Friday, March 09, 2012

Sermon from 1-1-12: What Child Is This?

What Child Is This?

“What child is this, who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds’ watch are keeping?”
What child IS this?  The babe, the son of Mary, the one born in Bethlehem to a young, unmarried couple  far from home in a dark, smelly stable that was usually home to smelly animals? 

“This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe the son of Mary.”

We have the audacity to claim that this is the way a king was born.  We have the nerve to insist that this was not only A king, but it was in fact THE king, the messiah, not just A son of God but THE very Son of God, the Word made flesh, the same Word and God who was present at the beginning of creation, the very same who will be present at the end of all things.  We have said it so often, we have heard it so often, that I think it sometimes loses its impact on us.  THIS is the method by which we claim God chose to break into our dark world and to establish God’s kingdom.  In the form of a small, frail infant born to unimportant parents from an unimportant part of an unimportant country occupied by the most important empire of its time.
It makes no sense. It’s so backwards.  It’s so inefficient.  It’s so NOT the way I would have done things.

And maybe that’s the point.

If the Kingdom of God is a kingdom lived out in faith, then its king is a king who needs to be seen through the eyes of faith. 

Scripture tells us that not long after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple “to present him to the Lord23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  This was a young couple with a new baby doing what God required of all young Jewish parents.  Remember, this was the same young couple who BEFORE Jesus’ birth had angels coming to them to tell them that this child was going to be something different, something special, someone born of the Holy Spirit.  If anyone could have claimed some sort of special dispensation for this presentation at the Temple, it would have been Mary and Joseph.  But there they were, fulfilling for their child the law that had come FROM their child.  And then in walks Simeon. He sees Mary and Joseph, and their little baby.

And then we discover that Simeon had those eyes.  The eyes of faith, the eyes of expectation, the vision of hope and promise and fulfillment and restoration.  He sees something special in Jesus.  He sees the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to him, that he would not see death before he saw the Messiah.  He sees the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed one, in the face of this little child with the young, nervous, decidedly unimportant parents.  And he grabs the baby and holds him, saying, ““Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;30for my eyes have seen your salvation,31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

He can die in peace.  Through the eyes of faith, he has seen the messiah.

And it’s not done there.  There was a prophet named Anna at the Temple as well.  When Simeon made his proclamation, she joined in, telling about the child to “all those who were looking for the redemption of Israel.”  She had the eyes of faith and began speaking to others who had those same eyes, who were looking, waiting for God to act.

When we see the world through the eyes of faith, when we like Simeon and Anna find the messiah in an everyday baby born to everyday parents, we see God’s kingdom in ways and in places that the world does not expect. 

We see the face of Jesus not hidden away in a church sanctuary, but in the face of the homeless man on the street. We see Jesus in our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of war, who face uncertainty or hunger or poverty.  We see Jesus in the face of our enemies.  We see the kingdom of God in the hidden shadows, tucked away in the places we might otherwise consider unimportant.

The eyes of faith transform how we see the world, allowing us to see it the same way God sees it. 

There’s an old legend that says Simeon would take EVERY baby that came to the Temple for the purification rites and bless it…that Jesus was just one in a series of many babies that Simeon blessed in the way we read about today.  It is what it is, an old legend with no basis for the claim, but there’s a part of me that really likes thinking about it that way.  Would it make what he said about Jesus any less special?  No—Jesus was who he was, no matter what Simeon said about him or anyone else, it would have been true no matter what.  But if Simeon blessed EVERY child, if he saw EVERY child through the eyes of faith,  as a blessing and a light for the world, what would that mean for us? What would that mean for how we see the kingdom of God, what would that mean for how we see those around us, what would that mean for how we see the least and the lost and the suffering and the sick?

The eyes of faith transform how we see the world, allowing us to see it the same way God sees it. 

When I’ve gone with our youth on mission trips, every evening when we’re looking back on the day, I’ve always asked them one question: “Where did you see God today?”  Let me tell you, the youth in this congregation have the gift of the eyes of faith.  Like Simeon, they have seen the face of the Messiah in faces many would not expect—the man with AIDS at Project Hope in san Francisco, the unpredictable girl with fetal alcohol syndrome in Pine Ridge, the street musician in New Orleans.  They’ve seen the face of the Messiah in each other’s faces as together they’ve done what they could to help those in need. They’ve seen the face of the Messiah in your faces as you’ve supported them and prayed for them and taught them and have been living, walking examples of the Kingdom of God in your own lives.

The eyes of faith look at a baby in Bethlehem as see the face of God.  The eyes of faith look at water and promise and see cleansing of sin and adoption into the Kingdom of God. The eyes of faith look at bread and wine and see body and blood, broken and shed for you.  The eyes of faith look at a man on a cross, dying a criminal’s death, and they see the Son of God bringing new life and hope and salvation.  The eyes of faith look at an empty tomb and see the fullness of God defeating the powers of sin and death. 

The eyes of faith look at Christmas…and see the shadows of Easter.

“Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne, for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the son of Mary.”

Matt Schur
Our Saviour's Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

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