Picture it. The calendar on the wall reads December 26. In the middle of the floor is a dried up, withered, Christmas tree. Dad is sitting in his chair with an ice pack on his head. Mom is in a bathrobe with her hair in rollers. The floor is a virtual mountain of torn wrappings, boxes, and bows. Junior is reaching in his stocking one more time to be sure that there is no more candy. In the background, we see a table with a thoroughly picked turkey still sitting there. The caption on the cartoon reads simply, “The morning after.”
The morning after, or the days after, Christmas can be a letdown. If you feel a little down after Christmas, it is quite understandable. Over the past weeks, our emotions and festivities have led up to near fevered pitch. Then, suddenly, it is all over. Psychiatrists have a technical word for it… they call it “Christmas-slump.”
Years ago, when the University of Arkansas was to be playing a bowl game on Christmas day, Lou Holtz said candidly, "I’m (glad to be at the bowl game) in Tempe. After all, once you have been to church, had Christmas dinner, and opened the presents, Christmas is the most boring day of the year."
Is it possible to lose the spirit of Christmas that quickly? Let us be honest that, as we take down the decorations for another year, for many of us there is a sinking emptiness, something of an emotional letdown.
That was not, however, Simeon and Anna’s experience after that first Christmas. For them, Christmas changed everything forever.
We all have those times in our lives when we know that everything has changed, don’t we? We know that after the first day of kindergarten, after we notice a girl for the first time, when we graduate from high school, or when we get married; life will ever be the same. Life has changed forever. I remember the night Amber was born, being overwhelmed with joy, but also a sense that life was never going to be the same again. And it hasn’t been.
Sometimes a tragedy changes everything. An accident, a death, or a scary diagnosis will change our lives forever.
There are also times when we know the world will never be the same again. World War II, the Kennedy assassination, Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, and 9/11… on those days everyone knew that the world had changed forever.
That is how Simeon and Anna felt after that first Christmas. They knew the world had changed forever.
Even though you might feel the Christmas Slump, and think that Christmas 2014 didn’t make any difference, let me tell you “Christmas Zero,” (the very first Christmas) already changed everything. As an example let me point to the way we tell time. As we reckon time now, until that first Christmas, all of time counts down to the year 0. Those are the years BC (before Christ). After that first Christmas, we call it AD, and time counts up to the year 2014 which brought us another Christmas celebration and, for some, yet another Christmas Slump. That “Christmas zero,” however, was so world changing, that we divide history into “the time before the first Christmas” and “the time after the first Christmas.”
So, let’s go back to just after that first Christmas; the one with Simeon and Anna; the one that changed everything forever.
Luke is the only Gospel that continues the infancy narrative with Jesus’ circumcision on his 8th day, and the story of the purification, when Jesus was 6 weeks old. We are going to focus on the story we read in the scripture this morning, the purification and dedication.
We need to understand what is happening here. According to Leviticus 12, after a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for forty days. At the end of that period, she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, purifying her. That is one part of what is happening in this story. Mary is bringing her purification offering.
The other thing is a little different. Let us not confuse this with Jesus’ circumcision. That happened when he was 8 days old in the story that just precedes this in the Gospel of Luke. The dedication is different. Exodus chapter 13 says that every first-born son belongs to the Lord. There was an old tradition where the firstborn son would be taken to the temple, and offered to God. Soon that changed to going to the temple with a 5-shekel offering to God when your first son was born. Long before Jesus, however, that tradition had morphed into the tribe of Levites taking the place of the first-born sons in the ritual. There doesn’t really seem to be a reason that Jesus needed to be at the temple to be dedicated that day, except in order to set him apart as special, and illustrate that he did everything possible to fulfill the law.
Actually, this story is reminiscent of the story of the dedication of Samuel in I Samuel. After Samuel was born, Hannah brought him to the temple, and he was “lent” to the Lord for life (1 Samuel 1:24-28). It is clear that in Luke, Mary takes the role of Hannah while Jesus takes the role of Samuel. Thus when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to the Lord in Jerusalem, they are in effect dedicating his life to God (no redemption money is given). It is a message that in a special way, Jesus will be “holy to the Lord” It also sets up the opportunity to meet Simeon and Anna.
Simeon was a devout man. Not a priest or prophet, but one on whom the “Holy Spirit rested.” That is to say, that he was a very spiritual person. And, from the story, a very spiritually perceptive man who anxiously anticipated the messiah. He takes the child in his arms (as we do when we baptize a baby) and says in effect, “Now I have seen everything I need to see. I am ready to die.” “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon knew that with Jesus’ birth, everything had changed.”
