matter how creative we have been in showing it.

Our gospel today, reminds us that there is yet more to share about the birth and the purpose of Jesus in the world, than simply the nativity scene. In Luke we encounter features in a story-line that are not in Mark, Matthew, or John.

We find similarities between John’s birth announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Jesus’ birth announcement to Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna’s reactions in today’s gospel. There is no marital connection between Simeon and Anna but they have parallel responses. The gospel of Luke forms most of the theology for our church year and here we get part two with circumcision and presentation being interpreted by Simeon and Anna.

This story is unique to Luke. This story and Luke 2:40-47 portray Jesus as a person of Israel. There leaves no doubt that this Jesus is an observant Jew, even at his birth and into his youth, indeed his Jewish identity is reinforced even by his mother’s observance of purity laws related to childbirth. How “good” Christians can ignore all this and become “Jew haters” is beyond me. Luke also makes clear where Jesus’ identity and origins of piety are at. Yes, Jesus’ family exists among the poor. When Jesus talks about the poor, he is talking about himself. Jesus was a part of that economic margin in his own community.

If we are honest, we have to ask ourselves, where did we decide to glorify Jesus with our exorbitant buildings, stain glass windows and the like? Where did the idea of golden creche’s come from? How many of you grew up on a farm with real animals and all the dirt and smells that went with it. Not the sterile hog farms or dairy cows of today. Did I open another “can of worms?” Now Luke’s gospel does not dwell on the issue of poverty for Jesus’ family but let us always keep it in the back of our minds.

Luke now has Simeon and Anna serve as external interpreters of the significance of Jesus’ birth. Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph were insiders, now we have outsiders, Simeon and Anna added to the witnessing. Simeon spoke of Jesus as destined to be the glory of God’s people, Israel.

We have moved beyond angels now.

We now must move beyond the manger as well.

We now must make room for women and men, young and old, poor, disappointed, and unsuspecting.

The good news of Jesus’ birth is that insiders and outsiders of our immediate communities and families can carry the good news of God’s salvation, liberation, and acceptance, not just to others in the world, but to us as well.

Like Mary pondered the words of Simeon we need to be reminded of what else God can do. This is again what the rest of the church year will do, beginning with epiphany and then the Sundays in ordinary time.

Yes, this holy family is the ideal family, if we understand there is no such thing as an ideal family. The stories of Jesus in the temple, the birth stories of John and Jesus, enable Luke to provide constant reversal of expectations of what a “holy family” is like. I have to confess I grew up in that “ideal family.” One mother, one father, one sister and me.

But Luke uses his stories of the “holy family” to do away with those stereotypes even though the church in some circles continues to peddle it. In a few verses Luke shows a disconnection for Jesus from his earthly parents. Not in a disobedient way but in fact Jesus does not abandon his parents’ teaching, but fulfills all that is required of the law.

We hear many criticisms that Jesus lays against the empty traditions practiced by religious leaders and the empty rituals they held in high regard. When Jesus, as an adult, evaluates the practices of the religious leaders, he assumes reciprocal expressions of love of neighbour and love of God.

The tension that Jesus had with the law was never that as an outsider, but as one who had faithfully observed the rituals and figured out which ones did not work.

When I went to St. Paul’s, NFO, I had some credibility because I had 20 years in ministry, with 12 of those in my last parish. The pastor before me in NFO had been there 40 years. He had been a tremendous mission pastor but he had never taken them beyond “kindergarten.”

Dare I say, “a few years ago,” “I think here at St. Peter’s you had some of the same struggles.”

Anyone who ever raises a child has the same issue. How do we allow them to grow up and still protect them? Basically we can learn from Jesus that the practices of the law that subvert the command to love are unacceptable. Jesus repeatedly condemned those who attempted to flaunt their holiness before God, without hospitality toward neighbour.

Yes, Luke, some 2000 years ago, depicted a temple open to all that seek the presence of God, distinguishing between pausing to worship and honour God from practices that oppress and dishonour others. We in the church have continually struggled with the same issues.

I had the pleasure of starting my ministry when John the 23rd was doing something. Now Pope Francis seems to be stretching the boundaries again.

May we, as a group called Lutherans, always be open to love over law.

As we sift through all the early stories of Jesus, may we always realize what the stories tell us of the fulfillment of the promise is that God is indeed with us.

The bottom line in our gospels is that they are not meant to be biographies but they are seeking to undergird and strengthen our faith in God.

Both Simeon and Anna in our story today, reveal to Joseph and Mary theirs and Jesus’ future legacy. In doing so they are revealing ours.

Jesus was to be the hope of Israel – the Messiah and the long-awaited one—but as Simeon pointed out, Jesus was destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and was a sign that would be contradicted again and again.

Furthermore Mary and Joseph suffered terribly because of their son’s mission. I would hope and pray that we, as parents, will never have to suffer for or over our children as Mary and Joseph did. But we know it happens to parents every day.

For Joseph, Mary and Jesus, joy, conflict, and pain laid ahead as a result of those who accepted or resisted God’s saving initiatives through Jesus’ mission and ministry.

Such is the legacy bequeathed to all who dare embody life through our lives,

Those of us who are willing to live as a part of “God’s family.” If we choose to live in love with one another, please do not feel that you will not suffer. Living as/in families, in fact, just living life, is and will always be a challenge. Though life had many different cultural values, then versus now, we realize that life interwoven with faith is never easy.

We do not know much about Jesus’ family, but we hear that they followed the laws of the day. We tend to think of them as very different from our own lives, from our own families, but just like us, they would have struggled to understand what they were called to be and to do.

In the face of all this mystery the human heart can only sing with gratitude. We live in the presence of God, and this sustains us through whatever seems impossible.

Let us live in thanksgiving which will open us to receive God’s promise and God’s gifts.

Let us pray,

God of life, we are all members of families, often struggling and imperfect.

Help us to remember Mary, and Joseph, and Jesus who lived together in faith and love.

Show us how to love, accept, and be grateful for our own families.

Teach us how to forgive family members who have wounded us.

And finally, grant us the grace to be the people you call us to be.

[...]

Amen.


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