Sunday after Christmas
December 31 2017
Isaiah 61.10-62.3; Psalm 148.1-14; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.22-40
Rev Angleena Keizer, Methodist Church of Great Britain
As we gather here today to worship God, we stand on the threshold of a new year. It is not uncommon to look back and to take stock of what has happened to us during the past year. It may have been a great year of celebrations, a year of disappointment, a time of uncertainty, new doors of opportunity, doors that closed. A year to remember or a year to forget!
Today we may be looking forward to 2018 with excitement, a chance for a new start, or perhaps apprehension of what changes the new year will bring. As we look back and look forward in an ever-changing world, be assured that God does not change. He is, as we have celebrated again this Christmas, Immanuel – God with us.
A few days before Christmas, some of my grandchildren video-called me from the UK. They had great delight showing me the Christmas decorations in their home and the Christmas tree.
Little Freddy is three. He said, “Oh, you won’t be here this Christmas, Nanna, you’re following the star to Bethlehem.” He made me smile as he continued excitedly, “What’s Joseph doing”? When he was satisfied that Joseph was OK and gone out for a takeaway, he asked “What’s Mary doing”? She’s resting!
Then came his final question full of wonder, his little sleepy eyes bright, as he said “Did you find Jesus”?
His last question kept coming back to me.
In the last week we have celebrated the most amazing event in the history of the world, the incarnation of the Son of God, fully God and fully human. Have we done so in wonder and amazement like little Freddy, regardless of what we have faced in the last year? Can we reply to Freddy, “Yes, we have found Jesus”, in the busyness of the season.
I love each year to hear and read the scriptures of the Christmas story that we are so familiar with – and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we so often overlook. Let us remind ourselves today how through the Holy Spirit those connected with the Christmas event found Jesus.
In Luke’s account of Zechariah, he is told by an angel that his wife will conceive in her old age a son who is to be named John. He will be filled by the Holy Spirit even from birth.
Mary also is visited by an angel who says, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you”. He announces she will conceive and give birth to a son who will be named Jesus and called the Son of the Most High. “How will this be”? asks Mary, to which the angel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.
Mary is told her relative in old age has also conceived, “for nothing is impossible with God”. When Mary visits Elizabeth and greets her, the baby leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. It is by the revelation of the Holy Spirit that she is able to say to Mary, “Blessed are you amongst woman and blessed is the child you will bear. Why am I favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? Elizabeth’s eyes and heart are opened to the revelation that the child Mary is carrying is her Lord.
The Holy Spirit has overshadowed Mary, and she is able to sing her song with such deep profound revelation of the one to be born. Mary’s song declares who Jesus is and not what only he comes for, but what he will do. She has found Jesus her Lord as is revealed in her song, she sings and glorifies the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour.
After John is born and at his circumcision and naming ceremony, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies concerning the one who is to come and bring redemption to his people. He has found Jesus the Saviour and Redeemer. He speaks concerning his own child who will go before the Lord and prepare the way for him, bringing knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins because of God’s tender mercies. The same John much later is the one who declares “Behold the Lamb of God”, for he too had found Jesus.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is woven into these beautiful accounts of the people involved in the first Christmas, enabling them to “find Jesus”.
In today’s Gospel we heard the account of Joseph and Mary, as they followed the custom, required by them by law, to take their baby on the eight day to the temple at Jerusalem to be circumcised and named. There was a devout and righteous man named Simeon. The Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit he entered the temple courts and took the child in his arms praising God. By the revelation of the Holy Spirit he declared he had seen the Lord’s salvation. He had found and seen Jesus. This salvation, Simeon declared, is for all people, a light for revelation to the gentiles and the glory for the people of Israel. Not only did he prophesy, but so did an elderly woman Anna, who was a prophetess, and was also there at that moment. Anna was a woman who spent her life since being a widow, worshipping God night and day, fasting and praying. She also gave thanks for the child, and spoke words concerning him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Two more people in whose lives the Holy Spirit was active, opening their eyes to the revelation of the Christ child. They too had found Jesus. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in each story brought revelation of who Christ is: the Son of the Most High who ushers in the kingdom of God and salvation for all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike.
As with these, so also with us.
Paul says that God sent his Son so that we might receive adoption as God’s children. God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Brothers and sisters, it is the same Holy Spirit who has opened the eyes of our hearts and enabled us to receive the Christ child. It is through the Holy Spirit that we too can say, “We have found Jesus”, that we can believe that Jesus is Lord. We can know how deep and wide is the Father’s love. We can love because God first loves us. We can know that God is with us, and because of this we can face tomorrow, we can face a new year with all its challenges and changes, without fear.
Take a moment to ponder in your hearts the innocent question of a three-year-old child, “Did you find Jesus”?
As we look back over the past year, where did we find Jesus, in different people, places and times?
In his Christmas message Pope Francis shared where he had found Jesus in the past year.
He said that “as the winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline, Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the Child and to recognize him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, ‘there is no place in the inn’”.
“We see Jesus,” he said, “in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians… We see Jesus in the faces of Syrian children still marked by the war that, in these years, has caused such bloodshed in that country… We see Jesus in the children of Africa, especially those who are suffering in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.”
“We see Jesus,” he continued, “in the children worldwide wherever peace and security are threatened by the danger of tensions and new conflicts… We see Jesus in the children of unemployed parents who struggle to offer their children a secure and peaceful future. And in those whose childhood has been robbed and who, from a very young age, have been forced to work or to be enrolled as soldiers by unscrupulous mercenaries.”
“We see Jesus,” he said, “in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers. Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy. I see Jesus in the children I met during my recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh…”
There are many people in whom I have found Jesus. I want just to mention the Nassar family who have had many struggles over decades in Palestine. They have chosen to resist occupation with nonviolence, refusing to be enemies with their neighbours. This year, they received the Peace Award from the World Methodist Council. They are the first family to receive it. It is in their home and lives and in many others that I have found Jesus in the last year.
May we be moved to say, like Simeon, “My eyes have seen the Lord’s Christ.” May we bow down, like Anna and Matthew’s wise men from the East, and worship God. May we enter the new year responding, like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
And through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, may others also find Jesus in the coming year!
In the words of Frances Havergal’s hymn:
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
in working or in waiting, another year with thee;
another year of progress, another year of praise,
another year of proving thy presence all the days.
Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
another year of gladness in the shining of thy face;
another year of leaning upon thy loving breast;
another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of service, of witness for thy love,
another year of training for holier work above;
another year is dawning, dear father, let it be
on earth, or else in heaven, another year for thee.