a cry of recognition and fulfillment

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Luke 2:22-40

Sometime oh, Friday let’s say,
within the aftermath of presents given and received—
amidst new music and new books
and lots of good food—
most of which was really bad for me,
it occurred to me, “Hmmm, there’s a sermon coming.”
And sometime Saturday—that would be yesterday,
amidst indoor soccer,
and that book I started on Friday that I just had to finish,
and the siren call of the Christmas puzzle set up in the dining room,
there it was again, “You do have a sermon to write!”

So I ask you today, to hear amidst what I say,
some of the joy and the celebration of the week bygone.
It was a good week to celebrate.
It still is

There are other good reasons, too,
to celebrate—
that we look back on.
There’s just something about a wedding too, don’t you think?
Something joyous—
something hopeful.
In fact, it’s kind of Adventy/Christmasy, isn’t it?
Full of joy and hope—and love, of course.
I’m not sure about how much
peace is part of most weddings!

Years ago, I was working at Seventh & James,
and dear friends got married on a Saturday.
You know Dorisanne, and David,
who had been my housemate up to that point.
And that Sunday, the day after the wedding,
I wore my tux to church—
because some things aren’t supposed to end.
Some celebrations are meant to keep going.

Seventeen years ago yesterday, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,
Susie and I were married,
and that celebration continues.
But there remains something about the wedding—
the wedding itself—
the gathering of loved ones, the public commitment
in church before God, friends and family—
the shared celebration of both love and commitment to that love—
the ritual—the experience—
the celebration that is somehow both culmination and beginning—
like I said, very Adventy/Christmasy.

Our Isaiah text begins, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God.”

“The phrase ‘greatly rejoice’ is made intense in the Hebrew
by a grammatical device that reiterates the verb, ‘joy, joy'”
(Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66
in the Westminster Bible Companion
[Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998] 218).
Now that double whammy is not translated into English
or is, rather the basis for saying I greatly rejoice
instead of just I rejoice,
but it doesn’t quite get the same extravagant exuberance
we’re supposed to hear—
I will joy joy!

Now is this a future tense?
I will joy?
This will happen?
Because we go on
“for God has dressed me in salvation and righteousness”
(in “legitimacy” is another translation).
The reason for our joy joy has already happened.
So are we talking about a delayed response?

I don’t think it is the future tense here.
I think presuming it to be the future tense actually gets us in trouble
because it delays joy.
It promises joy later—
down the road.

I think what we have here is more
along the lines of the extravagance of repeating joy—
I will joy joy!
It’s an assertive declaration—
an emphasized statement.
I will rejoice.

The speaker is not anticipating rejoicing and exulting in God.
The speaker is rejoicing and exulting in God—
with the great intensity of an all-encompassing wholeness of being—
every part of who the speaker is caught up in this joy.

And the joy stems from God having dressed this one
in wholeness—in holiness—in sanctity—
like a bride and groom decked out in wedding finery
(because there’s something about a wedding).
The joy is now—
as it has been—as it will be.

And as flowers bloom throughout the land
and produce of the garden,
God will cause
righteousness and praise and legitimacy to spring up
before the nations.

And it’s not, in this case, that creation itself joins in the praise—
trees and hills clapping their hands.
It is rather that there’s an inevitability to all this.
The seeds are planted; they grow,
and there is a grace to this—
that is all a response to love.
It’s the beloved seeking to be attractive to the lover
while knowing him or herself to be beautiful and to be desired
in the eyes of the lover.

That is a beautiful circle, by the way, isn’t it?
Wanting to be beautiful—
trying to be beautiful—
and, within the reality of love, knowing you are.

God has sown affirmation.
God has sown love.
God has sown blessing,
and these seeds will bear justice and righteousness,
wholeness—holiness—sanctity—redemption.
It will happen.
It has happened.
It is happening.

Do you believe that?
I don’t. I don’t.
Too much evidence to the contrary.
But I am, as I have discovered this past Advent,
a prisoner of hope,
and what I believe
is less important than what I hope.

You see, we never escape the truth of both Advent and Christmas!
We are always waiting.
We are always anticipating,
and we are always celebrating.
God is doing what God has always done and will always do,
and we are rejoicing and exulting with our whole being.

Quick question: how much of what you hear of
as Christianity on social media—
or normal media, for that matter—
how much has to do with rejoicing and exulting?

I tell you true,
the world would be a better place
if that’s what we were known for.

For the sake of Zion, I will not keep quiet.
For the sake of Jerusalem, I will not rest
until she burns salvation to the nations
and becomes a sign of God’s favor
for others to wear.

Now it doesn’t say that.
It says Jerusalem will be a crown—a diadem.
But we were just imaging God dressing us, right?
And it’s another great image:
the city of God—the people of God
becoming the favor of God
extended to the other nations—
worn by others—
even enemies.

Some say that God is the initial speaker.
“I will not keep quiet. I will not rest.”
That’s fine by me.
God will not keep quiet; God will not rest.
Then it switches to what the human says of God.
Fine.
Others say that the first speaker is human—
that even amidst the apparent silence of God,
“I will not keep quiet; I will not rest.”
That’s fine, too.

I’m not sure you can separate them—ultimately.
If God does not rest,
then there will be those who cannot keep silent.
And if there are those rejoicing and exulting,
then God is not resting,
for that cannot be sustained without God.

