31 December 2023
This year the first Sunday after Christmas is a celebration of the moment when Jesus was presented in the Temple. Simeon’s prophecy over the baby is a profound and disturbing word about the way Jesus exposes the truth of our hearts. It calls us to reflection, repentance and a commitment to a whole new way of being.
May we be courageous enough this week to allow the light of God’s self- revelation in Christ to expose the darkness in our hearts and transform us into agents of God’s salvation.
Isaiah 61:10-62:3: God will show all nations God’s justice, and Zion will be saved and will blaze with God’s glory.
Psalm 148: A psalm calling all creation and all people to praise God, for God’s greatness, and for strengthening God’s people.
Galatians 4:4-7: At the right time God sent God’s son to become human, born of a woman, and now God has given us God’s Spirit by which we can know intimacy with God as with a parent.
Luke 2:22-40: Mary and Joseph go to the temple to dedicate Jesus, and Simeon prophecies that this boy is the awaited Christ, and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. Then the widow Anna comes along and begins to praise God and tell others about the boy.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The focus this week is on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (which may also be celebrated on February 2nd). All the readings reflect God’s desire to make God’s self known to humanity, to bring salvation to women and men, and to bring us into relationship with God. Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of Israel being saved, filled with justice and ablaze with God’s glory – God revealed through God’s people. Psalm 148 invites the whole of creation to join in praise of God both because God is the Creator and because of the way God has saved God’s people. The letter to the Galatians offers a succinct description of how Jesus both revealed God and, by giving us God’s Spirit, brought us into relationship with God. Finally, Simeon’s prophecy over the baby reveals how Jesus is God’s agent to do the work of revelation and salvation-bringing, while also predicting the sacrifice that this will require. Anna, of course, verified Simeon’s recognition of Jesus as God’s Sent One. A significant feature of this week’s Lectionary is that God chose to be embodied in humanity in order to bring salvation to us. The dedication of Jesus is a moment of revelation of both his divinity (as the revelation of God and the bringer of salvation) and his humanity as he goes through the same ritual of dedication that any other Jewish male child would have done. One other important feature of this week’s Gospel is that Jesus, in revealing God, will also reveal the true state of our hearts for better or worse. So, this moment is both a revelation of God and of ourselves. The question is whether we will accept what Christ reveals and how we will respond to it.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
In a world of sound bites and spin doctors, it can be tough to get to truth. In this environment, God’s self-revelation may seem to be irrelevant and the idea that God can expose the truth of human hearts can seem like delusional fantasy. However, Simeon’s prophecy about Christ goes to the truth of human sinfulness, and what we need for redemption. Simeon praises Jesus as the “light to the Gentiles”, that shows salvation to the world. Of course, when we examine the crises of our world in the light of Jesus’ message of God’s Reign, we easily see that what Jesus revealed is exactly what we need to address our problems. That God would be revealed in a child of modest station, who, in sharing in a basic human ritual, identifies with all of humanity, speaks volumes about the kind of order that God seeks to bring into the world – one of community, collaboration and compassion, as opposed to competition, consumption and individualism. In addition, the ultimate test of human hearts is to see how we respond when faced with the challenging principles of God’s Reign. Here is where our greed and hunger for power, our fear and insecurity, our arrogance and cold-heartedness is exposed in stark relief. No matter what spin we may sell to ourselves and others, Simeon was right – Christ reveals the true state of our hearts. In a world where we desperately need to get past our personal and national agendas to find common ground and co-operative ways to solve our world’s problems, the mirror that Christ holds up to us, and the world he preached and demonstrated in his simple, sacrificial life, are powerful and creative resources.
As much as the true state of our hearts needs to be revealed in finding solutions to global problems, the same applies on a personal and community level. It is when we seek to follow the way of Christ that we really discover what is in our hearts. When questions of forgiveness and grace, of generosity and compassion, of welcome and inclusivity are raised, we soon reveal whether our hearts embrace the principles of God’s Reign or we simply offer lip service to them. The big challenge here is not just what is revealed, but how we will respond to it. When we refuse to reflect on the state of our hearts, when we deny that we have parts of ourselves that rebel against God’s Reign, we find ourselves “condemned” – failing to appropriate the abundant life and peace and grace that Christ offers. But, when we allow Jesus to convict us, when we do the work of reflection, repentance and seeking to change, we embrace God’s life a little more each day. And, of course, when we are willing to do this work – when we allow the light of Christ’s salvation to shine on us – then we become those who radiate God’s life and light to those around us – welcoming the excluded, comforting the grieving, healing the wounded and protecting the threatened. Whether it’s an abandoned child or an abused wife, this living out of God’s alternative order, is truly a work of salvation – and it’s what Simeon envisioned as he looked at the baby being dedicated that day.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Light And Glory
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Fairest Lord Jesus
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
How Long We’ve Waited
Give Thanks (Link to YouTube video)
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for Advent & Christmas
A Liturgy for the Agape