The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.
Luke 2:22–40 (NRSV)
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
22 When 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”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There 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, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At 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.
The Return to Nazareth
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Christmas is often a time of year where we can reexamine what is really important in life. Sure there is quite a bit of craziness that goes along with it, when we are all going around trying to find the perfect gifts for those important people in our lives. But when it comes right down to the day, we gather around in a home together with friends and family. We laugh around cups of coffee and share stories about our lives, and we share what we have with the hopes that we can see glimmers of joy in the eyes of those we care most about.
I personally love the time of Christmas, not because of the gifts that we share but the general share of life that occurs around the holiday. And since I come from a large family that is spread across many states Christmas has always been a celebration that has extended for a long period of time. I never really realized how much of a gift that really was because we always had to extend that Christmas spirit out. It was never a single day, but a season of the year. And since my family is so large it has not been about the gifts but the sharing of life.
That is what I hope we all experience as we celebrate this season of Christmas. Our culture has tried to compress and compact everything into one day, but I hope that we are able to just stretch out and relax for a couple of weeks and just reexamine what is truly important in our lives, look around and see the great blessings that God has given us, and possibly quiet ourselves enough to hear His voice one again.
When we look at today’s passage it begins with this sort of thing. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all go to the temple during a time of celebration to leave offerings to the God. Think about that for a moment. Even though through the eyes of the culture Mary and Joseph and Jesus for that matter were not exactly high on the social ladder, and even dropped down a few notches because of the timing of Jesus’ birth, they continued to walk down the path that they were walking. But I want us to consider the offering just for a moment. They offered two doves or two pigeons. One bird for the purification of the mother, one bird for the blessing of the child. It is important to note the offerings because this was not the offering of wealth but of poverty. If we were to lock back into the books of the law we would see that the law required a lamb, but there was a concession for the poor to offer doves instead and as time progressed they even allowed pigeons to stand in for the doves.
We may not think much of this offering but it is powerful, because it goes to show that God can do great things among people that may not have much. Both Mary and Joseph we called to participate in God’s ministry, the ministry of redemption and they did not even have enough money to offer a full sacrifice to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Jesus was not rich. He came from a family that was not rich.
Now picture in your minds this couple walking into the temple, barely able to afford the offering yet they proudly walk into the courts to celebrate the birth of Jesus, carrying their pigeons. The temple was a busy place, filled with money changers, livestock to be sold for sacrifice, and people from all over the western and eastern empires coming to offer sacrifices in the greatest temple ever constructed by the hands of mankind. There were thousands of people walking around, trumpets being sounded, and cantors singing psalms that were echoing through the smooth and perfect walls. There is this excited holy chaos going on all around, constant worship from sunup to sundown. The air is filled with the perfumed smoke of various offerings yet in all this activity and noise an old man sees this family and is drawn to them. There is nothing that really makes them stand out from the masses, it is just another poor Jewish family offering their tiny bird.
A family that most people would not notice, a family like probably every other family walking through any Walmart today, common. Yet one old man looked at them and suddenly everything in his life seemed to make sense. You see Simeon, this old man, was a man that was righteous and devout. He spent much time in worship and in prayer, and there was a movement within him that said that he would not taste death until he saw the promised, anointed, Messiah. He was guided by the Spirit to go to the temple on that day, and when he walked into the courtyard he saw this poor common family everything within him pulled him to them as they were walking around with two small birds and a little baby. Common people, people most of us overlook every day, a young girl obviously new to married life and motherhood, and a dad that was probably equally confused. Who knows how many other young families were in queue waiting to offer their sacrifices, who knew how many others looked just the same as Mary and Joseph. Nothing stood out about them except one thing, the Spirit directed this man to them.
This is the life of the prophet. We have so twisted this gift that we either hold a prophet to being some sort of fortune teller or some sort of spiritual super star, but a prophet is simply a person that is willing to be led by the Spirit to speak truth into a situation. It is a gift, one that is to be used when we have the opportunity but it is not something that we can really ask for. Like every spiritual gift it is something that emerges through a devoted life, a life lived in a holy rhythm of worship, prayer and service.
