First Sunday after Christmas: Insight

This was our message on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. It is the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple for the first time. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 4:4-7 and Luke 2:22-40. The title was “Insight.”

Most of you know that last week we were in Bismarck for Paulina’s tonsil surgery. If I could have seen into the future and had known how fast, no, let me rephrase that, if I had believed the surgeon about how fast the operation would be over and how quickly she would be through recovery, I wouldn’t have fretted for so many days in advance. I guess it is true that hindsight is always 20/20?

Today, I would like to approach our scripture and the message from the fact that two spirit-filled, wise, aged individuals, who may have had hearing or even vision issues were able to recognize the baby Jesus as the Savior, Messiah that the Israelites had been waiting for since the writings of Isaiah. All while in the temple surrounded by religious leaders who didn’t have a clue as to who Jesus was.

Insight, or that synonym of the word, intuition both have to do with the ability to see beyond what is staring you in the face, beyond what is right in front of you in the physical obvious way. I am often guilty of not seeing what is right in front of me. It was usually the students in the front row who were marked absent or failed to be called on. Perhaps that is why Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” is my favorite of all his stories. In it they search frantically for a letter, and it is “out in the open” on the desk in the middle of the room the whole time. Things in plain sight are often the easiest ones to overlook because the searchers don’t have intuition or insight.

Other synonyms of insight are perception, understanding and grasp. A psychological definition is listed as: “an understanding of relationships that sheds light on or helps solve a problem.” Both Simeon and Anna had that ability. They had spent years in devout worship waiting for the revelation from God about what was to come, who it would be that was sent to save their people. On that particular day, they were worshiping in the temple, when Mary and Joseph entered with their little baby.

They weren’t there by coincidence. They were there because they had been worshiping and praying and waiting for the sign from God that the Messiah had come. When Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus entered the temple, Anna and Simeon saw more than a Jewish couple coming to fulfill the rules of the law. Simeon and Anna realized that this was the day they had been promised they would see. This baby was the promise.

The law, that Mary and Joseph had come to fulfill, included the rites of purification and dedication. These rites were actually two different ceremonies, but for whatever reason, Luke does not separate the two ceremonies as would have been expected, he writes of them as one thing. If you look at the law and the time frames that go with each, it was more likely that a family would have done these at different times, but Luke doesn’t write it that way.

The first issue was that Mary was bound by law to sacrifice two birds as a sign of her purification. Using two small birds would be an indication that Mary was a woman of humble means, a poor woman. In medical terms it was quite natural for women to be kept apart from society after a birth to give her body time to heal and such. The actual time frame for women was 40 days which translates to 6 weeks, which is something any of the women here can relate to in terms of medical issues after childbirth.

The other ceremony mentioned here was for a first-born son. This dates back to the story of Hannah when she offered her first-born son, Samuel to live and be raised in the temple in thankfulness for God sending her a son. This sacrifice was due in order to essentially “buy back” the son so that he wouldn’t be expected to go into holy service to God.

If you think about it, this second ritual would have almost been sort of an ironic sacrifice to be made on behalf of Jesus. Think about this, they would be making a blood sacrifice to buy back their first-born son so he wouldn’t have to spend his life working to spread the word of God. Hindsight is 20/20 in this joke.

Perhaps Luke writes it this way in order to remind us that the sacrifice to “buy-back” Jesus is not really necessary because Jesus already is the sacrifice. The whole concept of who Jesus really is was not something that those earthly parents could possibly understand at the time. What Luke does let us know is that those parents, Mary and Joseph, were very devout Jews, and they were following the law as well as they were able in caring for the precious child they were given.

Through the writings that Luke leaves, we also know that Simeon knew exactly who Jesus was and what was in store for the little baby later in life. He and Anna both could see beyond the little baby brought to the temple for fulfillment of Jewish law obligations. Because of their intense relationship with God and their willingness to follow where they had been led, they were given the ability to see beyond what was right in front of them.

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus was part of humble family. A rich family would have sacrificed a lamb, later in life Jesus is known as the “lamb of God,” the sacrificial Lamb of God. Add to that the idea that women are not allowed into the main sanctuary, women are not spoken to by men who were not their relatives, yet Simeon spoke to Mary as he blessed the family, he offered her some thoughts, some insights that perhaps the work of Jesus would not be so easy, and then to Mary he specifically said, “and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” This sounds almost too ominous. I might want to take that child and shelter it away from the world to protect him from any semblance of evil.

But that was not what Mary and Joseph did. From the very beginning these parents raised Jesus under the plain and simple rules of the Jewish law (meaning here is not that Jewish laws are simple, but that they simply followed them as best as they were able), but not all things that happened to or around Jesus were plain and simple. Not all things that happened were as the leaders or Jewish people would have expected even for the Messiah they had been waiting for. No, Jesus was different. This too is indicated in the words of Simeon. As he speaks to Mary, he notes that Jesus is “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel.” What an interesting twist to a phrase.

How often have you heard of the rise and fall of something? We could cite several things: The rise and fall of the: well when you Google that terminology you get such things as: The Berlin Wall, the Roman Empire, Jim Crow, the nations and on and on. Rise then fall seems to indicate a crash that ends in shambles on the ground never to return.

Luke writes that Simeon said, “Fall and rise.” This indicates that something goes down but it also comes back. Perhaps it is part of the humility of Jesus’ life. It is part of the humanness that Jesus agreed to assume in order to bring salvation to everyone on earth. It is what Paul writes of to the Galatians. Because Jesus was willing to humble himself to human form and take on the sins of all of us that we are able to live not just live here and now, but to live eternally as children, and not just children of God, but full heirs to all of the goodness that in part of God’s kingdom.

But how, how do we get to be part of that? Truthfully, it is mostly about the Grace of God, but it is also about the looking at examples like Simeon and Anna. What gave them the insight and ability to recognize Jesus? Maybe it was simply their faith, or maybe it was because they took the time to exercise their faith. They spent time in prayer and study and just time to listen to what God wanted of them.

But that wasn’t all they did. The great part of this story that I believe is often overlooked in the way Simeon and Anna not just recognized Jesus as Messiah, but welcomed him and his family. They didn’t just stand at a distance and noticed Jesus; they actively welcomed him into their presence and accepted him in front of everyone in the temple.

Perhaps we need to consider how the church welcomes those who enter its doors. I like how we in this building welcome those who come to us. Perhaps it is because we are of a humble size and able to focus better on what is in front of us. But it is nothing that we should take for granted. And certainly our insight into the needs and hurts and joys of those within our own midst should never be overlooked.

An Insight for welcoming all peoples all ages all styles and openness to doctrines is something our church/our wider church is all about. Just as Anna and Simeon rejoiced at the presence of the baby Jesus in the temple, we too should rejoice at the news of the baby who grew up to be the Savior that lives today in our presence. We rejoice at the fact that we have the words and the teachings of Jesus, and the experiences of the entire church to learn of Him and the love he had and has and continues to have for us.

We need to have an Insight for the future, for our future, for the future of the church so that we too can be examples to others for what Christ means to us, not just as a little baby that comes to us anew each Christmas, but for the Christ who died that we might have the abundance of life that allows us to be a loving and welcoming church for all generations to come. Amen!

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