On this Sunday after Christmas we hear a story that is only found in the gospel of Luke, a story that often gets lost amidst the other stories of this season. Jesus’ parents bring him to Jerusalem, to the great temple, to present him to God, and to designate him as holy to the Lord.
In this story we witness the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary. They are following ancient Jewish customs despite very limited means. To travel to Jerusalem after their trip to Bethlehem must have been difficult. They do it anyway, and their temple offering of two turtledoves marks them among the very poor.
It was a modest ceremony for a faithful family: important, but unremarkable. But this ceremony is transformed by the witness of two very special people. One is Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who is full of the Holy Spirit, and anxiously waiting for God’s action in the world. The other is Anna, an elder who worships perpetually in the temple with fasting and prayer. Both Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus as a source of redemption and praise God for the gift of this special child. Their words amaze Joseph and Mary. Apparently the events of the pregnancy and birth had not yet quite convinced them what was in store for this tiny baby.
When the ceremony is over, the family returns home, to their own town of Nazareth. The text tells us: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
This story is rich with meaning. It could help us reflect on the place of Jesus in Jewish and Christian traditions, and how our Christian tradition both honors and fails to honor Jesus’s Jewish faith. It might lead us to consider the role of elders such as Simeon and Anna: their power to shape how we understand ourselves and our faith. We could explore how Simeon and Anna play a role in moving us from Christmas to Epiphany, spreading the word about Jesus to the temple community and the world.
Today, however, I am struck most by how this very special presentation of a baby in a place of worship echoes what happened to many of us. As babies or children, many of us were brought into churches, or synagogues, or other holy places, to be named, or blessed, or baptized. Our families longed to see us recognized and dedicated as “holy to the Lord.”
Jesus was unique. But all babies are special. Each person is created in the image of God and is recognized by God. We are each holy to the Lord, regardless of what ceremonies are performed. But how many of us carry that sense of holiness, of specialness, of blessedness, far beyond any days of special ceremony?
As we travel over the brink between Christmas and Epiphany, between 2017 and 2018, many people think about starting fresh. Making resolutions. Turning over a new leaf. Setting new goals.
Here in the church we are called to remember that we are already precious in God’s sight. We have always been known and loved. And any change we seek, we will find most fulfilling if it is also a change that God longs for, for our healing and for the healing of the world.
How can we know what God is longing for? One way is to listen. This year we are returning this year to a tradition we have tried before, the tradition of star words. Words have been chosen and placed on these shiny stars, and laid out for you here in the sanctuary. You are invited to come and choose a star today, to see if God might lead you through the word written on the back of it. There are a few rules: please don’t peak, no give-backs, no changies. Let’s seek out a star to guide us, as Jim plays for us.
Does everyone have a star? Have you read your word, or had help reading it? Now maybe your word speaks you. Great. If it doesn’t, I ask that you give it a chance. Let it marinate, look up its meanings. Hang it up somewhere and wait to see if it has something to offer you in a week, or a month, or next December. If you hate your word, let me tell you, you’ve hit a jackpot: because that means it has something to teach you. Whatever your word is, I invite you to take it home with you, and try to allow God to guide you through it, in the coming year. And then we’ll gather here again, next Christmas season, and see what new stories God has told among us.
God, you made us, you know us, you love us. We have been holy because of your blessing from the beginning of our lives. Help each person here to feel how deeply we are treasured. Grant us the help we need for the next stage of our journey, this season of challenge and change.May our hearts find ever better ways, with your guidance. Amen.
Stars will be available on January 7th for anyone who missed picking them up!