They Grow Up So Fast

Sunday, December 27
Scripture: Psalm 148 & Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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I usually don’t mention polarizing figures in sermons, but today I just have to talk about Will Ferrell. Some think he’s one of the best players to grace the stage of Saturday Night Live, others find him to be the most annoying human being on the planet. But there’s a scene from his movie “Talladega Nights” that fits so well with our passage this morning. In one scene Will Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, a successful race car driver, is saying grace before supper. But instead of saying: “Dear Jesus” or  “Dear Lord,” he starts praying to “Dear Baby Jesus…” and his wife interrupts him by saying: “Ricky. Jesus grew up to be a man. Could you please say a proper grace?” To which Ricky Bobby replies: “You can pray to baby Jesus, teen-age Jesus or bearded Jesus…any Jesus you want to.  I like Christmas baby Jesus the best so I’m going to pray to him.” As with all Will Ferrell movies it is a ridiculous scene, but I think many of us subconsciously prefer baby Jesus to the grown up Jesus. He’s frozen in time as a little baby in the nativity scene who at that time is harmless and doesn’t ask anything of us. But Jesus does grow up. While our passage today takes place approximately 8 days after Jesus’ birth, it’s clear we’ve left the peaceful tranquility of the manger.  We know it’s been 8 days after Jesus’ birth b/c according to Jewish Law all Jewish males were to be circumcised on the 8th day after their birth.  So like all good Jewish parents both Mary and Joseph  brought their son to the temple to be circumcised.  For the Jewish community circumcision was in a way like baptism for us today in that it signified the time when the child was marked as a member of the community of faith, specifically the community of Israel. It was also at this time that Mary and Joseph learned more about the future of the Messiah, who was also their newborn baby.  At the temple they meet two very devout people, Simeon and Anna.  Simeon believed whole heartedly in God’s promise to restore Israel and looked forward to the day when this would finally happen.  He didn’t have to wait another day as he was led by the Holy Spirit himself to the Temple to meet Mary, Joseph and the Messiah. And when he took the baby Jesus into his arms he instantly began praising God, thanking him that the Messiah had finally come and for the privilege of seeing his savior with his very own eyes.  Mary and Joseph were amazed at all that Simeon had to say.  Simeon then blessed them, but what he said next put a damper on this joyous event just like a bad speech at a wedding reception. He tells Mary that her son will be responsible for the “rising and falling” of many in Israel, people will oppose him and a sword will pierce her own soul as well. Thank goodness for Anna, the elderly and wise prophet, who was a woman of prayer.  At that moment, right after Simeon’s ominous prediction, Anna begins to praise God, telling anyone who would listen that the one who would redeem Israel has finally come. Her words and actions returns the focus on the joy surrounding Jesus’ arrival. Of course what Simeon says comes true. It isn’t just Mary’s soul that will be pierced, but the hearts and souls of all those who believed in Jesus, who became his friends and his followers.  They would witness people reject him and mock him during his ministry.  They would witness the injustice of his arrest and the agony of his torture.  Many would themselves abandon and reject Jesus.  Finally they would witness his death…but three very long days later…they would witness his resurrection. And the resurrection of Jesus would, like Anna’s praises, return our focus on the joy and glory of the Messiah coming to save the world. Yes, I realize I just jumped to Easter and we only just celebrated Christmas last Friday.  But I think this is how we must view the life and work of Jesus.  No matter how awful it became for him and for those who followed him, we must always remember that in the end he conquered death so that you and I could be restored.  His joyous victory over death, however, will mean even more to us if we take the time to reflect upon the events that happened between the manger and the cross. But in order to do that we have to leave the manger.  This means when we throw out the Christmas tree and put the nativity scene back in the box, we commit to continue the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus and by doing so we allow him to lead us in our journey of faith. When we become more in tune with how Jesus leads us in our daily lives we are changed.  Just as Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna were changed. If you think of it, each of them had something they could be deeply bitter about.  Mary and Joseph could have become bitter about the fact that after miracle after miracle including the miraculous birth with choirs of Angels present they are hit with Simeon’s words: how people would treat their son would “pierce Mary’s soul.” Simeon could’ve been bitter about the fact that having been promised to see the Messiah by the Holy Spirit, he only gets to meet the Messiah as a small baby.  Not as a grown, wise man who taught and did miraculous things. And what about Anna?  A woman who lost her husband only after 7 years of marriage…that is tragic. But none of them remain bitter. Instead all of them praise God for his goodness, his love, his faithfulness and for finally bringing the Messiah into the world.  I’m sure they had their bad days when it was hard to trust, as they’re only humans, but in the end it’s their firm trust in God’s promises that wins out a the end of the day. It is their trust in God’s promises that allowed all of them to move forward.  And not only to move forward, but move forward while praising God for his goodness! For Simeon to be thankful each day for many years that God would finally send the Messiah.  For Anna it was God’s goodness that restored her after her loss allowing her to stay at the Temple to fast and pray each day turning her into a steadfast woman and prayer.  Finally there is Mary and Joseph.  In love with their baby boy, but knowing that God has great plans for him that must be carried out.  It is their trust in God that allows them to raise their son the best they can knowing full well that he will be taken from them too soon. It can only be the miraculous power of God’s comfort and love that held together and moved these individuals forward. God offers that same love to us. Given the year we’ve had we too all have things we could be bitter about. When many of us should be visiting with family from out of town or heading to warmer weather for a few weeks or months, most of us are instead here at home where we can’t help but think about all we’ve had to cancel and miss out on this year. I’m with you. I cannot wait to say good-bye to 2020 and move on to 2021. I was just talking with a friend about how we need to acknowledge two things at once that we tend to think are mutually exclusive: 1. Jesus hasn’t left or forsaken us as well and 2. This has been an incredibly difficult year and we’ve struggled. Those two sentiments can and have to exist together and at once because that’s just the reality we live in. And that’s where Mary, Joseph, Anna and Simeon were at. Life did not pan out the way any of them thought it would for any of them. And yet they continued to move forward in faith holding onto the faithfulness God had shown them thus far and trusting God that his faithfulness would continue. And it all started with the act of  leaving the manger because the manger was just the beginning not the end of Jesus’s mission on earth.