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Behold, the Firstborn

December 26, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Behold!

Topic: Biblical Verse: Exodus 13:1-3a–13:11-15

The First Sunday after Christmas

December 26, 2021

Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15

 “Behold, the Firstborn”

Today is not only the day after Christmas, it’s also the Sunday after Christmas. Today is the third part of our Christmas “trifecta.” This happens every seven years when Christmas Eve falls on a Friday, Christmas Day on a Saturday, and then the Sunday after Christmas the next day. It’s been a bit of a marathon, so church staff will be taking some much-needed time off in the week ahead. Our Advent-Christmas preaching series, “Behold,” continues today as we hear about the consecration of the firstborn in the Old Testament lesson (Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15) following God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. In the Gospel lesson (Luke 2:22-40), we hear about Mary and Joseph presenting their firstborn Son, Jesus, at the temple in Jerusalem to do for him what was required by the Law of Moses. In so doing, they encounter two of the eldest of God’s children, Simeon and Anna, who marvel that they have been granted the incredible privilege and blessing to behold with their own eyes, and even hold with their own hands, the promised firstborn Son of God who was born to be their Savior and Redeemer. Based on this, the theme for preaching today is “Behold, the Firstborn.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Birth order experts tell us that firstborn children tend to be reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling, and achievers (Birth Order Traits: Your Guide to Sibling Personality Differences | Parents). If you’re the firstborn in your own family, does this describe you? Maybe yes, maybe no. We may wonder whether Jesus, in his humanity, embodied any of these traits. Scripture doesn’t use any of these words to describe Jesus, but he was the firstborn of his mother, Mary, as we heard at Christmas (Luke 2:7). As the Lord commanded his people through Moses: “For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem” (Exodus 13:15). Jesus, who opened his own mother’s womb, was set apart for God, not just as a firstborn son, but as the eternal Son of God who came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).

Joseph and Mary may have been poor people, but they were rich in faith. They uphold and carry out what God commanded them to do for their firstborn Son by bringing him into the temple for his presentation and for Mary’s purification forty days following childbirth (Leviticus 12:2-8). This day is actually observed on the church’s calendar on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birth. It is then that they are met by Simeon and Anna, both of whom are advanced in years and are devout believers. Simeon had been told that he would not die before he had seen the promised Messiah, and so being led by the Spirit, he goes to this firstborn Child of Mary and Joseph there in the temple. Did Mary and Joseph have any fear or hesitation when this unknown old man took their Child into his arms? That is how we might well interpret this in our own day, but Scripture does not record anything like this on the part of Jesus’ earthly parents. There is only joy on Simeon’s part as cradles this infant in his arms and sings praise to God for allowing him this great privilege to behold the firstborn Son of God, the promised Savior and Messiah, hidden in the form of a helpless child. Simeon’s words have come down to us today by their Latin name, Nunc Dimittis, “Now, You Dismiss [your servant in peace, O Lord].” This song of praise is one that is often sung as the post-Communion canticle. After we, too, have beheld the firstborn Son of God, taken his very Body in our very hands to eat and received his very Blood to drink, all for the forgiveness of our sins, we, too, sing with Simeon, Anna, and all of God’s children of every time and place: “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace…” Having received this firstborn Child, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we truly can depart in peace at the end of this worship service as we leave the house of the Lord and at the end of our lives as we leave this world.

What, then, if the net effect of beholding this firstborn Child? It is what Paul the apostle describes in today’s Epistle lesson (Colossians 3:12-17). Pastor Donald Schaefer, who serves as the Northern Regions Facilitator for Mission Engagement within our Southeastern District, has put pen to paper and describes it this way:

Paul suggests that being a Christian

Requires a new wardrobe

Compassion, kindness, and humility

Wrapped in meekness and patience

           

Further, Paul advises a loving spirit

Be the belt binding these together

And letting peace be the guiding rule

That drapes over all the rest

 

This is not the clothing that

The human ego usually is adorned with

this is instead a deliberate intention

To dress inside and out as a servant

 

Whether in the 1st or 21st century

This is a challenging costume change

But the motivation is the gospel itself

God’s love shrouded in peasant clothing

 

Through Mary’s child

Who became the man of the cross

We are forever reconciled as creatures

In the firm embrace of the creator

 

Like Paul then, we dress in the name of Jesus

Perpetually giving thanks to God

Our minds and hearts intentionally purposed

      To incarnate God’s love and grace.

(as contained in an email from Pastor Schaefer to the people of the Southeastern District on December 21, 2021)

And that graceful clothing, given to us by this firstborn Child, is always in season. Let us wear this Christ clothing not only during this blessed Christmas season, but at all times. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

More in Behold!

January 2, 2022

Behold, the Light

December 25, 2021

Behold, Beautiful Feet

December 24, 2021

Behold, the Child