Old Testament Reading Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Epistle Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
Second Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon: “Recognition and Response”
The theme for this Sunday after Christmas is praise. Praise for who God is and what God has done. Praise is our response to God. It is patterned into the very structure of our worship and it is certainly fitting in these brief days after Christmas. So before we worry about putting away the Christmas decorations and plotting a new set of New Years resolutions (that will likely turn out about like the last ones did), I’m inviting you to just spend a few minutes with me to reflect on not the gifts we have exchanged this last week, but on the original gift that started the whole thing: the gift of a Savior, God incarnate, Emanuel – God with us.
Paul summarized it so well for us in the high point of his letter to the Galatians that we heard read this morning. Hear it again from the New Living Translation this time: (Galatians 4:4-7 NLT)  But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”  Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Born of woman, subject to the law… that’s what was going on in Luke’s story. Jesus parents were being faithful, observant Jews. Eight days after Mary gave birth to her son in the manger, he was circumcised according to the law and given the name commanded by the angel Gabriel: Jesus. Again, in accordance with the law, after 33 days of the birth, he and his mother had to fulfill the law given in Leviticus concerning purification for her after the difficult and bloody process of giving birth. In Lev 12:8,
we learn something significant. Mary and Joseph brought the poor persons offering, they could not afford the Lamb, so they brought the dove instead. It another reminder that the Savior of the world came to us in very humble circumstances. Born in a Stable, to poor parents, and yet the very agent of creation and the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
But obedience to the law its merely the background of the story. In the process of fulfilling what God had commanded, they were surprised by two elderly saints who had prophetic words of praise for that little one month old baby boy and a warning for his parents as well. We meet Simeon first. We are told that the Holy Spirit was upon him – that is he had been given the gift of prophesy. God had told him by the Holy Spirit that the long awaited Messiah was at last near – He himself would see him before he died. That same Spirit had compelled him to come to the temple that day and to be standing right there when those two poor but obedient parents walked in with their new baby boy. Imagine there surprise when not the priest but old Simeon rushes over, takes their son in his arms and begins his declaration of praise and thanksgiving for this little child.
His words ring out as he says: (Luke 2:29-32 NLT)  “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.  I have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
Put yourselves in Mary and Joseph’s place now for a moment – First there had been the angel and the dreams foretelling about the child. Then the wonderful time Mary had with here relative Elizabeth, pregnant at the time with John the Baptist; Followed by the journey to Bethlehem, the birth and the visit by those Shepherds with the amazing stories of a sky filled with angels praising God; and now a month later, at the temple this strange wonderful old man with more amazing words. He declared the child to be God’s salvation to the world – Light to the gentile nations – and the glory of Israel. Having seen and held him, his life was fulfilled and he was ready to die in peace – secure in the grace of God who keeps his promises.
That alone would have been plenty, but he continues – blessing them and telling them that the child would not be uniformly welcomed – some would reject him – the response to Jesus would reveal the hearts of people. Notice the peculiar word order: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.“ We are used to thinking about them in the other order – things rise, then fall. But with Jesus it was to be different – first the fall, then the rising. First a life offered in service and grace – rejected by many and a horrible death – innocence condemned for the salvation of all. That’s what Simeon meant when he told Mary – “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Then the rising – something new – the church and as Paul said adoption into the family of God as full members. The ability to address God almighty as “Abba” its what Jewish children of the time called their dad’s.
Next comes Anna, an 84 year old widow who stayed in the temple courts night and day – giving her life to prayer and worship. No sooner had Simeon finished than she too comes up – telling anyone who would listen about this child who was born for the redemption of Israel. These two witnesses to the grace of God present in this young baby boy must have caused quite a stir that day. But imagine in you can those two lives – Simeon and Anna – their whole lives lived in loving expectation of what God was doing. No wonder they broke out in praise and worship at the sight of Jesus – even as a tiny chid. How much more should we who are privileged to know the whole story – to have it fully recorded for us. We know so much more that they did, how can we not also praise God for all the wonderful blessings that are ours through Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Emmanuel- God with us.
The words of those two ancient Saints and prophet echo the feelings of a still older prophet – the words of Isaiah, who declares “Isaiah 61:10 NLT “I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.” What a wonderful description of what Jesus has done for us. The grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ has indeed dressed us in robes of Righteousness and united us into the very family of God – such is the gift of Salvation. Those words from Isaiah actually come just after even more familiar words that we heard just a few weeks ago – words that Jesus applied to himself that day in the Synagogue of Nazareth – (Isaiah 61:1 NLT) “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”
This is what Simeon and Anna were so excited to announce – the time had finally come – Just the right time as Paul says for God to come into human history in the form of a very special baby boy – one destined to be the salvation of the world. Their recognition of Jesus and response to him, likewise call us to praise and worship this day. As we are reminded by this Christmas season of God’s wonderful gift to all of us, what is our response?
The Psalm we used a few verses from in the Call to Worship this morning, Psalm 148 is one of my favorites. It fits this Sunday so well – It calls on everything in creation to praise God: young and old, animals and people, planets and stars… even sea monsters! Now wait just a minute, Sea monsters? Really? Yep – even Sea monsters listen: Psalm 148:1-14 NRSV.  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!  Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!  Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!  Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.  He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.  Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,  fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!  Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
That quite a list isn’t it? The Psalmist calls on the created order to praise the Lord. From the angelic beings above to the creatures below, all are invited to join with humankind in praising God. Creation itself, the heavens and the earth, are visual aids to God’s glory, reflecting God’s handiwork. In one sense we praise God by simply doing what we are meant to do, and being what we are meant to be.
As Rolf Jacobson says in his commentary on this passage – “Psalm 148 has a message that is especially fitting in the Christmas season, when we remember that when the Savior was born, he was laid to rest in a manger, amidst the animals — sheep and goats, cattle and oxen. And notice that many Advent and Christmas carols bear witness that the reconciliation that Christ was born to achieve includes not only humans, but all of creation. Just a few examples:
• In “Joy to the world” we sing that “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy” of praise. And also, “no more let sing and sorrow reign, nor thorns infest the ground.”
• In “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” we sing “all creation, join in praising God, the Father, Spirit, Son, evermore your voices raising to the eternal three in one.”
• In “People, Look East” we sing “Furrows be glad, though earth is bare, one more seed is planted there. Give up your strength the seed to nourish.”
However humans can go one step further. We can consciously stop and honour God, rejoicing that God is God and we are not, that God is the Creator and we are the created. But the miracle that the Psalmist concludes with is this. In all the splendid array of what God has made, we are the people close to God’s heart. To be loved by God and not be simply orphans in an impersonal universe, but adopted into God’s own family is truly worth praising God for at the end of the year. And at the Sunday after Christians we know that this love was not inactive but came down to our level, as, in Christ, God became one of us, one for us, one with us, Emmanuel. Praise the Lord.