Feast of the Holy Family
201229 Christmas 1 Holy Family. Luke 2,22-40
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen
Christmas. Christmas services, Christmas eve, Christmas Day, Christmas shopping, Christmas presents, Christmas leftovers. Soon we will not hear that “C” word again until next year. The traditions of our lives follow a yearly sequence, and this has been so for a very long time. Life and ritual have always been linked to time and place and the knowledge has been given from generation to generation.
Jewish families went through several ceremonies soon after a baby’s birth. Every boy was circumcised and named on the eighth day after birth. This symbolized the Jews’ separation from Gentiles and their unique relationship with God as part of God’s covenant nation. A firstborn son was presented to God one month after birth. This ceremony included the buying back or redemption of the child from God through an offering. The parents acknowledged that the child belonged to God who alone has the power to give life.
For a period of 40 days after the birth of a son the Mother was ceremonially unclean and could not enter the temple. At the end of her time of separation the parents were to bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering. The priest would sacrifice these and declare her to be clean. If a lamb was too expensive, the parents could bring a second dove or pigeon instead. This what Mary and Joseph did according to the law and usual custom.
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be consecrated to God they met an old man who told them what their child would become. Simeon’s song tells the story of the prophesies from Isaiah (Is 42:6, 49:6, 52:10) as he takes the child into his arms. The Jewish people were well acquainted with the Old Testament prophesies that spoke of the Messiah’s blessings to their nation. They did not always give equal attention to the prophesies saying that he would bring salvation to the entire world, not just the Jews. Many thought that Christ had come to save only his own people, but here in the gospel as Luke writes he makes it clear that Christ had come for all who believe irrespective of family ancestry.
Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was being said about their child. Simeon said that Jesus was a gift from God. Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah and said he would be a light to the entire world. (Isaiah 42.6) This was at least the second time that Mary had been greeted with a prophecy about her son. The first time was when Elizabeth welcomed her as the mother of her Lord. (Luke 1 42-46)
Simeon prophesied that Jesus would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. Some would fall because of him (Isaiah8:13 15) while others would rise (Malachi 4:2). There would be no neutral ground with Jesus, people would either joyfully accept him or totally reject him. As Jesus’ mother, Mary would be grieved by the widespread rejection he would face.
Although both Simeon and Anne were old, in Jewish culture they were respected elders, and their prophecy carried weight. They had never lost their hope that they would see the Messiah and led by the Holy Spirit, they were the first to witness to Jesus. Anna was called a prophetess indicating that she was unusually close to God. Prophets in that time did not necessarily predict the future. Their main role was to speak for God, proclaiming his truth.
In the culture of Australia with its diverse ethnic background we are now beginning to listen to our elders, and to respect the wisdom of our ethnic Aunties and Uncles. Can we value the contribution of the elderly in our community? Can we encourage our older people to share their wisdom and experience with us and can we listen carefully when they speak?
From an infant who could do nothing on his own, Jesus grew to become completely able to fulfil his mission on earth. He was fully human developing in all ways like us. Yet he remained fully God. He took no short cuts and was not isolated from the pressures and temptations of life. There is no shortcut for us either as we prepare for a life of service to God. Luke’s gospel which we will be hearing more of in the coming year gives us an accurate account of the life of Christ as the perfect human and saviour. As we model our lives on the life of Christ can we consider some of the “C” words we will encounter?
Compassion: as a perfect human, Jesus showed tender sympathy to the poor, the despised, the hurt, and the sinful. No one was rejected by him.
Caring: When Jesus saw Mary weeping over Lazarus’ death he was deeply moved.(John11 33-36) Can we be moved to care by the circumstances of others?
Celebration: Can we remember to worship God with others and especially remember the important festivals of the Church.(Lev.23:44)
Challenge: Can we ask God to help us with life’s challenges and in turn to challenge others with our example of faithful service.
Change: A changed life can be the result of repentance and knowing that we are loved by God changes us and helps us to be Christlike
Call: Jesus calls us to follow him and this may mean great changes in our life.
Choices: Jesus chose to heal, and we have the option to choose to follow Jesus.
Creation: We recognize the relationship between God the creator and Earthlings the created, and our responsibility to care for Creation.
As we ponder the events of this Christmas and changes for many because of the COVID 19 restrictions, can the “C” words of our faith provide ways for us to follow Christ as we live through the church calendar and travel towards the Epiphany of Christ.