It has been 40 days since Christmas.
It has been 40 days since the birth of Jesus the Christ.
It has been 40 days since the light of hope, peace, joy, and love bursted into our existence in the darkness of hopelessness, conflict, despair and anguish, and hatred and fear.
And yet, our ordinary daily routines have resumed.
The Advent preparations of our hearts and lives are a distant memory.
Those 12 days of Christmas have been celebrated and packed away.
This Time after the Epiphany, its lightbulb moments are dimming while flickering but once a week.
I imagine that it was similar for the newly formed Holy Family:
Joseph, Mary, and of course the infant Jesus.
According to the Catholic tradition, Joseph was a widower with children born of his previous union.
But as we know, Mary was a first-time parent. Perhaps within these 40 days, Mary was miraculously able to establish a routine and is a natural at the ‘parenting’ thing but I am confident that she is mentally, emotionally, and physically drained beyond exhaustion.
Yet, Jesus was circumcised and named on the 8th day after his birth, per Jewish custom.
And now, Jesus is presented in the temple on the 40th day after his birth, per Jewish custom. The presentation was essentially a return of the first-born son to God, who had claimed the first-born sons of Israel (current and future) during the original Passover in Egypt. The parents offered to God a prescribed sacrifice, due to the limited resources of the Holy Family their sacrifice was two turtle-doves or young pigeons.
The mysterious and awe-inspiring divine experience of Advent and Christmas are a memory. Our ordinary routines have resumed. Yes, even for the Holy Family.
But, within their Jewish custom, divine revelation would once again amaze Joseph and Mary.
Simeon is a old, faithfully devoted man who God promised would lay his eyes on the long awaited Messiah. Simeon is in the temple that day and immediately recognizes the infant as the Messiah, and again amazes Joseph and Mary.
Then, the prophet Anna (correct, there are female prophets in scripture) is disrupted from her prayer and worship to further confirm and affirm that this infant is indeed the long awaited Messiah.
There is a question individuals may pose, ‘why were Joseph and Mary amazed for they should have known’. Although I cannot profess to know, I have a few thoughts:
First, the practical…
We have sleep deprived parents whose memories may be failing for the moment.
Second, the human psyche…
They may be questioning their shared experiences of angels and the shepherds as a dream or psychological delusion.
(You may recall the Wise men do not arrive until Christ is a toddler.)
Third, the theological…
Can we, humans, truly prepare for the divine breaking into our world especially through ordinary means and customs?
Yet, despite the traditional Jewish up-bringing, Jesus will seemly abandon it.
Jesus will be criticized for not upholding purity practices, such as ensuring his disciples washed before eating and being mindful of sharing a table, perhaps risking contact, with sinners.
Jesus will rebel against Jewish customs, teachings, and interruption of the law.
Jesus’ harshest words and condemnation are reserved for the Jewish religious elite.
But, did he abandon his religious and cultural raising? No.
Jesus was a rebel with a cause, who was deeply rooted in his understanding of the religion and its culture.
Jesus did not uphold purity regulations, because he knew that impurity is from our hearts and minds, not the germs on our hands or the guests at our table.
Jesus rebelled against customs that did not embody the grace, mercy, and love of God.
Jesus rebelled against the laws that separated people from one another and supported or permitted oppression and injustice to remain.
Jesus rebelled against the teachings that did not embrace the welcome of God extended towards ‘those’ neighbors, who may be strangers or foreigners that look, talk, act, think, believe, or love differently than you. In fact, Simeon notes this rebellion with Jesus as a light/revelation to the gentiles or those uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans…
those ancestors of mine and many within this church.
Jesus rebelled while firmly, deeply rooted in the Jewish prophetic tradition in his life, ministry, and death.
The prophets of old were critical of the religious elite, their rituals and laws, and their customs and teachings that did not seek justice, love kindness, or walk humbly with God to summarize Micah 6:8. Similarly, our Malachi text foretells of the refiner, the divine, returning to the temple.
The prophets of old emphasized the responsibility to reflect the God of liberation and justice, hope, peace, joy, and love despite the dark corners that allowed oppression and injustice, hopelessness, conflict, despair and anguish, and hatred and fear to remain.
The light of Christ outshines our customs, teachings, and laws.
The light of Christ bursts into our ordinary lives through ordinary means, such as bread and wine.
The light of Christ is to be reflected in our words, deeds, and lives.
May the light of Christ burn brightly within us,
shine forth from us, and
burst forth the divine presence of
liberation and justice, hope, peace, joy, and love
dispelling all darkness,
not despite but especially those encourage or permitted
by the religious elite, our rituals and laws, and our customs and teachings.
Scriptures were Malachi 3: 1-4; Hebrews 2: 14-18; and Luke 2: 22-40.
Originally preached on 2 Feb. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).