Reading Ramblings – December 28, 2014

Date: First Sunday in Christmas, December 28, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Context: Now that Christmas has come, the Son of God Incarnate in the midst of creation, what else can be done but to sing and rejoice, to praise the God of Creation for his wisdom and plan? The readings today fairly burst with joy, and sweep us along with them and God’s people for centuries as we continue to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 – Part of this reading is a repeat from two weeks ago. The faithful servant of the Lord speaks, and in this section gives glory to God the Father for what He has done in his servant, God the Son made man. In this most unlikely of methods, the Lord inaugurates a new time in creation history, a time when the blessedness of God once again dwells in the midst of humanity, albeit a now-fallen humanity. The result of this will be the vindication of God’s people for their hope and trust in him. Those who were mocked for their faith will be shown to be faithful and truthful. The humble bride of Christ, the Church, will be lifted high and receive glory and honor.

Psalm 111 – This brief psalm calls us to praise and exalt our God. God is to be praised for who He is and what He has already done. We do not hold our praise of God in check, waiting to see if He will respond to our demands and requests. God receives praise for all that He has already accomplished. These acts are most clearly seen in the history of his people – his grace and forgiveness in the midst of sinful rebellion, his steadfastness and his trustworthiness to fulfill the promises He has made – deliverance from sin as promised to Eve, a land and descendants to Abraham. As such we can trust that He will fulfill his promise to us – that one day the Messiah will return in glory, and that we who place our faith in that resurrected Son of God will one day be blessed with eternal life. Faith and trust in this God and these works is the foundation for all sound consideration of any sort.

Galatians 4:4-7 – Paul seeks to clarify the role of the Law in history as a means of preserving God’s people, protecting them until the day that they no longer need the Law. That day has come, initiated by the incarnation of the Son of God in creation. This Son of God came into a world ruled by the Law, and took on the corporeal reality of one under the Law. Yet the Son of God was not sinful by conception (Original Sin), nor did He commit sin. He remained the truly spotless Lamb of God, the willing sacrifice of whom can and did remove the sins of the world. The Son of God’s identification with us in our humanity makes possible our adoption by God the Father, makes possible our forgiveness and amnesty through the grace of God the Father for the sake of God the Son.

This is no distant blessing, but a reality that we partake of here and now (albeit imperfectly). So real is this relationship that we can come before our heavenly Father truly as a loving Father, not an angry judge. WE enjoy the unique privilege as adopted sons and daughters to call our heavenly Father Dad, knowing that He loves us and hears us far more than even the best human father delights to hear his children call him. We have this right here and now, a pledge of the greater reality of being heirs of God through Jesus Christ – life beyond the grave, life filled with joy and perfection. Truly cause to celebrate here and now!

Luke 2:22-40 – Jesus is brought to be circumcised, as God commanded his people to do when He saved them from slavery and death under the Egyptians (Exodus 13:2, 12). Simeon and Anna confirm the strange messages of the angels and the shepherds. This child is the Messiah. Prophecies fulfilled beget new prophecies, in this case both concerning Jesus’ impact on the people of God, and Jesus’ impact on his own mother as well. Both the personal and the communal are brought out in Simeon’s prophecies.

Simeon is not necessarily indicating in vs. 29-32 that he is ready to die now. Rather, he acknowledges that God has fulfilled his promise to him (v.26). Nothing more is known of Anna, though there are traditions and legends that she was a tutor to Mary in the Temple. Both Simeon and Anna are models of faithfulness. They have remained steadfast in their service to the Lord as well as their trust in the Lord.

For their part, Joseph and Mary are still surprised and perplexed at all the fuss. Did they regard the messages of the shepherds as hallucinations? Imaginations of their sleep-deprived minds? Were their respective angelic preparations simply dreams now? Had they rationalized away all the oddities surrounding Jesus’ birth, so that here and now, confronted by aged strangers and curious onlookers they continue to themselves be amazed?

Joseph and Mary could only do what they knew to do. They put one foot in front of the other in terms of their parenting duties. More so than any other first time parent, they relied on the customs of their community to help keep them from immobility, shock, and even despair. The boy needed to be circumcised. This happened on the eighth day. Mary would not have been in condition to travel, so they likely stayed with relatives in Bethlehem until her time of ritual impurity had passed (Leviticus 12:1-8). After this time, Mary needed to make an offering to conclude her time of ritual impurity. Regardless of the supernatural nature of the pregnancy and their dreams and visions and the birth night itself, there were ordinary, basic, predictable things to be done. Perhaps this helped to keep Joseph and Mary sane in the midst of everything else. When confronted with the inexplicable, how comforting it can be to have ordinary things and routines around us as we seek to make sense of things!

Joseph and Mary go home. They don’t seek to rearrange their lives in light of their curious son. They need family. They need community. Rather than isolate themselves in order to raise a Messiah, they enmesh themselves in the familiar in order to raise a son. The humanity of Jesus is emphasized in the humanity of his parents.

The strangeness surrounding Jesus’ birth is by no means over yet. Returning to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph likely are visited by the magi there, rather than in Bethlehem. Following that visit, they flee for their lives to Egypt for two years.

But for the time being, they do what is required. What is expected. God grants them this stability in the midst of great turmoil individually, as a couple, and now as a family. Through it all, God is praised (not Mary and Joseph!).

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