Home Sermons Sunday 27th December
December 27th, 2020
These days, most parents bring their children to the church for
baptism, not circumcision. For the baby Jesus, being welcomed
into the “church” was somewhat more painful than baptism. It
meant the ritual circumcision essential for males if they were to
be incorporated in the family of Jews. “At the end of eight days,
when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name
given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
Usually the naming was concurrent with the circumcision.
Later, after the necessary interval according to the Levitical law
for a mother’s purification, Mary, Joseph and the Infant, went
from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to make offerings to God.
Luke tells us that the infant Christ was given a significant
welcome at the Temple. It was not red-carpet treatment from
the devoted students of the law, like the Pharisees. Nor was
there a greeting committee from the high priests of organised
religion. Priests and Pharisees, as Luke knew, were never
going to welcome Jesus into their spheres of influence. They
had invested too much of their energy into their way of seeing
and doing things, to allow anyone else to intrude. The grounds
for the tragedy of the rejection of Jesus were already in place.
The astonishing welcome came from two elderly folk. Neither is
priest nor Pharisee. Each seems to be more like the Hebrew
prophets. Both are genuinely devout, utterly devoted, not to
external religion but to God. They are genuine seers.
‘Se-er’ is an interesting word. The ‘see-er’ looks beyond the
superficial to the deeper meaning of things. The seer looks
through the religious and secular humbug of society to the real
heart of the matter. The seer, like the child in the story of “The
Emperor’s new clothes,” is not restricted to what we are
supposed to see and say. They dare to look with insight and tell
it as it really is.
Jesus was greeted at the Temple, first by Simeon. He is a very
old, just and truly devout person, who looks and longs for the
true rehabilitation of Israel; for their redemption. He has been
inspired by the Holy Spirit to see and believe that he will not die
until he has seen God’s promised Messiah.
Picture that scene. The massive, spectacular Temple on the
top of Mt Zion; its immense walls and huge pillars; the wide
stone stairway leading up the slope to the public entrance point.
Up this stairway tread two country people carrying their first
child. They enter through the grand gate and walk into the
immense, colonnaded courtyard. Jews from all over the world
are moving to and fro. Amongst them is the old man Simeon.,
waiting there because the Spirit has led him there.
This old man detaches himself from the crowd and comes to
Mary and Joseph. To their surprise, with the eagerness one
who has at last found the clue to his whole existence, he takes
the baby into his aged arms and words of praise and
thanksgiving pour from his lips.
God, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my own eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the presence of all people,
a light of revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for the people of Israel.
And then we see Anna, at least 84 years old and maybe 91, an
exceeding great age in an era when the average life span of a
woman was about 36 years. She lived permanently around the
temple courts, praying, fasting, and worshipping .
Anna too sees the inner truth of the baby. She declares to all
who are yearning for the liberation of Israel, that this is the one
they have been waiting for. This is the one who will change
their lives, as God had promised.
Luke has brilliantly used these stories about the first visit of
Jesus to the holy Temple. This was the very place where,
God’s Presence was thought to abide in the inner sanctum –
the holy of holies – and it was here that Jesus was first
recognised as the Messiah by Simeon and Anna.
From the very beginning, Jesus, son of Mary, is the promised
Messiah, the one who will redeem Israel. He will not be
recognised or welcomed by the power brokers; the scholars of
the religious law and the priests who claim to give, or bar,
access to God. Jesus will be recognised, worshipped and
followed by simple people who are truly devoted to God. The
pure in heart shall see God in Jesus.
This Jesus will be in the tradition of the prophets, inspired by
the same Spirit, and bearing a similar disconcerting message.
Those who meet this Jesus, recognise him, and believe in him,
will be able to die in peace, for their hopes and dreams will be
And this good news is for all people. Simeon specifically
mentions the Gentiles, the despised outsiders. “A light of
revelation to the Gentiles.” This good news includes both male
and female. With this Jesus, women will not be second class
citizens of the kingdom of God. Anna recognises him just as
clearly as Simeon.
In Luke’s Gospel, the woman Anna becomes the first
‘preacher,’ the first one to speak to others of Jesus as the
It would be easy to stop at this point but the reading continues.
Joseph and Mary and the child return to Nazareth and what we
have to remember is that in spite of the recognition by Simeon
and Anna, Jesus grew up in an ordinary Jewish family with
ordinary parents and brothers and sisters. This was a real
human family. Like any family there would have been times of
misunderstanding, times of frustration and anger and times of
love and caring. Jesus would have been taught by word and
example in a real family.
Jesus was a real baby, a real child, a real youth, a real young
man, living in a real family. It is this very ordinariness that is the
miracle of the incarnation. No doubt like all parents, Mary and
Joseph made mistakes. Yet the family was functional enough
to be able to nurture the most loving person in history.
Although I am sure there must have been times when Mary
thought back to Simeon’s words and wondered what the future
might hold for her oldest son.
But let’s pause for a moment and consider the last few words of
The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom,
and the favour of God was upon him.
What do these words Wisdom and favour mean? Wisdom is
something that can be learned through listening both to others
and to one’s own soul. Wisdom can be enlarged by knowing
the Scriptures as Jesus did, and through meditation and prayer.
But the “favour” of God is different. The word usually translated
favour, is what we understand as grace. Grace, liberation and
healing are free gifts from God.
As Jesus grew it must have gradually become obvious that he
was full of the grace of God. He was a gifted child who stayed
behind when his parents left Jerusalem after a pilgrimage, to
debate with the rabbis in the Temple. That wisdom and grace
were there in him as a youngster, as a teenager, as a young
rabbi eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus overflowed with grace – a grace that led him finally to
surrender his life on a cross that we might be saved.
Families function best of all when the grace of God is allowed
to work in the mind and heart of each member. Where the
grace of God which cannot be bought or measured, flows freely
between each person, it makes the whole much greater than
the sum total of the individuals. No matter what our age, we
too can grow and became strong, filled with increasing wisdom,
and the grace of God will be upon us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.