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Edward F. Markquart

Series B
Simeon and Anna

Christmas 1     Luke 2:22-40     Series B

Merry Christmas. Merry fifth day of Christmas. People have already come up to me and said, “Did you have a nice Christmas?” Right away, that implies that Christmas is in the past. “Did you have a nice Christmas eve? Did you have a nice Christmas day?” Now we pack it up and put it away for Christmas is done for this year. No. As many of us know, there are twelve days to Christmas and the season of Christmas continues today. So when you see each other today, say to one another, “Merry Christmas and a happy new year.” On New Year’s Eve, you say, “Merry Christmas and a happy new year.” You have seven more days to enjoy saying “Merry Christmas” to each other. You have seven more days to enjoy singing Christmas carols and Christmas hymns.

The basis for the sermon for today are the two Bible verses immediately prior to the gospel story of Simeon and Anna.  We remember that Simeon was an old man. He was an old man, waiting to see the Messiah. He didn’t see any miracles; he didn’t see any signs; he didn’t see any wonders.  He simply saw the baby Jesus and he said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which has been prepared for all people. No miracles. No signs. No wonders. He just saw the Christ child. He believed and that was enough.

Then we have the story of old Anna, who was eighty four years old. She was a widow and poor. For her also, there were no miracles, no signs, no wonders. All she saw was the Christ child and she too believed.

The specific text of the sermon is:   “At the end of the eight days when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for the purification  according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law, a pair of turtle doves and two  young pigeons.”

One of the satisfactions of having a new child come into your home biologically or by means of adoption is that there is a whole set of rituals that go along with the arrival of the new child.  For example, as soon as you know that you are pregnant, the woman goes and tells her husband that she is pregnant. The two of them share their secret. They wait for a while to tell anyone. That is the ritual. The ritual is not to tell everybody immediately. Then there is the ritual where you finally go and announce your pregnancy to a special person e.g. the mother and father, best friends, grandma and grandpa, and the other special people in your life. They hear those great words, “We are going to have a baby.”  This is a ritual and we all go through these rituals. A person then goes through the ritual of trying to select a name. You go through several books of names, looking for the right name. You go through the names of the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, best friends, special people. You ask the question: what is the right name for this child. Then the baby is born and then the husband often goes and buys cigars. Now, I don’t know why. I still don’t know why we go out and buy cigars to celebrate the birth of a child. If some of you can explain the origins of this ritual, I would be appreciative. I remember buying the cigars, giving them away. Or one of the rituals of childhood is that we know that blue is for boys and the color pink is for girls. The hospital maternity ward wraps little baby boys in blue blankets and wraps little baby girls in pink blankets. It is confusing if the parents don’t follow through with this ritual of dressing baby boys in blue and baby girls in pink and then bring the child to church. You don’t know what sex the child is if that child is not wrapped in blue or pink. You need to give off clues of pink or blue so people will know if it is a little boy or a little girl.  You go to the hospital to visit and you see a baby in the arms of a mother and you know it is a new baby, and without naming the sex, you see the color of the blanket and you say, “What a lovely little boy!” Or “What a lovely little girl!” There are other rituals to having a baby, rituals that surround birth. For example, standing outside a hospital door, you see a wheelchair and a mother in that wheelchair, with a little bundle that you cannot see inside the bundle. A nurse is pushing the wheelchair from behind and a husband comes along with two small bags. They approach the car and the husband gently helps his wife into the back seat of their car and the young family waves goodbye to that nurse, that hospital, that moment that they all shared together. The rituals continue: Grandparents. These grandparents came first to the hospital or maybe later to the home, but it doesn’t matter. Whenever the grandparents see the baby, their grand child, the grandparents begin to cry with pride and overwhelming happiness. It is all part of the ritual. The tears of elation are part of the ritual. Then the next ritual is to figure out who the baby looks like. You hold the child at his angle and say that it looks like its mother and its chin looks like its father and its cheeks like its grandmother. We try to figure out who the baby looks like. Friends arrive, in the hospital or at home, and the friend gently gathers the new baby into his or her arms and almost always exclaim, “The baby is so small. I have forgotten how small a new born baby is.” We all know about these rituals, these rituals of babyhood, because we have experienced first hand these deeply ingrained rituals in our lives. … And then comes the baptism. We bring the child to the sanctuary. In the mainline denominations, you bring the infant for infant baptism. In the evangelical tradition, you bring the infant for infant christening or dedication. Among the mainliners and evangelicals, a baby is brought to the sanctuary for some kind of dedication. In the mainline denominations, a baptismal gown is made or purchased. The godparents are chosen. The grandparents are there. Friends are invited. It is a grand celebration when the closest family and friends gather for the baptism, the water, the candle, the pride, the joy. These are all deeply ingrained rituals of birth here in America, here in our church, here in our hearts. These rituals are all part of our culture.

