excerpt - sermon Sunday January 1, 2016 – Second Sunday of Christmas
Luke 2:21-52 Jesus Is Presented in the Temple & the Boy Jesus in the Temple
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
On the eighth day of Christmas, we read the stories of Jesus as a child. There are only two in the gospel of Luke - these two about Jesus being presented in the Temple as an infant and him being lost in the Temple as a 12-year-old. Besides the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, there is only one other story of Jesus before he is 30 years old—the story in Matthew of the visit of the Magi and the escape of the holy family to Egypt, which we read for Epiphany, the end of our Christmas season.
These two stories of the child in the Temple are only found in the gospel of Luke. Some say they are made up, later additions to the growing legend of Jesus. But they sound true to me. They sound just like stories we tell about children in families. “We took you to the Temple, just like all babies are taken there, and there were two older people there—they said and did the strangest things—as if they were waiting all those years, just for you.” And “Remember when you were twelve and we thought we’d lost you? I will never forget the sight of those rabbis leaning in, listening to what a kid had to say!”
Stories of our childhood are so important. They help us remember who we are. And these are not just stories of a child doing something charming or remarkable or funny—not just inside family stories—but they are both stories of a child in a faith community. A child in the Temple at two different points in his young life. These stories ground this child in the story of his larger family of faith. And they show us how the faith community needs this child, too.
These stories remind us that we are Christians in relationship to each other and to the world of other Christians practicing this faith and learning these stories, just as Jesus was part of the Jewish people. We are not alone. Of course we know that we are not alone, ever, because God is with us. But part of how we know God is that we are shown God’s presence by others. We see the face of Christ in each other. As Christians, we do that intentionally: we promise and practice being vessels of God’s love, channels of God’s peace and grace, for each other.
The story of Jesus at the Temple as a baby is a story of his naming and being set aside for God, a ritual of his family declaring that his child belongs to God. Like our baptism. At baptism, we make promises, or if we are too young, parents and godparents make them for us. We promise to keep the baptismal covenant God is making with us; we promise:
The story of Jesus at the Temple as a 12-year-old is not unlike our stories of confirmation, or like believer’s baptism in other strands of Christianity: when a young adult makes their own statement of faith, their own promises to God. And in both cases, the community makes promises, too.
The minister addresses the assembly. And says,
People of God, do you promise to support this newly baptized person and pray for them in their life in Christ?
The assembly responds,
We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.
Baptism is public—this event is for the whole community. Like Simeon and Anna, the prophets were waiting, like the rabbis in the temple, the teachers were waiting—they needed this child as we need each child in our faith community. We need to promise each other, in order to grow in our own faith.
We can easily forget what church does for children and families. We pray for each child, we care, and we think about them. Each testing time, we pray for you, youth, taking tests. Before baptism, we pray for each child coming to the font. Before a birth, we pray for the baby. Before each of our children came into our New Life community, we prayed for them, to be able to welcome them as Christ in our midst.
For each of these children, we live out our promises made at their baptisms: We support them in their life in Christ. We prepare lessons for them each Sunday in Sunday school. We prepare food for them to eat after church, we prepare beautiful songs and places in which to worship—to support them in their life in Christ. I know I didn’t think about that as a child. I didn’t think about all of the people in my church who were praying for me. Who were cutting craft things out and learning stories on Saturdays for me, and so much more.
And of course that doesn’t stop with children. We pray for each of you, for each other when we travel, when we are sick, when we are grieving, when we are having a hard time, or celebrating a life event. We promise to support each other in our lives in Christ. As a pastor, I am here for each person, to listen in texts and emails and calls and meetings, about crises of love and faith and to discuss questions of meaning and existential truths. And we also do that in community—in Bible studies and prayer groups, and over coffee after church or while weeding a garden or hauling stones or tightening tent straps here on the land. Because we each bring something to our collective journey of faith. And we do that in worship: As I often say to our youth, we come here to sing and pray for whoever in this room can’t sing and pray today: whoever is too sad, or whose faith is too shaken today. We practice being the face of God’s grace, the hands and feet of Christ, for each other, to help each other come closer to God.