We have arrived at the Sunday that always feels to me like the “denouement” of a story. The highpoint has come and gone and we are left with events that bring the action to a safe place where it is possible to imagine actually going on. We do not have to look forward to another mountaintop experience for a while. All is calm. All is bright.
In a 2008 essay in Homily Service, Pastor Kolderup asked some questions for the preacher to consider:
- How do we move with Paul from the adoration of the Child to responding with thanksgiving and commitment to our own adoption as God’s children?
- After the ‘‘Silent Night,’’ what do we now need to say in these twelve days of Christmas? Is there a world that did not gather by the manger but still needs to hear that God is with us?
- What time is it: the first Sunday after Christmas; the time appointed for Jesus’ presentation; a time for a guest preacher while the pastor takes a vacation? For Simeon it was the culmination (and a consolation and a deliverance) of a lifetime of waiting for God’s promised salvation. For Anna it was a time to praise and speak of redemption. So once again, what time is it for you and the congregation?
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel.” Joseph R. Jeter noted in his book Crisis Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) that he had never heard –– and presumably had never preached –– a sermon on the relationship between Joseph and Mary with a focus on their having endured all the stresses that accompanied the story of Jesus’ birth. Professor Jeter did not seem to be suggesting a psychologizing of the holy couple, but an emphasis on the ways in which, together, we aid each other through the mire that is often our lives. In particular, how parents shore each other up.
Mary heard a hard word from Simeon. Because her child would be opposed, he told her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Surely this is a reality for many parents, watching with expectant joy and fear as children grow up and go on.
But the child was a “sign” that so thrilled Simeon and Anna, they lifted their voices in thanks to God. We, too, see the salvation which the Lord has “prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation… and for glory.”
Isaiah 61:10 –– 62:3
Is it possible that verses 10 and 11 of chapter 61 are verses from one section spoken by one voice, ‘‘I,’’ while the following few verses of chapter 62 represent a break and are spoken by another voice, also ‘‘I’’? Could it be that the first two verses are the prophet’s poetic song of praise for what God will do one day only to be followed by words of God spoken through the prophet of what God will finally do when God’s long silence is broken? Or are all the verses in today’s lectionary spoken by one voice, the prophet Isaiah? It is unclear and commentators will not agree.
One thing is clear. A new name will be given to the city, and a change in name is significant, for name represents meaning and purpose. Just as Jacob became Israel and Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah, Jerusalem will be given a new name, a new way, a new day. The newly named city will be treated like royalty and be respected by all. The city of Jerusalem now lying in ruins will one day shine like a brand-new, glistening crown. This new name—this new status—will be given by God. This salvation—this change of name—is reason for great rejoicing.
– Eric T. Myers
A new name is given to all to whom the holy child is revealed, including you and me. And because of our new baptismal identity, having been presented ourselves to the church, we have been altered.
Paul reminds the Galatians and us that in God’s time God sent his Son. It was God’s doing. God sent the Son to redeem the law-laden. God has made adoption possible. The slave is now a child, an heir. The child who calls God Abba—Daddy—will be loved forever.
– Eric T. Myers
With the Christ child, an heir, we are also heirs, loved and comforted.
Stephen C. Kolderup is a pastor serving South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Florida.
Eric T. Myers serves as pastor to the Frederick Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland and is a former church musician and adjunct professor of worship at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Homily Service 42, no. 1 (2008): 58-66.