1st Sunday of Christmas(B): Looking Beyond Ourselves

Luke 2:22-40

By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber

There is a lot to take in in these 18 verses. A beautiful sermon could be preached about the importance of ritual and custom in Jesus’ family, naming the absolute confirmation of each temple law regarding a first-born son. This reality serves to substantiate Jesus as a reformer within the Hebrew faith rather than an instigator from outside the covenant and lineage. Jesus is a righteous child in a righteous family being prepared to be the restoration of righteousness in Israel and beyond Israel.

What really stands out to me as significant to me as I sit with the text are the two interactions with the elders, Simeon and Anna. Each of these town elders embody the depth of wisdom that only comes at the end of a long life spent with God. They have attuned their hearts and minds so closely to God’s vision that their first instinctual response to seeing the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms was to break into song (Simeon) and begin sharing the good news of God’s promise fulfilled (Anna).

The wisdom they have is innocent and foolish while also being so honest and heavy. Simeon seems to grab Jesus out of Mary’s hands with joy in order to marvel at the infant child who he recognizes to be the salvation of the whole world: “a light of revelation for the gentiles and a glory for all [God’s] people, Israel.” And from that place of utter joy and anticipation, he indicates the implications of Jesus’ presence. He will cause the “falling and rising of many… He will be a sign that generates opposition… a sword will pierce your soul.”

Salvation, falling & rising, opposition, a pierced soul. The ramifications of Christ’s presence in and through the infant child, Jesus are life changing. They are world changing. Christ’s birth to a family unable to make the preferred animal sacrifice on behalf of their firstborn child (Lev.12:8), in the context of a roman occupation which many religious folks had grown accustomed to would inevitably lead to a profound upending of society.

The news is good for people who are devoted to righteousness and faith despite the circumstances. The news is painful for people devoted to the circumstances despite their inherited faith.

That reality is as true for us today as it was in the first century. In God’s Kingdom envisioned by the prophets from Amos through to Anna, there will be people who fall from their pedestals and there will be people who are elevated. There will be people who claim faith in God who oppose the will of God. There will be people who bear the presence of Christ into the world who will have their heart pierced as they watch crowds turn against them because of an institutional call for order, unity, and tradition.

There is so much to celebrate and there is so much to mourn. This is why my heart is drawn towards the deep sage-like joy that Simeon and Anna have. They know what is coming. They know how hard it will be. They know what trusting Christ will mean for their community. They know the pain that will come, and yet they celebrate, they give praise, they offer blessing, Anna spreads the good news, and Simeon submits his life to God– Trusting that God will fulfill all of the promises made, even if it is hard for some of us to stomach.

What are the things that need to fall in your church? What are the things that need to be elevated? What is God calling your church towards that will inevitably be painful? How might you help people see a vision beyond themselves?

The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber currently serves as the pastor to North Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur Georgia, and as an associate to the Greater Decatur Cooperative Parish. He and his wife Susannah Bales live with their dogs in Decatur, where they enjoy the wonderful food, fabulous walking trails, and creative spirit of the community.

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