Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New year, new calling, 1.1.12

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11  For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
2   The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3   You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
This story picks up where we left off on Christmas Eve. Jesus has been born, and the angel announced his birth to shepherds, who came to welcome him into the world. Today’s story skips eight days ahead to his naming and circumcision and then another 25 days to her purification. I’m going to break the text up a little bit, not because it’s complicated, but because it’s long and easy for the wonderful details to get lost if we read it all at once.

Luke 2:21-40
21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22When 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”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Mary and Joseph bring the offering Leviticus prescribes for poor people, which reminds us again that they were not a wealthy couple. This whole sequence of events also reminds us that Mary and Joseph intentionally and carefully observed their faith. Jesus was raised as an observant and faithful Jew. This part of the story is expected; it’s what would have happened with any family having their first son. At that point the story takes a turn, and we’re reminded how special Jesus is.

25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

            I’m not surprised Joseph and Mary were amazed by what Simeon said. Imagine if you brought your new baby to church for the first time and an old man you didn’t know took the baby in his arms and spontaneously praised God for salvation through your child.

Of course, people in that time seem to have had a stronger sense of community and a weaker sense of privacy than we do now. And Mary and Joseph already knew that their child had a special calling. Still, hearing it from someone else, especially someone they didn’t know, would still be surprising. Maybe that moment made the whole thing more real for them. Maybe hearing that a stranger recognized God’s plan in your child’s life would solidify the amazing journey you had ahead.

I think about this moment from Simeon’s point of view too. He’s lived a long life, and has longed for God’s chosen Messiah to bring salvation to Israel. He had heard God say that he would see the Messiah with his own eyes, but I bet as the years went on he may have started to wonder.

Then one day he felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to go to the temple and there he saw a little baby with his parents. I can imagine Jesus coming into Simeon’s sight and a light going off in Simeon’s heart. He knows right away why he needed to come to the temple when he did. He knows his waiting is over; he knows God is bringing salvation through this child. He recognizes too that Jesus brings salvation not just for Israel, but for the whole world. Simeon recognizes that God is reaching out to everyone.

34Then 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 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

            This closing word and blessing from Simeon always sticks in my heart. Simeon recognizes not only the universal reach of salvation in Jesus, he also recognizes that his path won’t be smooth. Until this point in the story we’ve heard about how wonderful Jesus will be and how great God’s salvation is. That’s all true, but we also know that Jesus’ ministry as the savior is not an easy one.

            Simeon recognizes that, while God’s love bursting into the world is for everyone, not everyone will welcome it. Jesus will be praised by some and hated by others. His ministry will be good news to some and bad news to those who benefit from the injustice of the system as it is. Simeon may not know about the specifics, but he knows Jesus’ way will be hard.

            Simeon also recognizes that Jesus hardship will be Mary’s hardship. She will have to watch as the religious leaders scheme against her son. She’ll have to listen as people whisper that he’s crazy or drunk or indecent. She’ll have to hear the rumors when he gets arrested; she’ll have to look on helplessly as he is beaten and nailed to a cross. The suffering of her son will be a sword piercing Mary’s soul.

36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
            Anna drives home Simeon’s point yet again. Like Simeon, she has followed God all her life and has a deep connection with God’s Spirit. When she sees Jesus she also recognizes that God’s redemption has come, that something special is happening through this little child.

            As we begin a new year together, a new year as disciples seeking God’s calling in our lives, it makes sense that we come back to the beginning of the story of Jesus. This story of Jesus being presented at the temple lifts up his special calling and it points us to look at his whole life and ministry again. The praise of strangers makes Joseph and Mary pause, wondering: what will God do next? How will God’s calling play out in our son’s life.

            The new year is a great time to ask the same questions for ourselves: What is God doing next in our community? How is God calling us as a community and as individual disciples of Jesus?

            None of us is the Messiah, but we all have a calling. God is calling some of us to tutor kids in the new year. God’s calling some of us to find new ways to build community in our neighborhood. God is calling many of us to engage in a deeper way with scripture to strengthen out faith and discipleship. Maybe God is calling you to a new job or to rebuild a challenging relationship. Maybe God is calling you to reach out to a specific person in your life who needs special care.

            Isaiah puts it well in the passage Gary just read for us; even though the prophet had a different situation in mind: “My whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

            In Christ God has clothed us with salvation and righteousness. God has made us into new people ready to grow in righteousness and praise. God gives us new life in Christ. God plants love inside us and nurtures that love through scripture and worship and community. God strengthens us at the communion table and the breakfast table. God waters and cares for the righteousness inside us so it can spring up in loving mission with and for our neighbors. It can spring up as we allow our faith and love to take control of our lives and lead us out in service.

            So where who is God calling you to be this year? Who is God calling Laurelton to be? Where will God’s calling lead us next?

Thanks be to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment