Sunday, January 1, 2012

First Sunday After Christmas (B) 2012

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 2:29
Theme: Set Free In Peace.

Dear Followers of the Newborn King,

Today we begin a new chapter in the calendar year. It’s an opportunity to renew hope and revitalize our aspirations. God is attentive to our needs. We don’t know what the future holds but we know God holds the future. The unprecedented event of Bethlehem sets the precedent for eternity. The Year of our Lord 2012 will be filled with a chronicle of events governed by the timeless mercy of our God. The baptismal promise He made to us will be one step closer to realization in Christ. As His history becomes better known by us His present and future blessings become more meaningful.

Jesus had faithful Jewish parents. On the eighth day they took Him to the temple for circumcision and the verse before our appointed gospel begins tells us He then received the name the angels had given- Jesus. The Bible says “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”1

The events of today’s narrative happen forty days after His birth. They took Him to the temple according to the laws of purification. After Mary’s time of cleansing the family offered a sacrifice of two turtle doves, or pigeons according to the directive of the Torah. The fact they did not offer a lamb was an indication of their poverty. They were met in the temple by a man named Simeon. He rejoiced to see the Christ and spoke this word of blessing, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”2 A seeming strange blessing with no further explanation offered it nevertheless shows Simeon had a clear understanding of what the birth of Jesus meant. The Prince of Peace would face conflict.

Jesus came to bring peace between God and humanity. To do so He had to wage war against the forces of sin in Satan’s domain and the sphere of the human heart. The only peace Satan would permit between His forces of evil and Christ, would be a peace in which he was in complete control. Such a situation would spell doom for humanity. Therefore Jesus must confront, sift, separate and divide and ultimately conquer. He must make clear those who are His. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”3 In short, every person must either be separated from sin and its control, or remain separated from God.

Jesus’ words and actions caused huge upheavals in Israel and they continue to do so in people’s hearts today. Christ rules alone. Either He unseats the favoured position of sin and self, or He does not rule at all. To be repentant; to be sorrowful over our sins entail the desire to be separated from them. To humble ourselves under God’s almighty hand means to push all pride and pretence from our hearts and strive to sin no more. Only the Holy Spirit can make this possible. To the humble and contrite heart, God promises peace. It is not easily achieved.

Take the example of the four preachers who met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, "Our people come to us and pour out their hearts, confess certain sins and needs. Let's do the same. Confession is good for the soul." In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off when away from his church. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars and the third one confessed to liking to play cards. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn't confess. The others pressed him saying, "Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?" Finally he answered, "It is gossiping and I can hardly wait to get out of here."

It’s only when we have the absolute certainty of the forgiveness of our sins that we can really have peace. The notion of divine peace leads us back to the first part of Simeon’s words in the temple. “Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.”4 This is the beginning of what we sing in the liturgy upon returning from Holy Communion. Simeon received the infant Messiah into his arms. We receive His body and blood into our mouths and hearts. The word ‘depart’ may be translated as ‘set free’ or ‘release’. This may better help us to understand Jesus’ work of releasing us from the bonds of sin. This brings the peace the world cannot give.

Day by day we should learn Simeon’s focus and patience. Your life is purposeful exactly to the extent it is part of God’s plan. Our waiting for God is not a matter of idleness. It is a matter of persistence in following His will and clinging to His promises. The Scripture says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”5 Again it says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”6 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”7

It is in this way that we ‘await’ His coming. Is there something you’d like to accomplish in 2012? Is there some hope you long for or something you’d like to see come to fruition? Is there something you’d like to live long enough to experience? A relationship reconciled? A lifelong achievement? A deeper appreciation of God’s mercy? Simeon’s heart pumped long enough to see the Emmanuel, God-in-the-flesh. He was privileged to hold in His arms the very Son of God. We are privileged to see with the eyes of faith even more. Simeon saw the Saviour at the beginning of His earthly life. He witnessed Him after coming from the manger. We witness Him after having come out of the grave. Simeon gave witness by his patience. This is our witness too. Simeon believed in the infant Christ, the Christ yet unburdened by sin. We believe in the crucified and risen Christ, the Christ who has overcome death and brought life and immortality to light. Like Simeon we have been set free in peace. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
1 January 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Philippians 2:9-11
2 Luke 2:34-35
3 Luke 12:51
4 Luke 2:29
5 Ephesians 2:10
6 Colossians 3:12-13
7 Colossians 3:17