Well, Jesus was real, a real live baby, and Jesus also went through the rituals of his babyhood, just like we go through babyhood rituals. There were at least three rituals to Jesus’ infancy at eight days, another at thirty-one days; and another at forty days. Today I would like to talk about the rituals of Jesus’ childhood. 

At eight days, Jesus was circumcised and everybody came to his house for this sacred event. All the aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, the brothers and sisters.  They all came together for this big potluck over at the house. Now, they didn’t’ come over to the church, temple or synagogue but to the house for this celebration.  Circumcision was a home ritual. Now, from 900 to 1800 Christian Era, the circumcisions were done in the synagogue. But Jesus was born before that. For the ancient Jewish people, the circumcisions were done in the home with the family. It was a home religious ritual. It was also the time of naming the child. Circumcision was also the naming day. That is, during the service of circumcision, the child was given his name, which in this case, was the name Jesus. They asked the question, “How shall this child be named?” His name shall be “Joshua.” Yeshua. In Greek, Yeshua. In Hebrew, Joshua. It was a common name such as Jim, John and Mary a few decades ago or Sean, Katelyn, or Megan today.  Mary and Joseph gave their son a plain and ordinary name that was common and well known among their friends. In this common and ordinary event, they would have circumcised Jesus and he would have howled in pain; he would not have like that. The grandmas and grandpas would have all looked on and rejoiced that this new baby had such great lung power and could howl so long and loudly. Circumcision, itself, was the cutting off of the foreskin of the male genital as a sign of the covenant between God and the person being circumcised. That is what happened when Jesus was eight days old.

Then at thirty one days old, if it was a normal process, he would have been brought to the temple in Jerusalem for the service of dedication. This is a second big trip up to Jerusalem on the thirty-first day. Why? Because it was the first born male. What you always did with the first born male in a patriarchal society, you brought them up to the temple. So for us in our family, we would not have brought our daughter Anne up to the temple for the dedication because she was a girl but we would have brought up Joel, for he was the oldest boy, our first born son. In our particular family, the name of our first male child is Joel. When he was thirty-one days old, I, as the father, would go and kill the first born of my cattle, the first born of my sheep, and offer them as a sacrifice. I would have taken our first born male child up to the Lord to dedicate him to the Lord. For this child was to be the head of the family, the primary heir of the family inheritance, the future number one authority in the family for all disputes. In a patriarchal society, it was a special position to be the first born male. Jesus was the first born male and he would have gone through that ritual of dedication. So there was a childhood ritual at thirty-one days.

Then, on the fortieth day, there was a third ritual of childhood, and this ritual had to do with Mary. It was called the rite of purification. Not for the baby but for the mother. Mary needed to be purified. If she had given birth to a boy, she was to stay at home for forty days and not come out of the house. If she gave birth to a girl, she was to remain at home for eighty days. I have a feeling that this was the way a patriarchal society punished a woman for giving birth to a daughter rather than a son. In a patriarch society, boys were more valued than girls. If a mother gave birth to a daughter, she was to remain home for twice as long. According to the Jewish law, Mary was to come to the synagogue on the fortieth day. The law told her to offer a sacrifice of a lamb or if she could not afford a lamb, she was to offer two turtle doves or two pigeons. She sacrifices two turtle doves or two pigeons and this indicates that Jesus was raised in a poor family.

So we find events surround Jesus’ eighth day, thirty-first day, and fortieth day. Jesus went through his cultural traditions just as we go through coming home from the hospital, passing out cigars, pink is for girls and blue is for boys.