So there is nothing I await
that is not rooted in today.
There is nothing I await
that is not rooted in what I know today.
Oh, it may grow far more wondrous—
richer and more wonderful,
but there will be a continuity.
God is doing what God has always done—
what God will do.

Here’s the thing.
This is all
before all the nations.
This is very very public.
And what is?
The praise of the people of God.
The intense exultation.
The undeniable commitment to love.

Justification before the nations is a big deal.
Recognition by the masses.
So is this about God vindicating God’s self?
Or is this is about the faithful vindicating the God worth being faithful to?
Or can those two not be separated?—
which becomes affirming and scary at the same time!
Is it up to God? Or is it up to me?
Or is it both?

In our Gospel text, we’re initially eight days after the birth of Jesus,
and Jesus is named and circumcised.
There’s just something about a baby!—
something Adventy/Christmasy—
full of joy and hope and love—
and again, not necessarily much peace—
or sleep!

And we’re reminded again, in a baby,
of a culmination—
an answer to hope and to prayer—
to angel promise,
that is but a beginning.

Then we’re another month down the road,
when the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses
had been completed,
and Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord.
This was to occur at least 31 days after birth.

Since the Exodus events,
first born sons were consecrated to God,
and then redeemed “according to Numbers 18:16 …
with a monetary payment of five shekels”
(Richard B. Vinson, Luke
[Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2008] 66).
So you brought your first born son to Jerusalem to the temple,
you dedicated your son to God,
then you paid five shekels
and got your son back and took him home to raise him.

So it’s interesting.
You keeping track of of this?
Last week, the angel told Mary
she would deliver the deliverer.
Today we read they redeemed the redeemer!
Except we didn’t read that, did we?
We just read the first part,
that Jesus was dedicated to God.
Doesn’t say they redeemed him.
It’s assumed … maybe.
As a Gentile Christian, did Luke not know
all the procedural aspects of the Law?
Some suggest that.
Or was this oh so very intentional?
Jesus was dedicated to God.

Mary and Joseph weren’t just going to Jerusalem
for Jesus’ dedication though.
They went to be purified.
After the birth of a son, a woman had to wait 40 days
before ritual purification.
You notice it says they went to be purified?
Again, some suggest this indicates Luke’s lack of knowledge
about the purity laws,
though it occurs to me
that within patriarchal privilege,
Joseph could have remained pure
by staying away from Mary
and thus maybe from Jesus too—
or by taking a daily mikvah (ritual bath).
But they were purified—
which suggests to me
Joseph valued intimacy with Mary and Jesus
more than purity under the law.

These rituals are important, yes.
They went to Jerusalem to fulfill them.
Mary and Joseph are obedient to them. Yes.
But already here at the outset of the story,
we have some indication
that the rituals flow out of celebration and joy,
not rote obedience.
They are not obeyed
at the cost of exultation and rejoicing—
intimacy and love.

We give and we serve and we are obedient and we are faithful
out of exultation,
not obligation—
or we’ve got it wrong.
Our faith is to be an expression of our joy.

Brilliant storytelling.
So much of who Jesus will be
offered in the simple details of his parents.

Simeon then anticipates the consolation of Israel—
Simeon who is described as righteous and devout.
And Anna awaits the redemption of Jerusalem—
Anna who lives in the temple
spending her days in worship and fasting and prayer.

Righteousness and praise, we know,
spring up—they are God’s harvest.
God sowed those seeds long ago
remember?—
love and affirmation and blessing,
and they sprouted into righteousness,
consolation and redemption.

They have been waiting,
but they have been what they were waiting for too—
in their faithfulness, in their expectation.

It’s not that they were what they awaited,
but it is that they participate in what they await.
They were waiting for the consolation of Israel.
They were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,
and they were a part of that happening—
not in any way to dismiss the significance of Jesus,
but to place Jesus in the larger picture of God’s redeeming work.

Finally, Simeon notes,
this one is set for the falling and rising of many—
for a disputed sign.

So let me just say this part quickly—
because we spent a goodly time on it during Advent!
But there’s just no getting away from it.
There is just no getting away from it.
The truth of our world and our culture is not conducive to God,
but confronts God, and God confronts our culture,
and we make a choice.

That’s all I’m going to say about that today.
Here’s what I want to add.
I think it was implied during Advent.
I hope so.
But I want to be real clear.

There is plenty we can angrily condemn,
but if our angry condemnation is not rooted in joy,
it is not of God.
If our angry condemnation bears disrespect toward others
and rejection of others,
it is not of God.
If our angry condemnation is not obviously grounded in love,
it is not of God.

There’s plenty to reject about our culture,
but in light of celebrating love,
it has to be done in celebration—
never in fear.

How much our culture needs people like that.
How much the church needs people like that.

The child grew and became strong, full of wisdom,
and God’s grace was upon him.
What it doesn’t say, but what it means,
surely,
is that Jesus grew up rejoicing and exulting and reveling—
that Jesus grew up hoping—
that Jesus grew up knowing love and loving—
and that all of that undergirded faithfulness
and made him who he was.

And in the book of signs—
in John’s gospel,
the first sign comes at a what?
A wedding!
There’s something about a wedding!
And we cry out
in recognition—
in fulfillment—
and still, in anticipation,
at a culmination that is but a beginning.

It’s the first Sunday after Christmas.
We made it.
We got there.

We’re still headed there—
in joy—
exulting—
not frustrated—
not sitting in the back seat, “When are we going to get there?”

We get to keep going—
a part of where we are going.
Thanks be to God.

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