Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 2: 22- 40. Focus on how we see or don’t see salvation but knowing how it was prepared helps! Check out Rasaan Bourke & the Choir! Outstanding music!
It must have been a joyous and solemn occasion for Mary and Joseph as they brought their newborn baby boy to the temple for his dedication service. Like parents who bring their newborn baby to be baptized. All that hope and expectation, all the promise and hope and all of this strange attention – first from shepherds, then this old man Simeon.
And his utterance – “Lord now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” Beautiful words to be sure but strange words for a baptism service. What’s all this talk about death in the midst of new life? But there it is, because death doesn’t take a holiday does it?
And never is this more apparent than during the holidays, a time when our hopes are joined by our fears, our expectations so often tinged by our regrets, our reunions overshadowed by life’s disappointments and hurts.
Which raises the question that Luke’s gospel puts in the mouths of John’s disciple: “Are you the coming one? Or should we look out for someone else?” After all the world hasn’t changed since Simeon spoke. What are we to say to those who point to the fact that the world has not become a better place since the days of Hosea and Jeremiah?
What are we to say to the largest part of the human population, that still suffers the slings and arrows of Herod’s brutality today? Where school children are gunned down here and in Afghanistan? What are we to say to those who prophesy doom and gloom today, when the extinction of the human species by the human species has never been more likely to be fulfilled then it is today. Take your pick, global warming, global financial melt down, or wars and rumors of wars.
Our on a more personal level what can we say when we look at the unhealed and unsaved stage of our own lives after the message of healing and salvation has been heard at Christmas for almost 2000 years? And yet the same old compulsions and addictions still haunt our lives
Maybe we should say that the world is unsaved, but that there are men and women in all generations who are saved from the world? But this isn’t the message of Christmas. That isn’t good news for all peoples. And if the expectation that all flesh shall see the coming of the Lord -hasn’t that been refuted by reality?
The questions are as old as the Christmas story itself, probably even older and the answer is equally old. The presence of the Messiah is a mystery; it cannot be seen by everybody, only those like Simeon who are driven beyond themselves by God’s Spirit – Those who chase after God until God catches them, can see it. There is something surprisingly unexpected about the appearance of salvation, something that contradicts our best opinions and our best intellectual claims. In short, we don’t get it. It gets us. It surprises us when the same old compulsions and addictions no longer have power over us. It comes to us when we are weary and doing the same ole same ole expecting nothing new in the world.
When suddenly, which is how the gospel writers put it. “When suddenly there was an angel. When sudden there was a heavenly host. When suddenly in a dream. When we thought nothing new under the sun could possible happen – then suddenly it happens. And yet it was all foretold.
This mystery surrounding the salvation of God is anticipated in the prophecies of Isaiah, “For unto a child is given, for unto us a child is born.” And Isaiah’s anticipation is also our hope. I like how Paul Tillich puts it, The birth of a child is real and yet that child is not fully realized. A child is in the process of becoming. A child is in history but not yet historical. It’s very nature is visible yet it can be invisible, it is in the process of becoming and not yet fully realized. It is here and not yet here. (From Tillich’s sermon- Has the Messiah Come)
As we celebration Jesus’ birth each year we see what salvation looks like but it’s also something that’s hidden in the most mundane lowly places. Again quoting Tillich: “He who wants a salvation, which is only visible cannot see the divinity within the child lying in the manager as he cannot see the divinity of the man on the cross and the paradoxical way of all divine actions. Salvation is a child and when it grows up it is crucified. Only he who can see power under weakness, the whole under the fragment, victory under defeat, glory under suffering, innocence under guilt, sanctity under sin, life under death can say: “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
It’s hard to say this in our day, because we want salvation in terms that make sense. It doesn’t make sense for our savior to be born in a place that had no room for him, a place he has to flee to escape Herod’s genocidal rage and to live as a refugee until his brief ministry and shameful death.
As c.s. lewis says, “It’s either the greatest lie ever told or the greatest truth. It cannot be both. Why the world acts in a paradoxical way is beyond me. Why the first will be last and the last first amazes me and in this child we come to see the fragment that will become the whole.
And even if the world should fall into it’s own self-destruction, as long as there are men and women who experience this mystery – this mystery of God as the most vulnerable among us then there will be those who can say with Simeon “Blessed are the eyes which see the things we see. Because the mystery of God’s grace is still alive and working out it’s purposes.
Blessed are you who anticipate the rise and fall of human systems of thought, economics and politics without getting caught in them. Blessed are you who are not afraid of contradictions and who will mentor them to reveal the secrets and mysteries of our existence. Blessed are you who do not require comfort to be faithful, for you will be comforted in the most difficult of situations. And blessed are you who chase after God for you shall be found.”
For our salvation has not been left in our hands. It’s in the hands of God who is willing to appear foolish – who comes to us as a stumbling block so that we might look up from our futile attempts at self –salvation, and be caught even if we can’t quite explain it or fully realize that paradox is the cross on which we are found, transformed and saved. And if this isn’t so then please tell me what is. So be it. Amen.