First Sunday of Christmas + December 27, 2020

No small part of Mary’s emotional weight for many women is the way in which the church has so often used her as an ideal of passive, submissive femininity. But others claim her as a model of strength. I treasure Mary as a biblical interpreter, one who heard and believed what God told her, and who pondered God’s promise in her heart, even when, as the Gospel of Luke describes it, pierced her soul like a sword. This is hardly passivity, but the kind of faith that sustains Christian discipleship. ~Kathleen Norris

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 61:10-63:3

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

We pray Psalm 148

Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God in the heights. Praise the LORD, all you angels; sing praise, all you hosts of heaven. Praise the LORD, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars. Praise the LORD, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD, who commanded, and they were created, who made them stand fast forever and ever, giving them a law that shall not pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing God’s will; mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds; sovereigns of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; young men and maidens, old and young together. Let them praise the name of the LORD, whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven. The LORD has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near the LORD. Hallelujah!

A Reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The Holy Gospel, according to Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”, and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation,which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Sermon

And so it has begun again, we listen as the words we have heard so many times over so many years fall afresh on our senses, and shine again in our hearts. Two young people, deeply in love, whose quiet, predictable lives have been suddenly and irrevocably changed, still trying to live the Law, and keep the traditions, only to be surprised once again, by the joyful exclamations of the old holy prophet, Simeon, and the faithful prophetess, Anna.

And so it is with us, in these times of uncertainty, we struggle for some semblance of “normal”, but quickly realize that nothing will ever be the same. Like the two lovers, Mary and Joseph, we clasp to our hearts the promise made flesh, Jesus, and cling to each other, even these days, at a “safe” distance, hoping that we can find the faith, the strength, the sheer will, to continue the journey. Like this Holy Family, we have no idea where it will lead, even when we are back in our “home town” of familiar faces and remembered objects.

What we can count on, although we’re never really sure how or when or with whom, is that what we need, truly need, although not necessarily want, will be given to us to accomplish the highest purpose of our lives. In the midst of which, we must recall, that what the world considers an orderly, predictable, successful life, is not always our destiny, but that we are called, gifted, and graced, to face the challenge of an unpredictable, sometimes frustrating plan, set before us by a God who has far more faith in us than we do in God!

I pray that the story of this holy encounter will encourage and empower us to move past Christmas cards and nativity scenes, to the life-long labor that finally fulfils the Divine Dream of all of us together, becoming the Kingdom of God. Amen

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