January 1, 2023

For those who wish to watch the service as they read along, here is the linkWorship Service on YouTube

A Savior Revealed

Luke 2:22-40

When our children were born, Paula and I had hopes, dreams, and expectations for each of them. We weren't exactly sure what their future held, but we certainly had aspirations for them as we held them when they were babies. For those of you who have had children, I'm sure you had similar feelings when you held your child after birth. I never received any heavenly or earthly prophecy about our kids. However- it did happen to my mother when I was young.

My mother told me that we were in a laundromat while on vacation at the beach when I was still a toddler. A man there also asked to see me, looked at my hands, and prophesied to my mother, "Ma'am, this child will grow up to be a great card player and gambler! Just look at those hands!" My mother responded tactfully- "OVER MY DEAD BODY!" I've never lived up to the strange encounter with that man and his prophecy, thankfully. I'm pretty good at playing Spades and Solitaire. I can almost do the waterfall when shuffling, but I stink at Poker, don't fully understand 21, and have no desire to start gambling anytime soon😊…Maybe a retirement hobby?

Mary and Joseph had some strange encounters with others who prophesied about their son, Jesus. They both certainly had hopes and aspirations, perhaps some expectations about the child. What might he become? They must've wondered those things as they held Jesus in the barn or cave or wherever it was in which he had been born in Bethlehem. Mary must've recounted the angel Gabriel, who had told her certain things about the child she would have- which made it sound as if he would be a king who would sit upon the throne of Joseph's ancestor, David. The angel told her to name the child "Jesus" or "Yeshua," meaning "God saves." Then she had a family member prophecy about the child. Her older cousin Elizabeth called her "The mother of my Lord." Clearly, Elizabeth had some expectations about Jesus.

What about Joseph? According to Matthew's gospel, Joseph also had a heavenly encounter with an angel in a dream, learning that the child Mary carried was from the Spirit and that his name was to be Jesus or Yeshua- God saves.

 After his birth, they then encountered the Shepherds, who told them what the angel had said in the fields, that a Messiah who is Christ the Lord had been born, and that they would find the child in the manger as the angel had told them. After this encounter, we read that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. I imagine Joseph must've done the same, trying to understand what this child might become.

Consider also that Mary and Joseph were faithful to the Jewish tradition, which meant they, too, were waiting for a Messiah, someone who would come and save the people, restore glory to David's kingdom, and perhaps take care of Roman occupation. Was it possible this child they held was the one they were waiting for?

Forty days after Jesus's birth, they traveled to the temple. All these words and expectations must've been swirling around in their heads as they traveled about 6 miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They were there for two reasons- to present Jesus at the temple and to have Mary purified after giving birth at the temple. What was the purpose of these ceremonies? How did they work?

According to Leviticus, chapter 12, after a woman gave birth to a son, she was impure. At the end of that period, she was to bring a sacrificial offering to the temple, ordinarily a young lamb and a turtle dove, as a sin offering. If these were not affordable, the woman could substitute two turtle doves. These would be given to the priest for sacrifice, and the woman would be purified. So, Joseph and Mary, being poor, could only afford the 2 Turtle Doves, and through their sacrifice by the priest, she was made ritually clean.

The second ceremony was not a ceremony at all, at least not officially, but more of a "Firstborn tax.". According to Exodus 13, every firstborn male belonged to God, which meant they needed to be redeemed. The redemption involved paying 5 shekels to the priests at the temple, not a small sum by any means. Shekels in that time varied widely in weight and value. However, most family incomes in Jerusalem were an average of 22 shekels per year. This means a monthly income would be a bit less than 2 shekels. So, Joseph and Mary, who could barely afford the sacrifice needed for Mary's purification, also had to have almost two and ½'s months' typical wages given to the priests at the temple to have Jesus redeemed, with the understanding this firstborn son would serve God in his life. Although the passage does not tell us they did pay the sum, I assume it was done at some point.

On their way into the temple, while still in the outer courts, they had yet another mystical encounter with someone about their son. Simeon, who in verse 25 is described as righteous and devout in his faith, was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, which means he was hoping and waiting for Messiah. The Spirit of God brought  Simeon to the temple. Simeon took Jesus in his arms (hopefully asking to hold their child first) and, as I have suggested in other passages about Messiah, broke out in song. The form of Simeon's words matches those of different songs in scripture. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms. He then utters the words that conclude communion in worshiping many mainline traditions, the Nunc Dimittis. "Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace …" Simeon, who had been awaiting the arrival of Messiah, now holds the promise in his arms. He is ready to die, thankful for this moment, and breaks into song. The song may have sounded a little like this: Dan sings the first two verses of hymn #545.

