Merry Christmas! It’s good to be back here with you today, praying – and singing. I can’t seem to get enough that this week. Wednesday afternoon we slipped into a packed church with my parents, to a corner behind the trumpet, drums and the children’s choir at their parish. It’s the custom there for everyone to bring bells to ring during the Glorias, which adds to the festivity, and entertains the little ones. All quite lovely. But this is home.
It’s hard to imagine Christmas without children. In case there is anyone here who hasn’t yet heard, our family’s movement from Advent to Christmas was richly blest by the birth of our first grandchild, Ilona Sofia, a precociously smiley infant.
This morning’s first reading, a Song from the latter chapters of Isaiah is also one of irrepressible Joy. It was written for what is called the “first return” of the Israelites from exile. The prophet sings of the Glory God lavishes upon creation; God’s Glory springing from this earth in the just lives of faithful persons. It’s a Messianic image, for a frequently embattled, often discouraged group anticipating their vindication.
So we hear of a wedding preparation; a love to be fulfilled between those who seek justice and the God who is faithful to them; an intimation of the role human engagement has in bringing about the justice that is our true home. “I will greatly rejoice, my whole being shall exult in my God.” I think the refrain might be “someday soon!
Carroll Stuhlmueller’s deep knowledge of Biblical languages, and his capacity to listen not only to the echoes of the past, but the people he met created annotations such as the one for this passage:
The opening line of chapter 62 “pulses nervously’ and this tense mood of excitement continues throughout…is God breaking the silence of many years?”
As many Israelites become “small minded, jealous, and miserable” in the mounting frustrations that marked this homecoming, the writer breaks into song over the messianic Jerusalem that will dawn in that moment when God’s people become fully obedient and trustful. Zion, desolate in God’s silence, then shines with the suddenness of a desert bloom.”
This hope seemed closest on the Feast of Tabernacles, with lights illuminating the courtyards and water-drawing places. The Mishnah oral tradition describes gigantic candelabras which stood within the court of the women; each of these four golden candelabras is said to have been 50 cubits high – about 75 feet tall! Atop each were four branches, and at the top of every branch was a large golden bowl. Young men ascended with jugs to fill these bowls with oil. And then the oil in those bowls was ignited.
Of this brilliant experience the rabbis comment: “One (he) who has not witnessed the rejoicing at the place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life. One who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a desirable city anywhere.”
Jerusalem, lovely and bright, rejoicing at the protection and abundance of her God.
Close your eyes for a moment if you will. **Now remember your brightest lit experience of celebration, whether Christmas lights or fireworks, luminaries or other masses of candles…and of course music, people singing, shouting, laughing. Give it a moment.
So it is for us: Being present to this now of our rejoicing in the presence of God! Exulting in the gift of our life; entering into the awe of a love that embraces each of us, is requisite for living in the knowledge and hope that will carry us into its full realization.
Jerusalem and the temple are significant throughout Luke’s Gospel. Luke establishes Jesus as a true Israelite; obedient to the Law of Moses. As such he will be living each day in the flow of praise and honoring, from his rising to his resting, in every activity, meal, and chore. Praising and honoring God in the face of every life event large or small, physical or social.
So Mary and Joseph together present him at the temple according to that Law. Because of their poverty they offer the lower end of the sliding fee scale. Not the expected lamb, but a few acceptable birds. And within their devotion, to Yahweh and to their little family within the larger community of their faith, these doves are sufficient.
In the temple, they have an amazing encounter with 2 elders whose lives have been devoted to watchful waiting. Both Simeon and Anna recognize in this infant the one they have been waiting for, and a new song of praise bursts from each of their lips. No longer is Gospel only future tense: this child is Good News, the fulfillment of their vigil, the fulfillment of their lives. I like that they are man and woman.
Simeon sees that this now includes his redemption, and he has nothing to fear for the end of this life. His blessing acknowledges that not all will welcome Jesus’ message. Fred Craddock, legendary preacher and professor at Emory put it this way: “Jesus will bring truth to light and in so doing throw all who come in contact with him into a crisis of decision. In that decision, rising and falling, life and death result. Jesus precipitates the centrally important movement of one’s life, toward or away from God.” Mary accepts Simeon’s blessing as she has her son, in faith.
Anna who waited never left the temple. In that Moment came, praising God as she sees Jesus, recognizing the Gospel Now, leaves the past of her vigil to go out to speak of this child to all who were hoping for the Messiah.
And we, the hearers of this Good News? Well, we have a brother! And he is more than we could have hoped for. A baby should pull a family and indeed the whole community forward. Those of you who have brought your children to this circle have done that for this whole assembly. Children pull us continuously into the present, renew our hope and deepen our commitment to the future they will enter.
But Jesus, He is the one who makes us all one family. He pulls us out of our comfort zones and our fears. Recognizing Jesus we are freed – and commanded – to love beyond any boundaries humans can create. Free to once and forever claim and free those enslaved by hatred, by policies, by greed and by the ignorance of people with power. We are Free to claim the inheritance of God’s own. Free to activate our anticipation of God’s Justice, and to pull out all the stops in our Joy. Free to sing like Now is Tomorrow!
Joy indeed! Joy to the Whole World!
- That Sunday Assembly, the Benedictine Women of Madison, Christian Churches and the communities of all faiths will be ever more clear models of justice, places of welcome, witnesses for peace, and beacons of hope, let us pray…
- That our nation may seek with haste, diligence, and humility to end the evil of racism in our communities and cities we pray…….
- That every child will be given an unconditional welcome, with their health, housing and education considered an inalienable human right, let us pray…