Sunday after Christmas – January 1, 2012 – Isaiah 61.10-62:30, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
“The redemption of Jerusalem” mentioned by Anna is symbolic. In historical time, the people of Jerusalem were once overtaken by force and enslaved in Babylon. That and their eventual liberation form the backdrop for Isaiah’s song of celebration. Symbolically, Jerusalem stands for each of its children: Jews originally, then everyone. Our redemption is what’s at stake.
What do we need redemption from? The letter to the Galatians spells it out just before today’s excerpt. Listen:
What I am saying is that as long as heirs are underage, they are no different from slaves, although they own the whole estate. They are subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by their parents. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.
What are elemental spiritual forces? Perhaps hunger, jealousy, pride. Being slaves to these is like being children who have not yet developed perspective, judgment, or discipline. They are simply at the mercy of their feelings of the moment. Such children need protection and supervision. They need to be told what to do and not do. In other words, they need the law.
Are there forces that hold you captive? Thoughts or feelings that control you despite yourself? What would it mean to be free of those?
The good news is that freedom is within reach. God acts, and rather than do it all for us, God acts in a way that empowers us to free ourselves, as befits our coming of age as heirs. God sends a Son “born of a woman, born under the law” – that is, born into both servitudes. Jesus is born subject to the forces of human nature and to the law meant to govern those forces. This Child, whose name means Salvation, knows what it’s like to be rocked by thirst, betrayal, fear.
And bit by bit, he shows us how to overcome, how to be bigger than what pushes and pulls at us. It isn’t easy: the sword foretold to pierce Mary’s heart casts the shadow of the cross across our own futures. The path Jesus will open for us is a path of surrender, of giving up one by one the things we think we need most: approval, security, control… letting go of our allegiance to the drives that once enslaved us.
This path may not be direct. Sometimes we need events to jolt us into realizing where our allegiance has been, and in the process we fall before we rise. Peter had to deny Jesus before he could see how much he was governed by fear. Once he faced his fear, he became a brave leader. This is what I think Simeon meant in describing Jesus as one destined for the falling and rising of many and as a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many would be revealed (to ourselves!).
When we take the path Jesus laid out for us, starting from our birth into the human condition we share with him, we grow into our adult freedom and authority. We transfer our allegiance from our basic drives to what we recognize as the highest good. We develop the discipline and vision to govern ourselves, no longer needing the law to keep us within safe boundaries. Historically, this was why Paul felt that Gentile converts need not adhere to Jewish law.
We thus graduate, as Jesus puts it later, from being servants who do not know what the master is doing to being friends who do know. The law is in our hearts. We’re adopted children of God, inheriting the Spirit that shows us the way and that cries out in us, recognizing God as Father-Mother. Christ who blazed the trail for us is our brother. With him may we grow and become strong, filled with wisdom, as the favor of God is upon us.