Earlier this year I gave a series on the life of Jesus at Diversity in Faith, a Progressive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville, NC. As we embark on the journey of Lent, I think reflecting on the life of Jesus is a great way to help us finding our footing on its true meaning: learning to walk in Jesus’ steps.
Here is the first message, “Born as a Bundle of Blessings”, originally preached a little after Christmas. Hope it blesses you.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
This reading comes just a short time after the story of Christmas – roughly a week after Jesus is born to Mary, when his parents take him to the Temple, to celebrate his birth and for him to be blessed by the priests who are there. And blessed Jesus is! The old wizened priest Simeon falls down, amazed, to see this tiny child held in Mary’s arms. Anna, an old widow who has served God for years, has her heart leap for joy and cannot stop praising God for the wonder of this little one.
So often, coming after the Christmas celebration, such a story can be for us a way of thinking of how different and wonderful Jesus is. After all, he is the Son of God come to save us. This is a part of why Anna and Simeon turn from there quiet prayers to songs of praise and celebration.
But I cannot help myself from thinking of the joy surrounding seeing other babies blessed in the house of God – of seeing my little nephew Mark at my brother’s home church, when one Easter he awoke with a shriek of surprise as cold water fell on him at his baptism; of when Kat took oil and anointed my god-son Jordan, praying God’s blessing on his life, of when Rebecca and Christina’s god-son was blessed at the church earlier this year.
Though Jesus is unique – God the Son come to earth to save – in a way none else have, there is also a way that Jesus being greeted with these songs of praise when he is brought as a baby to blessed at the temple ought to awaken us to our own blessedness.
So often we can think we are so broken, so hurting, so weak, so sinful, that God is way up there and we are down here. But in Jesus, God showed us – God always comes to us as God with us, God entering into our life. The early Christians liked to say, that what God becomes, God heals.
And so in this little crying baby who is greeted by Anna and Simeon, God has come … in the flesh. In his crying, and his burping, and his diapers, God has come. In skin and bones, and blood beating in a tiny heart, God has come. In vulnerability, so vulnerable he cannot eat or walk without his mother nursing him or carrying him, God comes. In someone who must learn as we all did how to speak, how to crawl, how to walk, how to read, how to dress himself but until he does must have others do it for him, God comes. In Jesus God comes into every aspect of our lives, God comes as the innocent child, God comes as the toddler crawling on dusty floors, God comes as the little boy learning to play, God comes as the young man finding his way. God comes and blesses each of every aspect of our lives.
This means that there is not a part of your life or my life that is not holy in some way. Not a one of us are a mistake, but in a way very similar to Jesus, each of us have entered this world as promised children who can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 139,
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Each of us are works of art, our lives canvasses upon which God can paint the most beautiful of pictures. Each of us are children of God and in us, as in Jesus, God can be made flesh in our lives by us choosing to take each moment that lies ahead of us as a place where we can encounter God and let God’s light shine through us.
In the next several weeks I hope in my sermon series to look at the way different aspects of Jesus’ life shed light on how our own lives can be places where we encounter God every day and also where we let God’s light shine through us in others. But what I want to challenge you with as we enter this time is to embrace the fact that your life is special, that you are a unique child of God, and that you are someone in whom Christ’s light shines most beautifully.
That said, I want to conclude this reflection with the words of Christian writer Marianne Williamson, in her book
A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”