I speak often of this holy rhythm of life, because it is so central to a balanced life that can easily be used to bless a community while not over burdening the individual. It is the very life that Jesus lived out with his disciples and the very same way of life that his disciples lived and taught after his ascension. It was probably the very type of life that Mary and Joseph lived, and most likely Simeon. It is a life that is purposeful, intentional, authentic, and real. Mary and Joseph knew that the community would look down on them personally given the circumstances surrounding the birth of their son, yet they continued to walk their life as they were led. Simeon lived his entire life with this movement within him that he would see the hope of the ages before he died, and lived his life in such a way that when he saw a common young family walk into the temple he knew immediately that his life was complete.
Simeon was not the only prophet in the temple that day. Just as Simeon was drawn to this couple Anna was as well. Anna was an old woman, a woman that had had the pleasure of marriage for seven years and had the sorrow of death surround her for approximately sixty years. She lived a rhythmic life as well. A life of fasting and prayer. She was considered a prophet by the writer of the Gospel which is odd since it was not common for that title to be given to a woman, among the first century Jewish people. But among the early follower of Jesus women honored, it was a woman that became the mother of the incarnate God. It was women that first witnessed the empty tomb on Easter morning, it was a woman that first spoke to the risen Lord. And consider this, it was a woman that first held the hands of God, to gaze upon the face of our Lord. It was a woman that first sung praises of Jesus, and to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the temple. I say all of this because often religion has given women a back seat, yet women are very important in the life of Jesus. Anna was considered a prophet. We should never underestimate the potential of any individual based on gender, we should never try to limit a gift given by God based on our preconceived idea of how God works. Because if we are honest God usually works in ways that blow our minds anyway.
Two prophets are called and led to speak to this poor common family and immediately have their lives fulfilled. They look upon the face of the baby sleeping in the arms of Mary and they see something before them that no one else sees, they see hope. They see hope where everyone else sees just another poor family with a baby that they probably can’t afford. These two prophets see the messiah where everyone else sees a bastard. These two prophets see redemption, salvation, revelation, and glory for Israel and all people while everyone else in the temple just see a family. God uses the unlikely of the culture to redeem the world.
What is it we see when we look out in our community? What do we see when we watch the news of riots? What do we see when we see the protests at planned parenthood? What do we see when we see the homeless on the corner, or the immigrant working on the landscapes across this city? Do we see them as people that can expand the kingdom of God? Do we see them as human beings deserving of our love and our encouragement? Do we see them as individuals loved by the very same God that loves us? Are we able to speak truth to those people in our community in a way that will bring redemption, salvation, revelation and glory to all people? Answer the question honestly. Do not justify our answer and try to make our actions seem righteous, just answer. The truth is we do not see people the way that Simeon and Anna saw them. We are not drawn to people or led to people, we are not always able to offer ourselves to be a blessing to others because all too often we are too focused on ourselves and our own agendas. Tradition tells a wonderful story of Simeon that I find very fitting. It is said that Simeon was guided by the spirit because Simeon was a blind man, he was drawn to Jesus and began to sing over the child because when he reached the holy family the infant healed his blindness so that Simeon could see his salvation.
I mention this story because we are all blinded by the busyness of our culture, we are blinded by ideologies and prejudices, and we are blinded by finances, duty and responsibility. We are blind to what God is doing yet God calls us to a different life. He calls us to follow him. He calls us to walk out of the darkness and into the light. He calls us to join Him in the holy rhythm of worship, pray, and service a life where we become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Jesus with others. He is calling us to see through his eyes, to see people through the lenses of redemption, salvation revelation and glory instead of the divisive labels our culture. He is calling us to a better life so that we can breathe life into the world.
