Christianity 201

December 27, 2020

Christmas is an Apocalypse?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 pm
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CEB.Luke.2.22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Simeon’s response to Jesus

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us, Father Steve Grunow. His page doesn’t tell us where he serves or in what capacity. I’ve included (above) the gospel reading for today which he refers to. Click the header below to read more of his writing.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Christmas is an apocalypse.

What do I mean?

Contrary to the popular notion that an apocalypse is some kind of divine plan for planetary destruction, the Bible has a different idea — an apocalypse is a revelation, a revelation that occurs what God intervenes in a remarkable way in history.

One of the greatest example of this is the revelation proclaimed on the Mass of Christmas Day — God, the one true God, eternal and unchanging, accepted for himself a human nature and without losing anything of who he is, was born into this world, born in time, as all humans are born — revealing himself to us as a baby, as the Holy Child of Bethlehem. This is an apocalypse — a revelation.

Now the other implication of an apocalypse is there is an end, a kind of cataclysm that results from God’s remarkable intervention. This is true of the revelation of God in Christ. God’s revelation in Christ brings about an end, signaling to the great powers of the world, spiritual and worldly powers, that things have changed and their time of unchallenged influence and control is coming to an end.

It’s for this reason that the great powers of the world resist the revelation of God in Christ- both at the time of his holy birth to this very day. The Lord Jesus ends worlds, shakes the foundations upon which our assumptions of politics and culture have been built. He does things that we would rather have God not do (like becoming a baby) and he says things that we would rather not have God say (like forgiving our enemies).

Worldly powers resist him. And let’s be honest — so do we.

Thus, his revelation is an apocalypse. Christmas is an apocalypse. The Lord Jesus is an apocalypse.

The end he brings about always brings about a new beginning and that too is what the Biblical understanding of an apocalypse is all about.

Whether we accept him or not, the Lord Jesus changes us and changes the world. Those who most virulently oppose him know this and this is the source of their greatest consternation. In the end, they know, that he has already won.

Today’s Gospel is about Christ the Apocalypse, the tiny child who is God who brings an old world to an end and quickens a new world to life.

When the Holy Child is brought to the temple of Jerusalem as an infant, more is going on than the fulfillment of a religious custom — God is entering his own temple and doing so in a way that most are too narrow or distracted to understand.

God was expected to come to his people, but not in the form that he came — as an infant in his mother’s arms. Again, this revelation is an apocalypse, that once accepted changes forever the way one can think about who God is and what God wants for us. Even many who profess to believe that this revelation is true, struggle to comprehend all the implications. So, it should not shock us so much that most who encountered God in Christ just couldn’t make sense of his revelation.

But two people do recognize Christ the apocalypse, God the baby — an elderly man and woman whose lives have been spent watching, wondering and waiting — living in hope that God would come- and come personally.

They see him for who he is, while others do not.

And perhaps that is the lesson.

To watch. To wonder. To wait. And to live in hope.

We are Christians, and because of this our lives are spent in longing for the coming of Christ. He makes himself known in Sacraments and in the bodies of the poor and our spirituality as Christians is learning to see and receive him in these peculiar ways. But even more than this, we long for him — for Christ — and we long for him to come to us personally.

We want him to heal our hurts and take away our sins. We want him to rescue us from death and set a world gone wrong right. We want him to do what we cannot or will not do ourselves. We want him- personally.

But this encounter evades most of us in this world- but the desire for him remains. Because this is difficult for some, Christian spirituality becomes limited to cultural expression or a religious rule book. Unfortunately, it is precisely in these ways that we end up missing him when he draws near. The deep mysticism of the Christian faith is negated by what are really expressions of our need to control. In our frustration that God in Christ does not come to us on our terms, we set up idols in his place.

Then what are we to do? How are we to live?

Old Simeon and venerable Anna model for us the way — to watch, to wonder, to wait and to hope. Living each day in expectation of his coming. Understanding that our spirituality as Christians is not fulfilled simply in feelings, but in fidelity to Christ.

Christians are always living on the verge of an apocalypse. This apocalypse is not about the destruction of the planet (as some have come to believe) but it is instead about the coming of the Lord, his revelation into our own lives.

One day, like Simeon and Anna, we will see him as they did face to face — but until then, like Simeon and Anna — we watch, we wait, we wonder, and we hope. And we do this so that we will recognize him when he comes.

January 9, 2020

Do You Belong in Church on a Sunday Morning?

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the original sermon on which today’s article is based at this link.

Do you belong in church on a Sunday morning? There are those who have no desire to go. I get that. However, there are those who who would like to, but don’t feel they belong. They feel they will be judged, by the regulars, or worse, by God. There are those who feel that they are not good enough to be found in church, their attendance would be hypocritical in some way. At the tail end of the Christmas story, there is an event which will help us reflect on where we belong.

Let us first consider Mary and Joseph:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him 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.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

Often missed in the Christmas celebrations, and often neglected in our rush to get beyond Christmas, is this story about Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was known to be the place where God took up residence among His people. Of course everyone would have known that God, Who created the cosmos, could not be contained in any single building. But there was a sense in which God had chosen to dwell among a certain people and therefore dwelt at a certain place. The temple, therefore was a sign of intimacy.

Do we think of Joseph and Mary as just going through the motions, doing a religious duty and nothing more? Or was there a sense of wonder, expectation, gratitude, and recognition of the intimacy between God and his people? Indeed this intimacy with God would be worked out in a special way through this child Mary and Joseph carry. Would they really have known what a privilege they had? If they did, being regular people, would they have felt they deserved that privilege? I doubt it! Do we really get what a privilege it is to be in the presence of God together with God’s people? Do we think of going to church as merely ‘doing a religious thing,’ or are we aware of our participation in something quite incredible?

Let us also consider Simeon. While Joseph and Mary are at the temple, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said:

“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.” Luke 2:29-32 (NRSV)

These are surprising words. We may have expected ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation, for this child will deliver us from all peoples, and kick these pesky Romans out.’ Instead, salvation is “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The temple was a place of nationalistic pride. Many held the attitude that “Romans don’t belong here,” not in Israel, certainly not in the temple. Many feared the Romans would destroy the temple, just as the Babylonians had done hundreds of years before. Many were hoping the coming Messiah would protect the temple by destroying the Romans. However, this infant called Jesus was not destined to protect the temple and destroy the Romans, but rather to include the Romans in God’s loving embrace!

Next, let us consider Anna:

 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. Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

As God used Simeon to drop big hints about what was to come through this infant Jesus, so He used Anna also. Anna spent most of her time for most of her long life at the temple. However, if the temple stood as a symbol of intimacy with God, it also stood as a symbol of distance from God. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place in the temple, only once a year, and only after much rigmarole to ensure ritual purity. Such is the holiness of God. Your regular priest could not go as far into God’s presence. Non-priests were kept further away. Women were kept further away still. Anna spent her life in devotion to a God she could not properly approach. God would change all that through this infant Jesus. Following his life, death, and resurrection, people like Anna could “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 6:16 KJV).

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)

In fact, people like Anna, once kept at a distance without Christ, together are the temple, the place where God takes up residence:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NRSV)

With Simeon and Anna we discover that God can surprise us with his inclusive love. Are you surprised by the fact you can be included in God’s love? One of the things I am fond of saying at the Lord’s Supper is “it is not necessary for you to be a formal member of our church, or indeed any other church to participate with us in the Lord’s Table.” People are often not “good enough” to be included in church membership rolls. God is good enough to include them in His love, in His mercy and forgiveness at the cross. Perhaps that describes you? You may think you should stay away from church for you are not good enough to enter. You are welcome to come. You would be in the right place.