Reading Ramblings – December 30, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 30, 2018

Texts: Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15; Psalm 111; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40

Context: Yes, it’s still Christmas! Merry Christmas! That whole 12 days of Christmas thing? It’s referring to the liturgical season of Christmas, which starts on Christmas Day and runs through January 5. So we continue to enjoy the Christmas songs long after the discounted Christmas items at the stores have disappeared. The readings today center on connections between the Old Testament and the New, between the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate. God demands remembrance and acknowledgment of his deliverance of his people from Egypt. The Egyptians had sought to kill off the Israelite baby boys, but God reverses this and puts to death all the firstborn of Egypt, sparing his own people through the Passover covenant. Now, literally as the Israelites are leaving, God is instructing Moses as to how this remembrance will occur – through the dedication of all firstborn males to God. God now sends his only-begotten Son into creation to redeem all of humanity, to dedicate himself to all of us. And born into creation, under the Law, Jesus is redeemed as per God’s commands to Moses 1500 years earlier by Mary and Joseph. The Law is fulfilled, and in time, Jesus will fulfill the rest of the Law as well in order to offer his perfect and sinless life in exchange for our sinful one through his death and resurrection and our baptismal faith.

Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15 – God does not ask for human sacrifice. The slaying of the Egyptian firstborn was not a sacrifice but a sign of his power and authority over all life. We tend to assume as materialists and naturalists that each of us is entitled to a life on our terms and to our specified length. But God alone knows the number of our days, and the Creator that caused us to enter into existence is the Creator who knows when our mortal life will end. The Israelites are commanded to remember this through a ritual buying-back or redemption of all first-born males. This ritual is still enacted today among faithful Jewish people, though it is tradition for the rabbi to return the silver coins that are handed over in exchange for the child. This is one of the Old Testament commands that Christians deem as no longer binding after the incarnation of the Son of God, but we would do well to remember God’s absolute sovereignty over all creation not just in abstract notions but in very deeply personal ones.

Psalm 111 – I like that this psalm clearly articulates one of the proper places and ways praise to God should be made – in community, with others who are praising him as well! We praise him for his great works – and the implication is that these works extend beyond our purely personal identification of them in our lives to include creation itself and his continued sustenance and care of that creation. Moreover, God is reliable. What He tells us is good and does not change. It can be trusted – unlike much of what we tell ourselves and one another. And, He has redeemed his people. In the psalm this might be associated with the Exodus from Egypt and the delivery of his people to the promised land. But now we can see that ultimately redemption comes through the Son of God made man, who destroys our greatest enemies of sin, death, and Satan, rather than simply delivering us from a temporal power or policy. As we realize this, the praise and study of God and his Word should naturally take over a substantial part of our attention. Praise of the one who is faithful and study of his Word for wisdom and guidance are the only means by which we can make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

Colossians 3:12-17 – That God would give to us such a gift – what do we have a right to withhold from others? Especially from brothers and sisters in Christ? Our forgiveness in Christ should naturally express itself in patience and forgiveness with others. Paul keeps Christ at the center of all these admonitions. These are not simply personal qualities we should strive to create in ourselves – they are gifts that are given to us specifically because we are in Christ. As such we need to make Christ the center of our lives more and more, dwelling on his Word and taking it to heart – literally – so that it changes our hearts and minds. More than this, we need to gather with other Christians to celebrate what we have received together. The Christian faith is naturally communal since we are made communal creatures. Only together are our gifts expressed best, guided and strengthened as needed so that we can continue to give God the Father the thanks and glory.

Luke 2:22-40 – The perfect fulfillment of the Law by Jesus begins when He is just a tiny baby, as his parents fulfill the obligation given to them by God in Exodus 13 to redeem Mary’s first-born son, as well as make the necessary offerings for her ritual purification after giving birth (Leviticus 12:1-8). Jesus does not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). In doing so He sets us free from the power of the Law to condemn our sinfulness, since in faith our sinfulness is exchanged for his perfection. His fulfillment of the Law – rather than an attempt to exempt himself from it – makes his obedience truly perfect and thus fully efficacious in our redemption.

Mary and Joseph are parents of a newborn. Although they received angelic visitations and dreams, they are still amazed at what others say about this little child. Who is this little one? What does it mean that “He will be great and will be Called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32)? They have not discerned this yet. But they remain faithful to what they are supposed to do, their lives guided and structured by the Law and the covenant of Moses regardless of what this little child may one day do. Likewise Simeon is faithful to the Holy Spirit’s leading and receives the fulfillment of what the Holy Spirit promised him- that he would see the Messiah.

Likewise we should look to God’s Law not as a burden but as a gift. No longer condemned in our sins but redeemed and forgiven through baptism into the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the Law remains as a guide, the baseline upon which we base our lives and how we interpret the world. We are not to be confused by the relativism that increasingly bogs down our society and culture, calling good evil and evil good one day, then reversing itself the next. The Law of God is a sure guide for our lives.

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