Sermon Christmas I – Year B
New Years Eve and Day
Merry Christmas! Tomorrow/today is the eighth day of Christmas, so that greeting is still appropriate. And tonight/today we have another opportunity to sing some carols before we put them away until next Christmas Eve.
It is of course also appropriate to wish you a Happy New Year. The eighth day of Christmas is New Years Day and it is also the day the church remembers the naming of Jesus.
Christmas is a time of traditions. I am sure your family has traditions. Maybe you have a certain day you always decorate the tree. Special foods you always eat? Do you have a certain cookie recipe that has been passed down for generations? Is there a ritual for opening presents?
Lots of people have rituals for the new year, too. We like to have oyster stew on New Years eve. Do you have a personal tradition of making new years resolutions? I read somewhere that most people have forgotten them by the end of the week.
Traditions and rituals are good. They help us remember who we are and what family we belong to. In today’s gospel lesson, Joseph and Mary are keeping a couple of family religious traditions. Jesus is officially named and circumcised on the eighth day of his life, marking him as a Jew.
On the fortieth day after his birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to make the sacrifice required for the first born son and dedicate him as holy to the LORD. This is called the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
Ever since the time of the passover, a sacrifice was required for the first born son. Since they were in Bethlehem anyway, it was convenient for them to go to the Jerusalem temple for these rituals.
These are rituals every devout Jewish family performed. Just as we name our babies and bring them to be baptized, devout Jews followed the guidelines and fulfilled the laws of the Hebrew Bible. The traditions of the elders were very important to them.
Something unusual happens when they bring Jesus to theTemple for his presentation. Jesus’ early days are filled with unusual events. It seems like Mary and Joseph should be used to it, but they are not. They are constantly amazed at who this child is.
This time Mary and Joseph walked in with the baby in their arms and an elderly stranger came over and took the baby Jesus from them. They were amazed at what he said about their child. He said their son was the Messiah.
Simeon was a devout and holy man who was filled with the Spirit. He held the baby Jesus and blessed Mary and Joseph, praising God for letting him live long enough to see the promised Messiah.
Then, an elderly prophet, a woman named Anna, came over to them. The moment she saw Jesus she began to praise God, calling Jesus the Messiah.
These two elderly people knew they were blessed to see the Messiah before they died. They had a clear vision of the mission and purpose of their lives. They knew because they spent time in prayer. They knew because they let the Holy Spirit guide them.
There are a couple of lists going around on Facebook this week. One of them is 100 places to see before you die and the other is 100 foods to try before you die. Maybe you have a list of things you hope to see and do. What would you like your legacy to be?
Let’s make it easier and start with a smaller goal. What do you hope to accomplish in 2012? Will you grow spiritually this year? Will you become more kind and loving? Will you become more grateful and generous?
How about other aspects of your life? Will you make new friends? Will your friendships grow deeper? Your marriage grow stronger? Will you get better at your job? Or will you get married? Get a new job? Will you make more money or less money?
How about this: Will you be in more debt by the end of 2012 than you are right now? Or will you be able to get out of debt and add to your savings? Will you give more to charity or not? Will you volunteer more time or less? Will you lose weight or gain it?
Are you going to plan 2012, or just let it happen? Are you going to be intentional about what you eat, or just eat whatever you feel like eating? Are you going to be intentional about your spending, or just spend whatever you feel like, whenever you want?
Are you going to be intentional about your giving or just see how things go? Are you praying about these things? What’s important to you?
What are your priorities for 2012? We come to the manger to worship the Christ Child, but our calendars and checkbooks also say what our priorities are. How will you spend your time and talents and treasures in the next year?
What are your priorities for this congregation for 2012? Many people have told me they would like to see St. Mark’s get back to the way things were. In some ways this is good. Mary and Joseph knew it was important to keep traditions. We need traditions to remind us who we are and who we belong to.
Which of the traditions do you believe are most important for St. Mark’s to keep? What is critical for congregational identity? These are things we need to talk with each other about and pray about.
2012 is also a time of new beginnings for the congregation. All things cannot go back to the way they were. What are the new priorities for the New Year?
These are not questions to be answered quickly and forgotten in a week like most New Year’s resolutions. These are questions to pray about and talk with each other about.
Talk with each other about the traditions that give meaning and identity to this church. Talk with each other about your vision for the future. Talk with each other about what things to keep and what new things God is calling you to do.
Pray about who God is calling this church to be in this new year. Work together to form a vision for the future.
And in the new year, may you, like Simeon and Anna, see the salvation of God in the baby Jesus. May you, like Mary and Joseph, be blessed, and be constantly amazed at who this child is. Amen.