He looks at Mary and says, “This child changes everything in Israel, and you have no idea how hard this is going to be.” “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Then the story shifts to a prophet. A woman named Anna who was older than dirt. Well, in a time when 36 was the average life expectancy, 84 years old was as politely described as being of a “great age.” Anna was a prophet who lived at the temple, and “worshipped there with fasting and prayer.” Luke simply says the she began to "praise God and speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” Unfortunately, her words are not recorded in the gospel, but you can imagine that they were similar to Simeon’s. She said in effect, the one for whom we have been waiting is here; and now everything has changed forever.
Having completed all that the law required, the family returned to Nazareth and Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom: and the favor of God was upon him.”
So far, I have skipped the sentence in here that really caught my attention. Luke reports that, “the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. “ What? Could they have forgotten so quickly the words of the Angel Gabriel who appeared to each of them separately? Could they have forgotten the story that the shepherds told and the song of the angels that night in Bethlehem? Could they have forgotten that just a month earlier they brought the child to the temple and named him Jesus, as an angel had instructed them,?
How could they have forgotten? But then again, how could we, after 2,014 Christmases still experience the Christmas-Slump and keep forgetting that everything has changed? How can we walk away from Christmas, go back to work on Friday, or Monday if you were lucky enough to get the weekend off, and think that everything is business as usual? Christmas changed everything and, even if we drift away from that awareness throughout the course of the year, the celebration of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ ought to draw us back to that knowledge that everything is radically different than it was before the baby was born. It ought to remind us that life will ever be the same.
Christmas is a reminder that the world has changed-- I think that is one of the reasons Christmas is such an enduring holiday. It reminds us that in that baby so long ago, the world changed… and we want the world to change…oh boy do we want the world to change! (As long as WE don’t have to change.) We want everything else to change, but we want to stay the same. Maybe that is OK, because it is a start. It has been said that, “The first step toward change is awareness.” You have that don’t you? You know that everything has changed. “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
So first, I call upon you today to accept that Christmas changes your relationship with God by bringing God into your world. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” How can anything be the same again? The Almighty, Sovereign, All creating, All powerful, All encompassing, King of the Universe came into the world as a baby in a little corner of his creation and that changed everything! No longer are we here, and God is there… we are here and God is here too- in our hearts and in our lives. No longer do we worship a distant, all-powerful deity who, like a watchmaker, wound up the world at creation and now sits back to see how things turn out. We worship a God who is now immanent- that means he is here near us and with us. We have a God who is intimate- meaning he is as close as our breath or our heartbeat. Christmas bridged that gap between far and near, between aloof and immanent, between infinite and intimate. And that changed your relationship with God forever.
Second, Christmas changes your relationship with other people. When God chose a lowly maiden to be the mother of God, that changed the way we look at the young, the powerless, and the poor. When the nasty smelly shepherds were the first to hear about the baby and came to see, that changed the way we think about who is worthy and who is unworthy. When Jesus taught the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That made you think about the way you treat others. When Jesus taught, “When you have done it unto the least of these, by brothers you have done it unto me.” That changed how you look at others. When Paul writes that we are adopted and called sons of God, and brothers and sisters in Christ; how can that NOT change the way we look at each other forever? The birth of Christ changed your relationship with others forever.
Finally, Christmas changed our future by filling our future with hope and grace. None of us knows what the future will bring here on this earth. We have hopes and dreams. But we can all know the future that lies for us in God. Because God came in Jesus Christ and changed everything. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” Not judgment and sacrifice, but grace and truth. Jesus’ birth changed the way your future looks. When Jesus taught, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That pretty much changed your future from being worm food, to an eternal quality of life with God in heaven. When Jesus tells the thief on the cross- the THIEF next to him on the CROSS, “Today I will be with you in paradise.” That changed your future. Thank God, that hope in Christ and Christ’s resurrection changes your future forever.
Human nature is to be resistant to change.
· If man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings. How many of you have flown in an airplane?
· Why would I get a television- I can hear Jack Benny just fine on the radio. How many of you own a television now?
· I don’t need one of those new fangled cell phone things. (RIGHT?) Raise your hand if your family now owns a cell phone?… You see, I knew you were capable of change… some of us just drag our feet a little longer.
But it is time to stop dragging your feet. It is time to stop pretending that Christmas didn’t change anything. It is time to stop acting as though Christmas was just a beautiful story and pretty carols. It is time to stop pretending that Christmas was just about gifts and dinners. It is time to stop pretending that we do not need to change. The world changed around us the day Jesus was born. It is time to catch up.
· Our relationship with God has changed.
· Our relationship with each other has changed.
· Our future has changed because now we have hope.
Usually I tell you to go change the world… today I want to tell you Christmas changed the world, you go change yourselves.