Sermons are preached. They are not writing. So, above is the sermon. Below is the sermon “plan”. (Unedited, all my mistakes kept!)
Christmas Sermon on light and hope...
and being a mom….
Luke 2:25-40 - December 27, 2020 - First United Methodist Church Traditional Church
Years ago as I started taking those first few baby steps into Christianity, trying to decide if I would give my life to this God, I felt myself drawn to Judaism, to this deep, deep history. To the people that were Jesus’ people, to the rituals that shaped and formed him, to the stories that formed the culture in which he lived.
My family was friends with a Jewish family. Spending time with them, learning about their faith was powerful for me. They surround themselves with God. If you look as you walk into their home, you would see a small container attached to their door post with words from scripture: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.” They invited me to a Friday evening Sabbath meal, it felt like being in a different time and place to hear the prayers in Hebrew, the blessings over the food. To worship with them, was to experience their great reverence they have for God. This was a very powerful time for me. Experiencing some of the same rituals hearing some of the same stories that shaped and formed Jesus as he grew.
And I am lucky this family is full of really good teachers and I ask a lot of questions: About their faith, their religion, and how it shapes the Jewish people, about what they thought about Christ and Christianity. We were talking one day, I was, like always, asking tons of questions. And I asked about Jesus being the Messiah. Their answer was clear, and to the point. Jesus is could not be the Jewish Messiah because he did not bring 1,000 years of peace.
The Hebrew people believed that God would send them a king, a Messiah from the line of David. Many believed that this king would overthrow the Roman rule and save them from oppression. He would usher in a time of peace. As my friend explained what his tradition expected of the promised Messiah, it became clear to me why they didn’t believe Jesus was the promised anointed one.
It was through that conversation that I saw so much more than I had before. I understood the disciples struggling to understand who Jesus was. I understood them arguing about who would sit at his right, and who at his left. How fast they reached for the sword when the Romans came to arrest him. There was a list of things they expected of the Messiah, and Jesus seemed to have a hard time convincing them that it was not going to go as they had planned.
Simeon – Switch
The text tells us that Simeon, was righteous and devout. Like the disciples, like all devout members of his faith, Simeon had a clear understanding of the who the Messiah would be. The Messiah would bring restoration to Israel.
Simeon was probably keeping his eye out for a warrior King. Instead, God nudged him towards a baby. A little one, probably a little over a month old. And something happened when Simeon held this baby in his arms.
Have you ever had a moment of clarity? A moment where the world drops away, all distractions vanish, and you see something you have not seen before? Something that had been there the entire time, you just didn’t see it?
Not a warrior but a baby. Not salvation for Israel, but salvation for all the nations. And he sings a song of praise, “now I have seen your salvation, I have seen your salvation for all nations.”
In his book God does not Foreclose, David Watson describes this hope that Simeon sees in this moment: “…the appropriate attitude for Christians must be one of universal hope. Although we can in no way predetermine the final outcome of Christ’s saving work, or in any way tell God what to do, we can surely hope that God will manage to bring together the human family in its entirety to celebrate the heavenly feast.”
“Now I have seen your salvation, I have seen your salvation for all nations.” It was there the whole time. And finally. Simeon saw, and he was at peace.
I wonder if it surprised him that when he saw God’s salvation it wasn’t all rosy and perfect… He looks at the parents of this baby and tells them that he will “cause the rising and falling of many.” And I wonder if he understands the backwards, upside down way Jesus enters the world. I wonder if Simeon understood that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver. She is known for her tattoos, and her foul mouth; she is a recovering alcoholic with a past full of demons. One week as she struggled through a sermon about the Kingdom of God being like yeast she remembered that yeast was considered impure in First-century Judaism, she writes about her realization: “I began to consider that maybe the kingdom of heaven is found in the unclean and surprising and even the profane…l had been thinking that the Kingdom of heaven was something I should be able to find an illustration for on this side of my life. Things are better now. I’m Christian and I’m clean and sober, so surely any example I might have of the kingdom of heaven would not come from my [old friends] or my young, messy self. Any preachable image of the kingdom would surely come from gardening and being a mom and a pastor and an upstanding citizen. But that’s not what Jesus brings. Jesus brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one and populated by the unclean and always found in the unexpected. I’d expected to look at the past and see only mistakes that I’d moved on from, to see only damage and addiction and tragic self-delusion. But by thinking that way, I’d assumed that God was nowhere to be found back then. But that’s kind of an insult to God. It’s like saying, ‘You only exist when I recognize you.’”
Simeon saw God’s salvation. The first will be last. The last first. To lead you must serve. This baby will cause the rising and falling of many.
What we have learned this year, if we were looking, is that when if we look for the kingdom of heaven only in shopping for Christmas presents, only in Christmas songs, Christmas cookies, Christmas traditions, Christmas gatherings, Candlelight Christmas services… if we only look for our God and our salvation in all of that, in all of the comfortable, peaceful beauty… we miss that the Kingdom of Heaven came down in the midst of homelessness to an unwed mother. We miss that the promise made to her was not a life of tradition, ritual, and the familiar, but that when Simeon looked at the infant in this young mother’s arms… the words she heard was, “he will pierce your soul.”
Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about Mary. We’ve heard Elizabeth pour down words of praise and blessing upon her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear!” Mary, the one who sings praises in the Magnificat, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary, “he will pierce your soul.”
Simeon sees God’s salvation. And what he sees is not a life without pain, or fear, or grief.
I am now the proud mom of a 23-year-old. And I have to be honest, there were moments through the years that we weren’t really sure he would make it. From watching him fall down a flight of stairs when he was two, to his teenage years when we fought, and cried, got angry with one another, when it felt like every day was a battle, neither of us willing to give in, both needing to be right. Every moment everyone in our home felt like we were walking on eggshells, trying to avoid the anger and the hurt. To today, at 23 when I look forward to every minute I can spend with him, because he is a pretty amazing guy… We made it. He made it.
Mary, you are blessed. Mary, all generations will know it. Mary, he will pierce your soul.
I asked my son if he would allow me to share a Facebook post he shared on his 18th birthday: “So I turned 18 about an hour ago. The only thing i can think to do right now is talk about my parents. I don’t know where to start but the amount of love and support that I have received over these last years is all I could’ve asked for. They have supported me from the tiniest of things to the biggest of things. From supporting me in my decisions of many different jobs. To letting me borrow their cars when mine where blowing up or burning to the ground (yes it actually happened) To supporting me through being bipolar and depressed. I am nothing but happy knowing that I am starting my life where I grew up with the most amazing people and that I have great examples in my life. Thank you and love you guys.”
God’s salvation. The Kingdom of Heaven… Christmas… Light breaking through the dark… Not a promise of perfection, or power, or that we will never feel the pain of life. This year, this of all years… let’s look for Christmas, not in all the purest, happiest, all is well moments… but in the messy, hard moments that the we… and the world… need it most.