02 January 2008

Homily - First Sunday after Christmas

This homily was delivered by Seminarian Louis Boldt on the First Sunday after Christmas (30 December 2007) and is posted here with his permission.

Light to the Nations
Luke 2: 22-40

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Imagine. Imagine total darkness. Imagine the darkness of a moonless night just before the dawn of a new day. Even though they had an arduous journey from Bethlehem the day before, Mary still woke up very early – it was just before sunrise; the time of day when the sky was starting to change from black to purple. She knew that she should go back to bed, but she couldn’t - she was too excited. And as she continued to watch the sky, it began to take on a reddish hue. Barely able to contain herself, Mary thought - Today is a great day, great things are going to happen on this day. Finally, after 40 days of not being able to enter the temple or touch anything holy, I will become ritually clean. I will offer my purification sacrifice and be restored to the community of God’s people. And as she continued to watch the sky, it changed from a reddish hue to a golden color and she was overcome with joy and excitement because she knew… she knew that this was the day that she and Joseph would dedicate, Jesus, her first born son to the Lord. Today He will be set apart for the Lord, today He will be made holy, she thought to herself. And nothing, nothing could diminish her excitement, not even the clouds that partially filled the sky.

So, she woke up Joseph and Jesus and got them ready to go. She made a no frills breakfast which they ate very quickly after the blessing and then they left for the Temple. When they arrived at the Temple, Joseph demanded that they catch their breath before heading up the steps to the East Gate because they had practically run the whole way. Mary’s sense of joy and excitement continued to rise with each step she took until she finally entered the Court of Women and then she saw it… a large pillar of smoke ascending into the sky, smoke rising from the altar of burnt offerings, rising up to Yahweh. And just then, the wind shifted and… [breath in] she smelled the fragrant aroma that would please Yahweh. And she couldn’t wait to offer her atonement sacrifice to God, the required sacrifice of two turtle doves. [pause] Now Mary had been so focused on the smoke from the altar and the aroma from the sacrifices that she had not noticed the man standing in the darkness of the Temple shadows. She did not see this old man, stooped with age, move into the light and begin to shuffle over to her and her family as fast as his feet would move. He was driven by a sense of haste that was beyond his control. He was driven by the Holy Spirit right up to these people whom he had never met before, yet… he knew exactly who they were – the Lord’s Christ and his parents. He knew because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him. He knew he would see the One, the Consolation of Israel, before he died and he believed in that promise.

And when he reached her, Simeon startled Mary with these kind and gentle words, “My what a lovely baby, may I hold him?” When she looked into his eyes twinkling with love and compassion, she said, “Certainly”. So, Simeon reached out and took the child, and lifted him up to bless God by saying, “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.” While you could see Joseph and Mary beaming with pride and joy, there was also a look of marvel and wonder on their faces as they listened to the old man. But this sense of pride and joy would soon disappear and the looks of marvel and wonder would soon transform into looks of dismay and trepidation. For after blessing Joseph and Mary, Simeon turned to Mary and said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

We live in a world filled with darkness. Now, when I say darkness, I am not talking about the darkness that occurs at night. No. No, I am talking about the darkness that exists in broad daylight – the darkness that exists in our hearts. The darkness of sin. [pause] It creeps into our thoughts. I must get that new toy I just saw on TV. I can’t believe he just said that – what a jerk. Our burning desire to be with someone we’re not married to. [pause] It seeps into our words. Did you see the new car they just bought…. Did you hear what she said about…. So, do you think you’d like to…. [pause] It sneaks into our deeds. We go out of our way trying to impress our boss to get that promotion and pay raise. We lash out at someone or something in a moment of anger. We act out those burning desires. But we are not alone in this world.

We live in a world that is governed by a holy, righteous and just God, the one true God, the Triune God. And this God… this God ABHORS SIN. He DETESTS IT. He DESPISES IT. And because He cannot ABIDE WITH IT, He PUNSISHES ALL WHO SIN. And that punishment is DEATH – ETERNAL SEPARATION FROM GOD. This God does not distinguish between sins. There is no such thing as a large sin or a small sin – SIN IS SIN. He does not distinguish between sins of thought, sins of word and sins of deed. Thinking it is the same thing as saying it which is the same thing as doing it. And God has pronounced His judgment – THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH AND ETERNAL DARKNESS.