Luke 1:26–38 (NRSV)
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In the busyness of this season it is extremely difficult to remember just how amazing it really is. While we are running through stores trying to find the perfect gift, having arguments over how much money is being spent or if we are actually going to buy gifts for that member of the family, making of travel plans and whose family we are visiting on which day, it can almost be overwhelming especially if you work at a place that people frequent during this season. But then there is the flip side of the season that seems to make it all worthwhile. I think everyone should take a toddler shopping for Christmas and just stand in wonder with them as they look at the displays. Yesterday while we were doing the normal holiday shopping we let Albert walk, and the screams of joy over every Christmas tree display was enough to bring a smile to the face of the grinchiest person. But even that does not really hit the deepest most amazing aspect of this season.
Today we meet with Mary in the pages of scripture. As we each consider this passage I would like us each to just empty our minds of the years upon years of Christmas stories and sermons that we each have wrapped up around this story. I want us to do that because to be honest we have become so comfortable with this story that often we forget just how scary, miraculous, impossible, confusing, dangerous, and gracious it really is.
The first thing to consider is the opening of this passage. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee. There is much in just this one verse that we probably overlook or just forget. First off this occurs during the Jewish month of Elul, which is between August and September. Most of us do not grasp the significance of this month, but this month is one that is focused on Repentance and preparation for the most holy holidays of the Jewish calendar Rosh Hashanah the Day of Judgment and Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. It is said that the name of this month is derived from the verse “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” from the Song of Solomon. Basically this is a month of deep searching, asking for and granting forgiveness, and examination of one’s life and standing before God. There is a reason the writer of the gospel felt it necessary to include the month in the writing, through the naming of the month we are given a foreshadow of the very purpose of this event, Luke is telling us just how much God loves the world and how God is going to provide for atonement.
The second is the fact that an angel is sent. Today there is a resurgence of giving great honor to angels. I have to admit that for many years I had a guardian angel icon clipped to the visor of my car for several years…I don’t anymore because the clip broke, which probably means my driving is too much for the angel. But our culture puts a great deal of energy into angels, we study them, we have given classifications to them, we try to see them, we fear and respect them, but do we really know what or who they are? In scripture we only really meet two angels and a third is spoken about briefly. The two are Gabriel and Michael, the third is the one that rebelled against God. Michael is the protector or the leader of the armies of God for Israel and Gabriel is always a messenger. True there are areas of scripture that state that there are more than just three angels but we do not know through scripture anything about them. Really all we know about angels is that they are sent by God. They can only do what God allows them to do. In this case Gabriel is sent to give a message in a small town in Galilee.
Which raises another question why that small town? Nazareth is not an important place. In fact it is never mentioned in the Old Testament or in the Apocrypha, but it is just north of the most agriculturally fruitful valley in Israel in limestone hills. The people of Nazareth were most likely involved in agricultural or stone cutting trades, which is why most scholars believe Joseph was probably a mason and not a worker of wood since the term translated as carpenter is used for both. This town is insignificant yet it is the place an angel is sent, and the angel is sent to speak to someone that on the surface is equally insignificant.
If we were to look back through scripture to see every visitation by angels throughout the history of Israel who were they sent to? They were sent to speak to the patriarchs of the nation, they were sent to Joshua the general that lead Israel into the promised land, they were sent to prophets, never in the old testament was an angel sent to speak to a woman. I do not mean to be sexist by saying that, I am only trying to show that in most ancient cultures men were seen as greater than women, and the angels were sent to influential men. I want us to keep that in mind, Gabriel was sent not to an influential man, but a woman, a girl actually. An angel was sent to a young lady around the age of twelve who was yet under the care of her father. In light of the culture Mary was a person of very little importance in a town of very little importance, yet God was going to use this town and this woman, beginning in the month dedicated to repentance to show not only Israel but the entire world that humanity is loved by God.
The passage goes on to say that Mary was perplexed, confused, even fearful at this moment is there any question as to why she would have been confused. Imagine a preteen girl standing before messenger sent by God, knowing full well the history and significance of the situation. Never before was an angel sent to someone insignificant. Yet she would have felt far from significant given who she was and where she was from.
