What Child is This?

Luke 2:22-38

22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Simeon’s response to Jesus

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of the ways that I get into the Christmas spirit is by listening to music on Pandora, an Internet-based service that provides you with music based on your preferences. While you have some control over the content you never get to pick individual songs. While listening this Christmas season I encountered a song I really did not like. The song was “It’s About the Cross” by Go Fish. While it used Christmas language it felt so un-Christmas that I just could not listen to it.

Here is what bothered me about the song. Its thesis is that Christmas is all about the cross, and the redemption of our sins that comes with Christ’s death and resurrection. Now, I don’t have a problem theologically with the saving work of the cross and how through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection we are also offered new life. I am just not sure I feel that the point of Christmas is the cross. In my mind, the reason for the incarnation, the birth of Christ, is not the atonement of our sins, but instead about a new relationship between God and humanity. Is the cross the inevitable result of our turning from God, probably, but it is not the point of Christmas. The point of Christmas is that God has come to earth to save us by offering us a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the incarnate deity as Charles Wesley says in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

By contrast, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know.” I love it, not only for the soul-searing potential it has when sung by a good singer, but also for the wonderful meaning contained in the lyrics. The question of how much Mary knew, or understood about her son is a good one. Certainly, she had some awareness from her response to the angel Gabriel in what we now think of as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Even so, it is hard to imagine that anyone could really understand what it means to give birth to the son of God.

Certainly, if Mary was still wondering what it would mean to be the parent of Jesus, she was in for another surprise when they visited the temple as we see in our scripture today. What was meant to be a customary visit, as all parents would do with their first-born sons, became something more when Jesus is heralded not once but twice as the savior of the world. Just as with his birth, his presentation at the temple becomes a moment where strangers gather and give praise to Jesus. Once again, the refrain is about the work he is going to do to save or redeem the world.

To me, the saving work of Christ goes far beyond the cross. We hear it in the words of Simeon when he talks about “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.” We hear it in the words of “Mary Did You Know” when the song talks about Christ giving sight to a blind man. Are we saved through Christ’s death and resurrection? Yes! That however is not the sum total of what Christ does when he comes to earth. The incarnation is an opportunity for so much more.

In Christ, we have a chance to see how God acts in the world. We have a chance to experience the divine, infinite, and unfathomable being of God yet wrapped in a human body, a breathing, crying, sighing, dying, human body. In Jesus, we see God not in holy majesty, but instead in a humble and imperfect form. We see God as one of us. It is impossible in my mind to totally understand the power of having such a way to relate to God. We need concrete things we can relate to, and in Jesus, we get a way to comprehend the incomprehensibleness of God.

Not only, does his birth give us a better way to relate to Jesus, it also gives him a chance to work in people’s lives. They were changed, not just by his death on the cross, they were changed by the things that he did. He healed the lame so that they could walk. He helped the blind to see and the deaf to hear. His transformative work is not just for the next world, it is for this world. We are made new, not just in the promise of the resurrection. We can be made new in this life through the power of God.

What child is this? This, this is Christ the king! Jesus offers us salvation, he offers us redemption. He pierces our innermost thoughts and being. In this baby, in this child, in this man, we experience the divine. I am not sure we can ever really know what it all means, but it is a chance for us to be closer to God.

We are about to enter a new year. It is also the chance for us to enter a new relationship with God. We can choose to go into this year alone and face it by ourselves or we can choose to walk with Christ into the new year. It is my hope that in the life of Christ we will find comfort and inspiration just as we find salvation in his death. Let us celebrate the birth of the Christ and the hope it offers us of a better relationship with God and a better year ahead.

 

 

Questions to Ponder:

Who is someone you know who has been transformed by their relationship to Christ?

What can you do in the New Year to have a better relationship to God?

What are the ways that Jesus helps us to better understand God?

When is a time when you have needed to touch, or see, or hear something to better understand it?

Prayer:

May Christ be born again into our hearts and lives this Christmas season. As we enter into 2018, help us to walk with Christ in our lives. When we turn from you or are filled with doubts, help us to remember the lessons we can learn from the time when you walked among us. Help us to know the salvation that is offered to us all in Jesus. Amen