Now, the reason that I am spending so much time discussing these rituals of Jesus’ childhood is to emphasize that Jesus was fully human, that he was fully a child. These rituals underscore Jesus’ humanity. The alternative epistle for today from Galatians tells us that Jesus was born under the law and that he was to conform to the requirements of the law. Matthew 3 tells us that Jesus was to fulfill the obligations of the law: circumcision, dedication and purification. Luke 2 says that Jesus was to fulfill the obligations of the law. Romans says that Jesus came in the likeness of our flesh. Philippians says that Jesus was in the likeness of a human being. All of these Biblical passages and the message of Christmas is that Jesus was a real, live, flesh and blood human being like you and me. And when they circumcised him, he howled in pain. 

You see, the humanity of Jesus has often been a stumbling block for Christians. The incarnation: God coming fully as a human being has been a stumbling block for believers. We want Jesus to be a super baby and not just a baby. Then we want him to grow up to be a super child and not just a child. Then we want him to grow up to be a superman and not just a man. And pretty soon, we want him to be a super god who has a magic wand of a fairy godmother and not be the true God of the Bible.

This is called the heresy of docetism. That is, we do not allow Jesus to be fully a human being. Bone of our bone. Flesh of our flesh. Emotion of our emotion. Skin of our skin. One of the heresies in the early church was that of docetism and the fancy word for that heresy is appolynarianism. . It is the idea that Jesus had a human body but inside of his human body, Jesus was pure God. I mean, he had flesh that was human, but inside those bones and mind and emotions, it was pure divinity. Jesus had an outer shell of a human being, but inside, he was totally divine. Now, that is the heresy called docetism. Jesus was not fully a human being.

Sometimes  I try to think of a visual analogy. I used to have a super ball. Do you ever remember having a super ball? If you have a tennis ball or a golf ball, it bounces. But if it is a super ball, it bounces way up high. Three times as high. Inside that ball, it is not a regular ball but it is a super ball. Similarly, Jesus wasn’t a real baby; he was a super baby. Jesus had super stuff inside and inside he was pure divinity.

Let me give you some illustrations of this heresy. Assuming that Jesus was not a regular ball but a super ball inside, we hear of Jesus’ magic. Some examples. We all know that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and we rightly assume that Jesus had carpenter’s skills. However, I have the suspicion that many of you think that when Jesus pounded a nail, the nails all went into the wood straight. Or, when Jesus missed the nail and hit his finger, he said “O my.” Or, when he hit his finger with his hammer, it didn’t even hurt. When he was growing up with his brothers and sisters, he never fought with them like normal teenagers. And when Jesus came to worship in the synagogue, he always sat perfectly still. He wanted to go to the synagogue every Sunday with his parents. Why? Because many of us don’t believe that Jesus was a real human being like you and me. Jesus didn’t have normal feelings of humanity like us. Jesus was a super baby and not a real baby.

There are similar examples found in the early church in some of the legends that tend to deny Jesus’ humanity. These stories are found in the New Testament Apocrypha, books that did not make it into the New Testament. For example, there is a story about Jesus and the clay. Jesus’ parents must have given him play dough and they were making birds out of clay. When Jesus made his bird out of clay, he blew the breath of life into his clay bird and the clay bird came alive, starting singing and flew away. Why? Because Jesus was not a real baby. He had become a super baby. … There was another similar legend in the early church. Many early Christians believed that the little baby and boy Jesus grew taller and taller and taller. They also believed that Jesus had one garment and that garment grew longer and longer and longer as Jesus grew taller and taller and taller. They used to believe these things about Jesus because he wasn’t a real baby but a super baby.

What is a super baby? I know what a super baby is. A super baby never whines, never cries, never throws up, never messes his pants, never disappoints his parents and always sits perfectly through the entire worship service in the synagogue. That’s what a super baby is. We often want Jesus to be a super baby rather than a real, live, normal baby like the ones who come to our church.

Thereby, we lose the paradox that Jesus was true God and true man. During the season of Christmas and these twelve days of Christmas, we celebrate the fact that Jesus was truly human. Jesus was like bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and mind of our mind and emotions of my emotions and skin of my skin. This kid was a real human being and when he was circumcised, he howled with pain…as any normal baby would do.