The message this angel gave was equally if not more perplexing. Basically saying, “You are so favored by God that you are going to become pregnant today and give birth to the highest King of Israel.” This is where everything gets scary, miraculous, impossible, confusing, dangerous, and gracious yet we have heard and read the story so often we tend to forget it. Consider Mary, a young woman who is promised to a man yet is not yet married. If she were to become pregnant it would be very scandalous. As they courses of history have progressed the taboo has significantly decreased to the point that most people do not even care if a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock. But in the first century this sort of thing could have dire consequences. A woman caught in adultery could be stoned, and Mary’s father would have the right to demand her life and the life of the father. This angel was telling Mary, “good news! You are so loved by God, he might get you killed.” But this is where it gets interesting, Mary doesn’t care about that part, her question to the angel is how can this be since I am a virgin?
Those that want to discredit the virgin birth will look deeply into the usages of words when it gets to this. They will say that the term translated into English could also mean young woman, or unmarried woman which is true, but the second word translated as virgin in Mary’s question literally means she has never intimately known a man and no man has known her. Impossible, confusing, dangerous, scary, and miraculous. She is faced with death, her reputation could be ruined, and her future uncertain. She had a great life planned for her. She was about to be married to a respectable man in the community, someone that could provide for her every need, and they would have a family and live a happily insignificant life together in the limestone hills of Nazareth, but an angel came to visit.
The amazing story of Christmas is that life is full of surprises, the seemingly insignificant can become the most important thing of all creation, and that God calls humanity to participate in making something out of nothing. The truth is God will usually uses the insignificant to do the greatest things and that usually happens when those called to participate have nothing to offer.
In the month of Elul, God through and angel told Mary, “that she is her beloved’s and her beloved is hers.” She was going to give birth to the king of kings, the son of the Most High, enthroned in the throne of David ruler over the house of Jacob in a kingdom that will have no end, he will be the very Son of God, and His name will be Jesus (Joshua) which means God to the rescue, God the deliverer, or God is salvation.
What does Christmas really mean? It means that nothing is impossible with God. It means that God is our salvation, God is our deliverer. It means that God will see us through if we will turn and follow Him and walk in His ways. It means we have hope, we have grace, and we are loved. It means that God so love the world that He sent His Son not to condemn the world but to save us. It also means that God want us to continue live and share that testimony in all that we do.
Do we live as if that is true in our lives? Do we believe that God can do the impossible through the most unlikely people? I believe that he can. I believe because I have seen him do seemingly impossible things. I come from a background that is not exactly remarkable. I came from an insignificant town in an insignificant state. I was born into a family that has no fame and no fortune. Yet I have seen God do amazing things. I was never hungry even though I grew up poor. God sent me to minister on the other side of the world, he provided all I needed for that journey and more even though there was no feasible way I should have been on that plane. But I am not significant, I had a child before I was married, my ancestor were not always the most righteous either, yet God has called and used us to extend his kingdom.
What does that say to us as a Meeting, us as a community? Though we may not be significant in the eyes of the world God can use us to do the impossible. I believe that God is at work all around us, I believe that God is about to expand his kingdom in a way that history has yet to see, and I believe that this tiny seeming insignificant Meeting which is part of a seemingly insignificant yearly meeting, which is part of a movement that developed into a seemingly insignificant denomination, is going to be right in the front of that great revival. I believe that this small meeting will participate in showing the world around us that it is its beloved’s and the it’s beloved is theirs.
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy I want us to consider a couple of things. I want us to consider a couple of statements made by Mary whom God called to participate in the changing and redemption of the world. The first is “How can this be.” This is the perplexed statement of those that are unable to see outside of the current situation. The statement of those that cannot see beyond their own abilities. The second is “Let it be.” Let it be is the statement of faith, belief. It is a statement that goes beyond understanding and trust and extends to entrusting the very future and reputation on God. Those are the two statements that are on the minds of each of us here today that are looking forward into cloudy future that God is calling us into. We are asking, “How can this be?” How can we feed the hungry, how can we cloth the naked, provide shelter to the homeless, and care for those that cannot take care of themselves. How can we bring hope to our community when we can barely take care of ourselves? How can we?
With God nothing is impossible. With God a child can be born out of nothing. With God a poor farm boy can go around the world as a missionary. With God an insignificant meeting can do the miraculous. If only we say to Him, “Let it be.”