Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 2:22–2:40
The First Sunday after Christmas
December 29-30, 2012
Christmas is about family – traveling near or far to join loved ones at this special time to celebrate the birth of Christ our Savior, and just to be together. In the midst of our being together, though, there can sometimes be a little too much togetherness. Old arguments can resurface and unresolved family matters can flare up once again. Words are spoken and feelings hurt. Sometimes family obligations at the holidays can be a little much. Like Clark Griswold in the movie, “Christmas Vacation,” despite our plans to make this the “perfect, old-fashioned, family Christmas,” it usually doesn’t work out that way. Our holiday cheer can be stretched pretty thin. And yet, what is Christmas without family? When people are separated from loved ones and unable to join them because of distance or duty or division, there is a kind of emptiness within us. Those family ties call out to us across the miles and across the years. In today’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of the Holy Family – the Christ Child, his mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph, as they come into the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill what the Law of Moses required. And in so doing, they meet two of God’s oldest children there in the temple: Simeon and Anna, who rejoice that they have been permitted to see first-hand the promised Messiah. On this First Sunday after Christmas as we consider Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the message for this day is entitled “Holy Family.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In the commercial world around us, Christmas has come and gone. It’s onto the next “big thing,” whatever that may be. Within the Christian Church, Christmas is not just one day, but a season of twelve days. We are in the midst of these Twelve Days of Christmas right now, and they will culminate next Sunday on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, with the coming of the Magi, the wise men, to worship the Christ Child. The Christ Child, the Infant Jesus, is brought by his parents into the temple according to the Law of Moses. And what the Law of Moses required we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson (Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-16), where the Lord God says to his people: “Consecrate to me all the first born. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exodus 13:2). God claimed Israel’s firstborn as his own because He rescued them from the tenth and final plague in Egypt, the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians. This was accomplished through the blood of the lamb that was painted on their doorposts and lintels when the angel of death passed over (Exodus 3:22-23; 12:1-51). And so the firstborn of Israel were consecrated, or set aside, to the Lord. In obedience to the command of the Lord, Joseph and Mary presented their firstborn, Jesus, in the temple and also offered sacrifice for Mary’s purification after giving birth (Luke 2:22-24; see Leviticus 12:1-8). On the Church’s calendar, this is the day commemorated as the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary, forty days after Christmas on February 2. Mary and Joseph’s sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” was the most modest – the least expensive – of the required offering, indicating that Jesus’ parents could not afford the more expensive offering of a year-old lamb. Mary and Joseph were poor, but that did not interfere with practicing their faith. They were faithful children of Israel, obedient to what God’s Law required, and they are a model for us today. We would do well to look to their example.
In bringing Jesus into the temple, Mary and Joseph encounter first one and then another person, who tell them amazing things about their Son: Simeon and Anna, both senior adults. Taking up this Child in his arms, Simeon bursts into song – a song we still sing today: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Simeon then speaks to Mary about how her Son is “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel… and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35). That sword will pierce Mary’s heart and soul when the nails pierce Jesus’ hands and feet as He is nailed to the cross. This is the good news of great joy: God has entered into the chaos and confusion of our lives, our families, and our world with his grace and mercy. Mary’s purification here in the temple will give way to the full and final purification for us all when Jesus sheds his precious blood in the temple of his body as the atoning sacrifice for all our sin. It is through what He has done for us – his birth and presentation in the temple, his life of service, his innocent suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension – that we are restored, made clean and acceptable to God our Father. Anna the prophetess foresees all of this, and like the shepherds on that first Christmas night, “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Like the shepherds and Anna, we also are called to speak of what we have seen and heard, telling everyone the good news of Jesus’ birth.
We might retitle this First Sunday after Christmas as “Holy Family Sunday,” giving thanks to God for the faithful obedience of Mary, the quiet care of Joseph, and the gift of all gifts, the Word-made-flesh, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. No matter what our family situation may look like – holy or unholy – there is grace to help for us all. And so let us rededicate our homes and families into the loving hands of Jesus now at Christmas and in the coming New Year. Amen.