Once he finished singing, Simeon had more to tell the couple. But this news was not one of praise and joy. Jesus would challenge the systems of the day, speak truth to power, teach us to love and serve others, to care for and lift up the poor, and in so doing, upset society and throw all who come in contact with him into a crisis of decision. In that decision, rising and falling, life and death result. Lastly, Simeon delivered the most painful prophecy, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." A dark thread is woven into a tapestry of hopes. A mother wonders at this pronouncement and perhaps has a clue that tragedy will be part of Jesus' story.

Next, the couple encounters another mystic, a prophetess named Anna. Anna lives in the outer court, fasting and praying, and is an older devout woman of advanced years, widowed and 84 years old. As a female prophet, she joined the ranks of famous women prophets from the Hebrew scriptures- Sarah, Miriam, Huldah, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther. 

Interestingly, her age is mentioned. Talking about the age of a person, man or woman, in the New Testament is rare. I can't think of another example. But here, the text dwells on how long she has lived: the long, long years she has waited for the Holy One of God. What is the point of revealing her age? Perhaps there are two reasons:

  • She parallels the long wait the Jewish people have waited for Messiah
  • Her waiting, like Simeon's, has possibly kept her alive, confident that she would see the redemption of her people.

Anna also approached the Holy Family. Like Simeon, she recognizes the child as Messiah. Unlike Simeon, who is ready to die, Anna is prepared to spread the word. She is driven to witness to others whom she has seen. Anna is the first woman to understand fully and proclaim the good news of Christ's birth to the world.

Although we are told she spoke to everyone at the temple about Messiah's birth, sadly, her voice is silenced in scripture.


For both Simeon and Anna, hope is joined to a collective memory. God fulfills a divine promise that has been spoken about and hoped for, for hundreds of years.

What about Joseph and Mary? What were their expectations of the child they held?  Did these two prophetic voices fully reveal to them who Jesus would become? Were there hopes and dreams about the Holy child put in context? Did they now believe this child would one day be Messiah, and if so, what might that mean? We don't know. There is only one more story about Jesus' childhood in scripture, during Passover when he and his family went to the temple. Jesus remained at the temple when his family left. They realized their mistake and searched for him for three days, finding him in the temple sitting among the temple rabbis. Jesus said to them, "Didn't you know I would be at my Father's house?" The parents did not understand, weren’t really sure what to expect of his future, and Mary again treasured this incident with all the others in her heart.

What about us? We know how the story ends and yet continues. What are our expectations of Jesus? The Jesus we expect is the one we will follow in our lives. Is he the silent baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? That is the safe Jesus. The easiest choice is to expect him to remain in the manger and leave our lives and the world around us just as they are. That is the lowest of expectations we can really have with Jesus.

Or perhaps you think of Jesus as the head of the moral police in your life, he who knows and reveals our inner thoughts? I certainly thought that way about Jesus when I was young. I just knew he was watching me when I did something bad and had to say sorry when I did something I knew I should not have done. There is now a moral police Jesus for sale on the internet, which I have just ordered for fun and will be putting him in my office. It is an image of Jesus peeking out of the corner of a door, saying, “I SAW THAT!” At least this expectation of Jesus has some practical application. But is Jesus just there to keep us on the moral pathway? Is that all we expect of him?

What if our expectations are a bit broader? What if we expect him to be the Messiah who challenges the systems of the day, who speaks truth to power, who calls us to a new way of life, who teaches us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and to be salt and light to the world? That is the more difficult path to follow.

We know the rest of the story. He did not stay in the manger but instead became what Simeon and Anna prophesied him to be; the Messiah. He who redeemed us all, who died and rose for us, calls us to a new way of being, to challenge the systems of the day, speak truth to power, to love and serve others, to care for and lift up the poor. Therefore, on this day, let us make the difficult choice of following the adult Messiah so that our lives and the world around us become more and more on earth as it is in heaven. Alleluia. Amen.

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