1st Sunday of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to those who show up. Amen
Yes we’re still in the season of Christmas,
we will be until January 6th
when the magi show up
revealing once and for all
that Jesus is the messiah.
We’ve heard the story of the baby in the manger
and today we have another story
of Jesus as an infant,
the story of Mary and Joseph
presenting Jesus at the temple,
of Simeon and Anna’s hope being fulfilled,
a story of the Holy Spirit
coming to those who are faithful,
those who show up.
Now, this isn’t intended
to either shame or overly congratulate anyone
but the truth of the matter is
that those who are faithful,
who seek the presence of God
have a better chance of encountering God
and while God can and does
work outside of religious rites and institutions,
God also works through them
but in still surprising ways,
probably because the Holy Spirit is so unpredictable.
For as much as we trust that God is with us,
that Christ comes to us
especially in the sacraments,
there are times when we feel the presence of God more than others,
times when the Holy Spirit comes to us when we need her,
times when she jumps out and surprises us.
I experienced this perhaps most vividly
at least for the first time in college.
Gustavus is a Lutheran school
and this Lutheran identity and faith
are still a strong part of the mission of the school
such that in the daily schedule of classes
every day at 10am
time was blocked off for chapel
and a service offered
For most students it was
an extra half hour to sleep
or finish up homework, or get breakfast.
Some people went to chapel a couple times a week
or once a week for the sung morning prayer service
but there were a few of us
who went pretty much every day.
I know I started going every day
because I was still working out my call to ministry
and daily chapel seemed like a good place to start.
I kept going
because I realized that I didn’t know when the Holy Spirit would show up
and I wanted to be there when she did.
Not all the services were winners or deeply meaningful,
just like not all Sundays are winners or deeply meaningful,
but every now and then the spirit would show up,
like the time the dance major
who was giving his senior sermon
and had clearly not prepared
made us all get close together and hold hands and form connection,
or the time Chaplain Brian
bent over in the pulpit before starting his homily
and when he stood up he was wearing an accordion
and proceeded to preach accompanying himself on the instrument,
okay maybe those were just very memorable times
but there were times
when the message was exactly what I needed to hear that day
or when the choirs filled the air with beauty and truth
that transcended words.
So each day at 10am in college,
you could find me in chapel,
waiting, hoping that the Holy Spirit would show up.
I suspect that some of you may have had similar experiences
with other faith practices,
like daily devotions or prayers at mealtimes.
Where sometimes you do it because that’s what you do,
you show up,
and sometimes in the midst of that
the spirit flashes through
leaving you wanting more,
and coming back each day.
Simeon and Anna have been showing up at the temple
and waiting for a long time,
their whole lives,
which Luke makes sure to tell us
have been long.
They have been waiting for the spirit to come to them,
hoping for an experience of the divine
and yet when they enter the temple this day
they have no indication
that this day will be any different from the others.
and into the temple walk Mary and Joseph
with the baby Jesus,
they too are not expecting anything out of the ordinary
they are they too are simply being faithful,
fulfilling the law and the tradition of their people
dedicating their firstborn son
to the temple and making the appropriate sacrifice.
And now the stage is set,
we have four faithful people
who have come to the temple to live out their faith
and one baby messiah
and in sweeps the Holy Spirit,
first she directs Simeon to Jesus,
now we are told that Simeon has already had an encounter with the Holy Spirit,
who told him he would not see death
until he had seen the messiah,
‘here’s the messiah’ the Spirit tells Simeon,
who proceeds to take the baby in his arms
and sing a song of praise to God,
thanking God for the gift of seeing the messiah
who will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
In his song, Simeon,
guided by the spirit
expands Jesus’ mission beyond the people of Israel
to the whole world.
Mary and Joseph are amazed at Simeon’s words,
you’d think that after several angelic visits
they couldn’t be surprised any more
but perhaps in the midst of caring for a newborn
who needs the same care as any other newborn
those experiences have faded,
Simeon blesses the parents
but closes with a warning to Mary,
her Son will do great things
but not without controversy and pain.
Then Anna takes over,
Luke tells us that she is a prophet
and after being widowed early
has spent the rest of her life in the temple
she too praises God
and tells about Jesus
to all those present
looking for the redemption of Jerusalem,
and those others who showed up at the temple that day
have their own unexpected experience with the divine.
And then the moment is over,
Mary and Joseph take Jesus home
and go about the everyday task of raising their child
and apparently nothing of note happens
for another twelve years
until that one passover
where Jesus decides to stay behind in the temple debating scholars.
This time in the temple
was just a moment
but one that everyone present
would carry with them the rest of their lives.
It’s moments like these
that carry us forward in our faith,
and it all starts with simply showing up,
practicing faith in a regular way
creating space for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives.
These practices don’t have to be as extreme as the prophet Anna
who basically lived in the temple,
or my college self at chapel every day,
but something that regularity creates space within our lives,
for the Holy Spirit to show up
for God to enter in
Just as God entered into the world in Jesus,
Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.