Now, why is this so important to underscore the humanity of Jesus? Because the humanity of Jesus underscores for us the humanity of God. Talking about the humanity of Jesus gives us a clue about the humanity of God. That God comes to us in very plain and ordinary ways. Through the waters of baptism; through the words of the Bible; through the bread and wine of Holy Communion. God comes to you through an ordinary person like me. Here at this moment, I am your angel, your voice of God, speaking directly to you, but I am suspicious that some of you want me to have wings on my back and a halo around my head before I am considered an angel for you. Me as an angel is not good enough for you; because you want a super angel that flies, has wings and wears a halo. We discover that God comes to you through an ordinary person like yourself, your spouse, your children, your friends, your family. God uses plain and ordinary flesh and blood people like you and me to get the job done, to get his message across to us. That is the message of Christmas. God comes through the plain and ordinary, the fully human person like baby Jesus. God was born to a plain and ordinary little fourteen year old girl. He was born in a stable, in a manger full of straw, with the smell of real, live animals in the barn. God chose the common and the natural, the humble and the ordinary, to express his love to us.

Our problem is that often we don’t want God to do that, to come to us through the ordinary ways. We want God to come to us through extra-ordinary means. The ordinary isn’t enough for us. We don’t want natural miracles; we want supernatural magic. We don’t want miracles worked through nature; we want magic that violates the laws of nature. We don’t want natural messengers called friends; we want supernatural messengers called angels with wings and halos. We don’t want God to work through the ordinary; we want God to work through the unbelievably extraordinary/extraterrestrial. We don’t want Jesus to be a human baby; we want him to be a super baby.

For example, there are many of you people who believe that God is more present here in this sanctuary than God is present with you at your factory or in your office or in your school. You believe that God is more present here in church. In church, you feel in the presence of God, but you don’t see and feel the presence of God in the faces of people with whom you work. Or, many of us would rather have warm feelings of fuzzy inspiration inside and goose bubbles bubbling in our emotions than the flesh and blood of my husband or wife, my brother or sister, or the starving children of the world. We would prefer to see God in our warm fuzzy feelings than in the eyes of the poor and the starving.  And if I cannot see the face of God in the flesh and blood of the people of the world that are surrounding me, then I cannot see the face of God at all.

The message of Christmas is that God likes flesh and blood and skin and bones and emotions and that he continues to come to us in those ways. You see, the humanity of Jesus is a clue to the humanity of God.

Now, this message about the humanity of God also talks about the humanity of us human beings. I am suspicious that many parents don’t want a real baby, but they want a super baby. They want a baby that is unusually healthy and unusually smart. So a grandma can come and say, “That kid looks intelligent.” She doesn’t want just a baby, but a super baby. …. And then the baby grows up and we don’t want an ordinary child but we want a super child. A super child has to score very well on the California Achievement Tests, and when the child sufficient well on the CAT tests, and MAT tests, and on the PAT tests, we will then feel better. For we don’t want an ordinary child but a super child. … Then, when this child grows up, we don’t want a plain and ordinary spouse; we want a super spouse. I want a spouse that never gets mad at me, who tolerates all my imperfections; and never whines and never cries and never irritates me. And I want a super husband who never disappoints me. Because an ordinary husband is not enough. … And then, I want a super god. A real God is not enough. I want a super god that has a fairy wand like a fairy godmother, and this god touch me and all my problems will magically disappear. That is the kind of god that I want. I want a super god.

I like that story about Simeon and Anna. They came to the temple that day. Two common and ordinary people. They brought the baby to them. There were no miracles, no signs, no wonders. All they did was to look at the baby and they believed. That is what Christmas is all about: Christ comes to us as a real, live human baby. Amen.

CHLDREN’S SERMON  Have a real, live baby up front in the chancel. Ask the children if this baby messes it pants (yes), vomits (yes), gets sick (yes), cries (when it is hungry or hurt (yes). Ask the same question about the baby Jesus. Did Jesus, when a baby, mess his pants (yes), vomit (yes), got sick (yes), cried when hungry or sick (yes.) Jesus was truly and fully human, like babies here in this sanctuary.

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