Sermon: First Step Again

First Step Again
Luke 2: 22-40
RUMC 31 Dec 2017
Millie Victor

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

In today’s reading Luke tells us of things that we can’t change: Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ suffering for our sake, and Jesus’ unending love of us, His children. Luke reminds us what’s within our personal control:  Our reactions to others:  opinions, words, actions, saying Yes or No to being a servant of Jesus, and following in the footsteps of the apostles.

When was the last time you wished you could have a “do-over”? Perhaps you said “No” to an opportunity that was scary, unfamiliar, or could change your life in a way you never planned.  What would life be like for you if Mary and Joseph had said “no” to God?   What would the world be like if they had turned down God’s offer?

Because Mary and Joseph dug deep, we have a chance for do-overs whenever we need one.  We have a “First Chance Again” because the beautiful baby Jesus, the little Prince of Peace, grew in the ways of a child until it was his time to fulfill his purpose on Earth.  Jesus said, “yes” to His father.

Babies turn me into a puddle of mush. My husband of 51 years and I have three children and five grandchildren.  Each and every one brings me great joy.  I have been blessed beyond anything I deserve.  (Aren’t all of our blessings given by God beyond anything we deserve?)

Babies are the ultimate when it comes to not giving up and having a First Chance Again: How many times does a baby fall before walking is mastered?  Communication beyond baby talk and babble requires so many skills.

Learning to forgive without harboring a grudge is a gift that can take years to learn.  Growing into who God has planned us to be is a life-long process.

Recently my 91-year-old mother-in-law has been saying, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” She is supportive, encouraging, gives freely, and she loves Jesus and her family. She is a willing steward. I see a glaring similarity between how my 91 year-old mother-in-law lives her life and what is asked of us as Christians.

Luke relates to us the story of Jesus being presented at the temple: there were strict laws mandating when and how a boy child was to be presented to God.  Today when a child is presented to be christened into the UMC, there is a communal ceremony.  However, a blood sacrifice is not part of it.  It is a ceremony of faith and love.  What stands out to me is that the community is asked to support, encourage, and teach the child the way of discipleship.

People who live by some imaginary, self-imposed code of law will never find the peace, contentment and joy they are racing toward with eyes closed.   Yes, with eyes closed and heart shrouded, what a cold way to live.  Living the Spirit of the Law is free choice.  It is fulfilling, loving, and visible for all to see.

If Mary and Joseph had not listened to their hearts, we would not be here. Perhaps we would also be sacrificing sheep for our sins—but to whom?  If Mary and Joseph had closed off their hearts to the message of the angel announcing the impending birth of Jesus, this would be a different world.  It would be a Godless, heartless world, devoid of forgiveness that promises Eternal Life, Love and Hope.

Fortunately we are here to glorify the Lord. Thank you Jesus! Amen.  Thank you that you were accepted whole heartedly.  (It couldn’t have been an easy decision for a young Jewish couple at those times.)  Thank you that your young mother was faithful to you.  She accepted you with a full heart.  A heart filled with love, longing to please and obedience.

Thank you Jesus that you assembled a band of men: men from different walks of life, different skill sets, and different levels of education and wealth – but with one heart, a heart to love Jesus.  One heart to share his message:  a message of right living, abundant love, salvation and life everlasting.

Bringing us all together today is Paul’s language in his letters to the early believers.   Paul’s letters recognize us, acknowledge us, and embrace us as brothers and sisters.  There it is…one family–one family that began with Mary and Joseph saying “yes.”  Yes to being a family, parents to the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel (meaning God is with us).   Yes, yes, yes!

Jesus is among us. We can see it every day if we open our eyes and ears to see innocence in children, hear their laughter and witness their bravery; witness the courage of the terminally ill; witness the courage of the most senior among us living as disciples for Jesus.

Jesus is among us. We can see it every day if we open our hearts, take the shrouds off of them, and support each other in daily Christian living.  “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”   I know this is familiar to you as the words of John Wesley.  These words are encouraging every time I hear them.

Jesus is among us. We can hear it every day if we open our ears and listen for the softened tongue to smooth out the sharp edges.  Words have power; I have long believed that.  Words can empower, and words can emancipate; or words can destroy, and words can enslave.

I want to encourage all of you to put aside laws and step out in the spirit of the law and in faith, the faith that binds us as Christians Brother and Sisters. The faith to openly acknowledge Jesus, love abundantly, and serve Jesus using your God-given gifts.

We promised to serve and support each other in that choice. I recently heard a presentation in which the speaker suggested that God set life up for us to depend on each other, because he knows life would be too hard for us to walk through without a Christian community.

So with all of these possibilities in mind, for the first time again say loudly and clearly, “Yes”. Yes today, Yes tomorrow, and Yes always.   Yes is a choice, sometimes daily choice, to live life as a Christian.

John Wesley believed if one neglected good works toward God and neighbors, it was possible, indeed probable, to backslide, to forfeit the good work of God in you by neglecting good works for God.

Today’s reading concluded with Simeon, who was promised he would not pass from this Earth to arrive into his Father’s hands until he had seen the Son of God. Simeon lived by the spirit; his love for God guided him, influenced his decisions.  Simeon was faithful his entire life.   He was a man who lived life as a servant to God and his brothers and sisters.  He was a man of patience, a man of faith.

I can imagine Simeon being almost giddy when he says (verses 29-32), God, my Father you have sent your Light to this world for All people to see, a new and glorious light, a new beginning for all people. Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph, and warned her of a tumultuous future.  He warned her that life would not be easy, that she would have her soul pierced.  This may be harsh news to us, but a love that had not been seen before or since made it necessary.

Conclusion: After we have received the Holy Spirit, we may backslide; we may turn our backs on grace given and take the easy way out.  But God is never gone from us and he will wait.  He will wait as long as it takes for us, His Beloved children, to take The First Step Again.