But our God, the Triune God, is also a God of love, a God of mercy and a God of grace. From the moment Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by disobeying God’s command, He enacted a plan of restoration – a plan of salvation. And though He spoke His promise of restoration and salvation directly to the serpent and Adam and Eve in the Garden, it was a plan that would gradually unfurl through time and space. A plan where God worked through specific people as He completed one aspect of His plan after another, after another. A plan where God continued to interact with His people directly, and indirectly through His prophets, to remind them of His promise. To call them back to His plan when they strayed from it. And to reveal more aspects of His plan of salvation. And when the fullness of time had come, God sent His light into the world in the form of His Son, to be born of a woman, to be born under the law. To redeem those living in darkness, those people living under the law, by fulfilling the law. And Simeon KNEW that the child he held in his arms was the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, a light to the Gentiles and for the glory of Israel.

I think we live in a culture that has no real appreciation for light. We have become desensitized and unappreciative because of a little invention by Thomas Edison - the light bulb. We have light at the flip of a switch and we take it for granted – it has no power, no meaning and no strength. But, I am sure that there have been times in each of our lives when we have experienced the power, meaning and strength of light. For me, it was associated with camping. Not so much today, but when I was younger, I used to do a lot of rustic camping. The kind of camping where you are out in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere. The kind of camping where the only light you have at night is the light you bring with you or the light of the fire you make. One day I went off exploring in the late afternoon and I didn’t take my flashlight because I knew that I would be back before dark. Well one thing lead to another and before I knew it, the sky had gone from yellow to red to dark blue and I was far away from camp without a flashlight. So I started to head back to camp as quick as I could, almost running, but when the sky went from dark blue to purple, I had to slow down to avoid injury. And as the sky went from purple to black, I moved even slower as I began to stumble over things I couldn’t see. As I moved slower, I started to hear sounds from things I that I couldn’t see and I started to imagine what might be out there in the dark and I became afraid. Afraid that something might attack me. Afraid that each stumble would be my last. Afraid that I would fall and injure myself and no one would be able to find me. Afraid that I was lost and would never find my way back to camp. And as the darkness and fears were beginning to overwhelm me, I saw what looked like a very faint light flickering in the distance. I didn’t know what it was for sure, but I focused all my attention on it and I placed all my hope and faith in it as I moved toward it. The progress was slow at first, but with each step the light got brighter and brighter and my fears got smaller and smaller. The light was a beacon drawing me to the safety and security of my campsite; a light that brought me home. This is the true power, meaning and strength of light. This is the kind of light that Simeon was referring to when he spoke about the baby Jesus. The kind of light that would draw all people to it. The kind of light that provides complete safety and total security. The kind of light that was revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross where we find a Roman centurion proclaim, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" The kind of light that returned three days later with an empty tomb pronouncing the final judgment and victory over darkness.

As we gather together this morning in the light of a new day, we do not gather together as individual men and women or individual girls and boys, we gather together as children who have been called out of darkness. Children who are clothed with The Light. Children who walk in The Light. Children who have The Light of Eternal Life through our faith in Jesus Christ. And we gather together today as children united in worship of the one True God. And in a short while, we will gather together at the communion rail to partake of the Lord’s Supper. We will gather to receive the very body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. We will taste and see that the Lord is Good… the Lord is Very God. And then we will break forth in song and sing the Post-Communion Canticle. During most of the Church year, we sing “Thank the Lord” after communion, but during Penitential Seasons like Advent and Lent, we usually sing the “Nunc Dimittis” which contains Simeon’s blessing to God when he saw the Christ child. It is during these seasons of the Church year when we purposefully reflect on our sinful condition and express our remorse and sorrow commonly through fasting and abstinence in our personal lives. And we do the same thing in our corporate worship by removing liturgical songs that praise and thank God. The “Nunc Dimittis” is placed after the Lord’s Supper so that like Simeon, we too, can bless God for having seen Christ in the flesh and blood within the bread and wine. But, it also serves another purpose in the liturgy. It serves as a reminder of our role as children of Light. St. Peter tells us that, as children of Light, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9) And St. Paul tells us that, as children of Light, we are to be a light to those who are still in darkness (Rom. 2:19) with the purpose that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:4) and come to faith in the One True Light - the Light to the Nations – Jesus Christ. Lord now let Your servants depart in peace and serve as Your light to the people around them. Amen

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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