Seeing God and Living Hope

By Sharron R. Blezard, December 28, 2016

 

First Sunday of Christmas, Narrative Lectionary Year 3, January 1, 2017

Lessons:  Luke 2:21-38, Psalm 131 (or 131:3)

Theme: God’s faithful and generous people look for and see God in Christ Jesus, living in the fulfillment of scripture and in the promise of redemption and eternal hope. We are stewards and bearers of this good news to all the world.

Key Scripture: At that moment she [Anna] came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:38

Preaching/Teaching Reflection

A valued colleague’s mother turned 100 this month. Imagine the vast amount of change she has witnessed in those 100 years! From two world wars to television, the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall, the first man in space, the artificial heart, the Internet, rural electrification, the Great Depression, Vietnam, the atomic bomb, personal computers, cell phones; the list could go on and on.

Despite all of this change, one thing remains the same: Jesus Christ is Lord. He is God incarnate, born to a georgie-pauwels-ccteenage, unwed mother, homeless, a refugee, controversial, miracle worker, radical rabbi, crucified, died, and risen from the dead. In him is real life, eternal life, and hope that transcends all the hatred, evil, and suffering in the world. This too, my colleague’s mother has experienced as a woman of faith.

Already, just one week after celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, we are back into the rhythms and reality of life. Since Christmas Day well-known entertainers and performers George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Liz Smith have died, along with astrophysicist Vera Rubin who is credited with confirming the existence of dark matter. Add to this the ongoing tragedies of violence, hatred, genocide, natural disaster, fear, and anxiety about the future, and yes, the world and its brokenness seeks to suffocate our brief Christmas joy.

The good news is that Christmas is not over yet. Don’t let the Valentine’s Day merchandise and gift-return lines fool you. Keep those Christmas carols cranking, and leave the decorations alone until Epiphany (January 6). Jesus Christ is again born in our hearts just as he was in that stable long, long ago. Jesus Christ is still lord of the cosmos and of each one of us. His love is bold enough to stamp out fear and doubt. His grace is wide enough to encompass all our failings and brokenness. His mercy is vast enough to erase all the violence and hatred that we humans can conjure and enact against one another. Jesus is in the process of making all things new, of restoring every broken bit of creation. Christmas reminds us of this reality, infuses us with hope, and recounts that God loved us so much that the Divine One entered our messy human condition in the most helpless and vulnerable way possible. We need this reminder every year, and as people of faith we need to share this good news and enduring story of Jesus’ incarnation.

Simeon and Anna are important characters in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth and confirmation that he is Emanuel, God with us. Both of these wise elders, faithful in much and filled with God’s Spirit, confirm that the infant is indeed the long-awaited Messiah. This week’s story illustrates the importance of the faith community in our lives, as Mary and Joseph seek to fulfill their religious duties and live out their Jewish Christmas starfaith, and as the two wise elders provide confirmation and support. More than 2,000 years later, as the faithful ones who continue to bear the good news of Jesus Christ into the world, we need our communities of faith and our wise elders to help bind us together in truth and light, to strengthen our congregations, and to edify one another.

Together we can walk faithfully (and counter-culturally) through the remaining days of Christmas and find comfort and hope in the steadfast promise and enduring reality of Emmanuel (God-with-us). This we may do in spite of anything and everything the world dishes out. With Simeon and Anna we can sing songs of praise and proclaim that our hope is indeed in the Lord as we seek to faithfully steward this very good news.

In Worship

Now Lord, let your servant depart…

If you are not doing a Lessons and Carols service today (and I hope you’re not), the lectionary provides an opportunity to continue the focus on the season of Christmas and on the salvation that is offered in Jesus. We receive more confirmation that he is the long awaited One in the account of Jesus’ parents taking him to the temple to fulfill their religious duties—Mary’s cleansing and the baby’s circumcision and naming. Both Simeon and Anna proclaim his praise and see in the baby the fulfillment of their lives and life work in the temple.

When we sing Simeon’s song (the Nunc Dimittis) after communion, we are singing WITH Simeon. We have seen and tasted Jesus in bread and wine, heard Jesus in proclamation and scripture, and experienced Jesus in community. It is a fulfillment, but for most of us, unlike Simeon, we have miles to go before we die to this life. We must go and share the story.

Consider using Simeon’s song as a charge to congregants to go, seeing the fulfillment in Christ, but instead of being released, we are being charged to depart from the security of our gatherings to tell and share this good news of great hope in a world that sorely needs to hear it.

With Youth

What we see…

Both Anna and Simeon had witnessed much during their lifetimes. But when they saw the infant Jesus in the temple, that completed for them their lifelong yearnings.  Simeon prays that God will let him depart in peace. Anna praises God.

There is wisdom with age. Consider inviting your congregation’s oldest members to meet with your youth. Ask them to share with the youth the myriad changes they have seen in their lifetimes. Trust me; there will be a lot of them! Then turn the conversation to questions of faith. What has been the high point of their faith lives? When did they really know and understand that Jesus is the Messiah? How do they see Jesus at work in the world? Invite the youth to ask them questions, too. Take a group selfie and post to your social media channels a photo of this time of faith-sharing and oral history lesson.

With Children

Everybody has a job in the church, the Body of Christ! Today’s lesson provides an example of two elders, both faithful temple workers, who recognize Jesus when they see him and praise and proclaim the good news. Today, celebrate the role of elders in your church community. Not only are they often among the strongest and most grounded in faith, they have incredible gifts to offer and share. Why not point out your elders in today’s worship time with children and lift up the valuable roles they play in the community’s life. Consider in advance partnering an elder with each child as prayer buddies for the year. Invite them to pray for one another and write cards of encouragement to each other. End with a simple prayer of thanks for elders like Simeon and Anna AND children, because all people have an important role to play in the Body of Christ!

Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert

This week we give thanks for the role of elders in our congregations, for their faithful witness, their service, and their stewardship. Everyone has a job to do and an important role to play in our faith communities—no one is too old, too young, or too anything to be a valued part of the Body of Christ. We give thanks for all God’s children, particularly our seasoned saints whose witness and faithful stewardship inspire us!

Stewardship at Home

This week we have two activity suggestions based on the lesson from Luke. First, spend time each day looking for signs of Jesus in the world. Where do you see the light of Christ shining against the world’s darkness? Who has been the face of Christ for you or someone else today? How have you tried to let Christ’s light shine through you so that others can see Jesus? Light a candle and give thanks for the light that Christ brings to our world, for the salvation that is ours because of Jesus, and for the opportunities we have to be faithful stewards of the good news of Jesus.

To celebrate the role of elders in your congregation, consider including elder members in your prayers each day, and send them emails, short notes, or make phone calls to tell them how much your value them and appreciate their faithfulness. This is good stewardship of community and strengthens the Body of Christ.

Photos: © Chariclo – Fotolia.com; Georgie Pauwels and brockvicky, Creative Commons. Thanks!

Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2016, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: thewritelife@hotmail.com.

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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