Bellbrook Presbyterian Church

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Seeing Salvation

Posted on 2/1/2017 by SuperUser Account

Anyone make a resolution for the New Year? Some of us may have made health-related resolutions. Maybe resolutions for relationships. Maybe to stress less or have fun more. To get better grades.

Grace and peace to you.  And Happy New Year!

            Here we are on the first Sunday of Christmas, the first day of 2017.

            Anyone make a resolution for the New Year? 

Some of us may have made health-related resolutions.  Maybe resolutions for relationships.  Maybe to stress less or have fun more.  To get better grades.   

If you haven’t yet made a resolution and would like to make one, I invite you to join in our reading through the Bible in a Year that starts today.  It is a little cumbersome, yes, and even a little overwhelming, but I hope you will look at it as an opportunity and one where you will benefit and gain no matter how much you read.  Maybe you read a chapter a day instead of three chapters a day.  Maybe you read once a week instead of seven days a week.  It would be great to read all of it, but don’t let perfectionism get in the way of participating.  Resolve to read more scripture in 2017.

 So what is behind resolutions?  They are hoped for changes, aren’t they?  We hope for any number of things - - that we are going to be thinner, healthier, volunteer more, seek inner peace - - whatever our hope might be.  And there is something about a new start, a new year, the first day of the week, the morning, the birth of a new baby; that gives us extra hope that we will be successful, even in areas where we have not been.

                Well, the Luke reading this morning does not address resolutions.  But it does address new starts and hope and change.

                Hundreds of years have passed in the history of the Israelite people.  We’ve gone from the Garden of Eden to the Covenant with Abraham to slavery in Egypt and being led out by Moses into the wilderness.  We’ve headed into the time of the Judges, moved into the time of the Kings and the promise that God made that a descendant of David would always keep the throne.  Kingdoms rose and fell.  There were words of hope, like those of the Prophet Joel who promised that the Spirit of God would pour out upon all people.  And there were words of warning about leaving the Word, and the Law, and the Covenant.  Prophets sought, pleaded for the people to return to God. 

And then, there was silence.  Four hundred years of silence between the last word of the Old Testament prophets and the angel coming and speaking to Mary, “Greetings, favored one.”  

We rejoiced in Jesus Christ being born on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, recognizing God fulfilling all that God has said over so many years, God’s faithfulness again and again.  Jesus, fully human, fully God, was born for us, to us, fulfilling the promise that David’s line would maintain the throne; that the Kingdom would have no end; that the Covenant would be fulfilled and promises kept.

                And today we read of that promise, that holy child, entering into the temple where he is recognized as both hopeful change and difficult challenge to the system as it is, he is also recognized the hope and salvation and peace of the entire world - - the long awaited Messiah. 

                The folks who receive him and recognize him are different from those who did so last week, expanding the scope of Jesus recognition and relevance and reminding us just how inclusive this Savior is.

Last week we read about the shepherds who recognized Jesus as Salvation sent by God.  They were outsiders, common people, and field folk.  This week we turn to those within the establishment.  These are insiders who greet Jesus in our passage today. 

Mary and Joseph are going to Jerusalem to fulfill two requirements of Jewish law; purification after the birth of a child, and the dedication or presentation of the first born male to God.  There adherence to and perfection in maintaining the Law is important.  Jesus, a Jew, in a faithful and diligent Jewish family will know the Law and requirements of the system that he seeks to change and because he has grown up in it and because he has achieved perfection in it, his credibility speaking about and within and even against the religious system that is his will increase.  Credibility.  Mary and Joseph are not rich.  In fact, they cannot afford to make the ideal or specified sacrifice of a lamb that is outlined for those who can afford it in Leviticus, but instead, use the provision for those who are too poor for the lamb - - two doves.  This is credibility too.  The Messiah is not a rich, powerful, highfalutin, system rider.  He is born within a very ordinary, poor but not the poorest of the poor, religiously devout family.  Credibility.  Relevance.  Not what was expected, but exactly what was needed to proclaim salvation for all of the world.

When the family reaches the temple they are greeted by two elderly characters, both filled with and inspired by the Spirit of God - - remember Joel promised us that the old would have visions and dream dreams - - here they are! 

Simeon is an old priestly sort who received word from God that he would not die until he had seen the Salvation of the Lord.  When he sees Jesus he rejoices, because the promise has been fulfilled.  But he also acknowledges that the time of his own death has come.  Before he departs his earthly life he tells Mary that she and Jesus will suffer; Mary will bear the unbearable role of a parent watching a child die. 

Anna is the only female prophet named in the New Testament.  She has been waiting a very long time for this sight, and like Simeon rejoices.  Imagine them, cooing over and coddling and bouncing the six week old Jesus recognizing the promises fulfilled, the hope provided, the peace for the world - - Jew and Gentile - - that will come.  The two also recognize that not everyone wants change.  Israel will rise and fall.  And ultimately, we know, the religious establishment will become so uncomfortable with Jesus, so resistant to the change that he brings that he will be executed.

Such wonderful promises of hope and joy, of justice and peace - - peace for the entire world!  And yet resistance.  Overwhelming resistance. 


Maybe our resolutions can offer us some shallow but helpful insight.

When I make a New Year’s or Lenten resolution, it is always with the best of intentions and of course it is something positive - - drink less coffee, lose weight, exercise.  And for some time, just the power of the new thing - - the New Year, like a new baby, the little baby Jesus - - is attractive and inspiring and motivating.  But then, that attractiveness turns into sort of a burden because it requires ongoing, and sometimes substantial change.  It is much easier for me to worry less about how much sleep I get and slam tons of coffee all day than it is for me to get a good night’s sleep regularly and not need caffeine.  And I can market myself on all of the benefits - - it’s healthier, cheaper, whatever, right?  But then there comes that night when the kids are up, or something needs done, or whatever it may be and I get four hours of sleep and then the next day I am back sucking down a pot of coffee.  It is hard to receive, and make, and sustain change.

And the religious establishment that Jesus was a part of, the Law that he fulfilled perfectly, the folks in positions of power and authority - - well, bluntly, he was proposing change that inconvenienced them, that called for them to give up their own power and prestige, that turned the institution upside down in the hopes of righting it with the Word of God.  And that was too much change for them.  It was a peace that they did not want.  Justice that they did not seek.  Hope that they turned away.  Salvation that they hoped they could earn on their own.  The little child, welcomed with the Spirit and joy by Simeon and Anna, would grow and gain wisdom and challenge the world, with a change that was unwanted and resisted and rejected.

The application of this passage for the world and the systems that fill the world, for our communities and our lives are so numerous that we could take almost anything and look at it through the lens of Jesus.  And I encourage you to think about and pray today about this passage and the entry of Christ into the Temple and what that means for you and me. 

Hope, salvation, peace.  Jesus brings it all.  He also brings change.  But because he brings hope and salvation and peace, change is okay, because we have courage - - Christ inspired courage.

Jesus, fully human, fully God, was born for us, to us, fulfilling the promise that David’s line would maintain the throne; that the Kingdom would have no end; that the Covenant would be fulfilled and promises kept.  And today we read of that promise, that holy child, entering into the temple where he is recognized as both change and challenge to the system as it is, and the hope and salvation and peace of the entire world.

As we enter into this New Year, may we be resolved to be people of the Christ, resolutions, hopes, aspirations and it all.  And as we enter this New Year with the New Born King, may we take steps to grow and strengthen and nurture this faith community, not just for the sake of numbers, but for changed lives and for our witness to the Glory of God and the Salvation and Peace that comes through Jesus Christ.

All glory be to you, O Lord.  Amen.

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