Sunday, December 31, 2017
First Sunday of Christmas.
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 61:10–62:3 Clothed in garments of salvation
Galatians 4:4-7 Children and heirs of God
Luke 2:22-40 The presentation of the child
Title: Take Me Now!
Have you ever had one of those “take me now” moments? One of those emotion overflowing experiences in which you tell yourself it – life – just can’t get any better than what you are experiencing and feeling. In that moment you are filled with joy that is overwhelming. You are witnessing beauty that is beyond words. You are warmed by a love that is beyond expressing. From your very depths you cry to heaven, “take me now” let’s end this on a high note. “Take me now” because I don’t want to come down from this moment or experience of perfect ecstasy. “Take me now” because if this is even half of what heaven is going to feel like, get me there immediately, before real life floods back in. Have you ever had one? I hope so. As sad as it might be to come down from such an experience, they have a way of putting coal in your furnace for keeping warm in a cold world, putting gas in your tank for continuing your journey, and refilling your cup for renewed refreshment.
Old man Simeon and Widow Anna are certainly having one of these “take me now” moments in today’s gospel. Mary and Joseph are bringing Jesus to the Temple to dedicate their first born son, as was their tradition. It was also a visit of purification for Mary according to the law. We get an idea of how humble and poor this couple was, in that the sacrifice was supposed to be a lamb, however, birds could be substituted if the parents could not afford a lamb. Of course, God has provided the lamb, Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, purifies us all, as we sing during the Eucharist. But back to Simeon and Anna…
As the poor couple with a normal looking baby enter the Temple grounds, Simeon lays eyes on that baby and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has the ultimate “take me now” moment. He has lived his life for this moment. He has put off death for this moment. He has lived with hope in a hopeless world. He has endured turmoil with faith.
For life in that last century of that time that we call BC or Before the Common Era – those last 100 years before Jesus was born – were tumultuous at best. Chaos was the norm. Power grabs, civil wars, assassinations. This is the century of Julius Caesar, of Rome going from Republic to Empire. In Simeon’s part of the world, Rome had taken control of Palestine and Jerusalem. The Temple was plundered. Pharisees were fighting with Sadducees. The tyrant Herod slayed the last of those heroic Maccabees, took the throne with Rome’s blessing and then executed the High Priest whom Caesar appointed. It was not an easy time to keep hope alive, to go forward in faith, to trust the promises of God. But here is Simeon, he has lived through it all. (For Anna, not only has she lived through all that. but she lived it as a widow- in her culture, the lowest, most powerless person.) Simeon takes one look at that baby and breaks into song. “Take me now, God” he sings out with his old and life-tired voice. But there is nothing weary about his joy, his hope, or his faith.
His is the fourth song recorded in the first two chapters of Luke. Three of them sung by mortals who are all having a take me now moment. (The other song is the one sung by the angels to the shepherds who were having their own “take us now” moment if they were able to get past the fear of angel choirs singing at them and were able to even begin to comprehend their message.) But of the three mortals who sing, two are old men, and one a young women. Each is responding to God’s fulfilling a promise. Zechariah, the other old man singer and father of John the Baptist, sings “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited the people, redeemed them, and set them free” when he looks into the face of the son he thought he would never have. The young woman is Mary, of course, who sings the beautiful and world inverting Magnificat when pregnant Elizabeth confirms for her what the angel had promised Mary about giving birth to the Messiah. And now Simeon adds his song. All three of these songs are made use of in our liturgies and have numerous melodic settings in our hymnal. It has been the tradition, and we will sing it today and for these next Sundays of the Epiphany season, to sing Simeon’s song after we have received communion. After we have taken the body of our Savior into our hands just as Simeon took the body of the infant Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh. And while we do not teach that this bread becomes the flesh of Jesus, we do teach and believe that in this bread, and in this wine is the very presence of Christ because, like the promise made to Simeon, Jesus the Christ has made a promise to us: This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me. And lo, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
In this meal, God in Christ takes us now, offering us the greatest joy, the greatest hope, in faith, that is ours through grace. Oh, if we knew what we held in our hands, we certainly we cry out, take me now.
And when we dip our finger in the waters of the font, and make the sign of the cross, we are remembering that other moment of “God taking us now,” when, as we read in Galatians, God washed us from slave to child, from being no one’s to being an heir, from being dead to being alive in Christ Jesus. Look into that water and see beauty and love, hope and peace, light and life, and know that God has taken us. Each one of us. And will never, never, never, let go, through wars: domestic or world wide, through change of powers: smooth or chaotic, through hardship: our own or those we love.
And before we are misguided into thinking that this life of faith is all about living high on the happy gas of the Holy Spirit that has us craving more; hear the end of Simeon’s testimony. He looks at Mary and sees her future in her eyes. He, who is now at the end of his journey, certainly knows better than this young woman who is just starting hers, how hard this would can be. He has witnessed how kings and religious leaders react when they are told they are not the ultimate power, how the rich react when they are told the poor are the blessed ones, how the strong react when they are told they are not as invincible as they think they are. Time and time again, the world retaliates when the light of God shines in the dark places. The cross stands as testimony to this truth.
But just as the cross is always standing there, it is never the last word. For just as the returning exiles to whom the prophet Isaiah is speaking in the first reading, who are being told that their period of hardship and separation have ended, that they are wrapped up in God’s gift of salvation like a warm cloak, that they have all the gorgeousness of both halves of a wedding couple, that they are like gardens bursting with life; just as those returning folks who thought they were dead were encouraged to see the take me now moment in their homecoming and new beginning; so we, standing with Christ at his empty tomb, being welcomed home and given a new beginning, are filled with joy, hope, peace and life, through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. And in both cases, exiles and us, this grace-filled gift of new life is not just so that we can make some grand, ecstatic exit, but rather so that we can pray: take me now and make me light to the world.
With the eyes of faith, see with Zechariah and Mary, Simeon and Anna, that God’s word has been fulfilled, that God’s gift of light to our dark world has come, and whether God takes us now or leads us forward, see that God, through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, is present, in us, around us, in those we love, in those we serve, and even in those we disagree with and those we would rather not see. And as we go into this new year, see the light of Christ burning bright before you and through you, as God does indeed take us now, now and always.
The Rev. Mark Erson,