Every morning I look at a comic strip called “Kudzu” in which there is a character by the name of Brother Will B. Done, a cartoon strip preacher in a place called “Kudzu.”
He was after his secretary to be more careful because embarrassing misprints have appeared in the church bulletins (a malady with which every pastor can identify).
One “holy blooper” intended to say: “The annual carol sing was held at the Methodist Church this year.” But the way it came out in print was “The annual carol sing was hell at the Methodist Church this year.” Another bulletin misprint meant to say: “The choir will sing, ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,'” But the congregation read it, “The choir will sing, ‘I Heard the Bills on Christmas Day.'”
Well, we are on the other side of Christmas. For some of us that means that Christmas bells will soon be Christmas bills. This has been a wonderful Advent/Christmas season in our church. We’ve enjoyed wonderful music from our choir The Saint Stephens players caught our imagination .The Bake and Craft sale was a great success. The Church has been wonderfully decorated and we were treated to real delicious meal at our Advent dinner. Not to mention the fellowship and around and about we’ve enjoyed lights and decorations, and at home the gifts and days off. And we have enjoyed the seasonal music
In a sense, it’s back to the real world now–the real world of – paying the bills, taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the decorations, catching up on your church giving, returning the gifts that didn’t fit, praying for those around the world struck by natural disaster – returning to work, preparing tax forms, catching up on your church giving (just in case you missed that the first time I said it!)
Joseph and Mary had to get back to the real world too. They couldn’t linger forever in the warm hospitality of the innkeeper in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, it was a stark and cruel world they had to return to – a world in which a mad tyrant king would put to death all the infants of the region because some astrologers from the east had brought a message about the birth of a new king.
It was a world that suspended people on crosses for minor offenses. The country was occupied by a foreign power. A person could become a slave in an instant. Poverty was rampant. Revolution was whispered on street corners. Life was cheap. And friend’s here’s the thing – It was into such a world the Christ child was born. That was reality too.
That’s what it was like for Biblical people on the other side of Christmas. I wonder sometimes how they were able to hang on to their faith in God in such a cruel world.
That’s where the Biblical passage for today speaks to us. It’s a beautiful story about the other side of Christmas. Luke says that Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem for two reasons. They came first, so that Mary could engage in the Jewish rite of purification required for women after childbirth. And second, they came to dedicate their first-born child to God as required by Mosaic Law (Ex. 13;1-2, 13). There, in the temple – in church
they made their sacrificial offering, a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons, which tells us they were poor because the standard offering was a lamb. The law have this special provision for the poor (Lev. 12:8).
So we know that Joseph and Mary were struggling to make ends meet –on the other side of Christmas.
This story says that they were in the temple, practicing their faith, performing the rites and rituals of their religion, & keeping the law. Five times in this text alone, Luke tells the reader that they did everything required by their religious law. In short, this text tells us that during hard times Jesus grew up in a family that was meticulous in its observance of the faith. Small wonder, that later the gospels record Jesus worshipping in the temple on the Sabbath “as was his custom.” Jesus never separated himself from the faith in which he was nurtured by his parents. Joseph and Mary and Jesus got through the tough times on the other side of Christmas by participation in their church –worshipping on the Sabbath, consecrating their children, making their offerings to God. It’s the best reason for raising a child in church that I know. They needed it. And friends – we all need it too.
The point is obvious: – Children raised in church tend to keep the faith and its values.
It’s a lifelong journey that begins at our baptism.
There is another reason why church is important to children and adults. According to Luke, a devout man named Simeon, led by the Holy Spirit, came to the temple. The Lord revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the temple, Simeon recognized that something very significant was happening. When he took the child in his arms for the consecration, Simeon prayed that beautiful prayer in which he says “my eyes have seen your salvation for all people”.
Simeon viewed his life as complete because God’s promise of a Messiah had been fulfilled. This was the promise he had lived for. Oh my – Can’t you just see that old man holding that child of promise?
It is the church that proclaims Jesus Christ. God has given us Jesus who is the Messiah–and not to us only but the whole world –and those who see Jesus as the Christ experience a sense of fulfillment and peace that the world cannot give. Jesus the Christ is your salvation, your light, your glory. Until your eyes have seen this great truth, – until your mind has grasped the significance of what God has done in Jesus Christ, then friends, here’s the thing – your life is not complete; – it is as though you have not really lived, something is missing.
God has provided the missing piece for your life in Jesus Christ. This is what Simeon proclaimed and what Joseph and Mary heard in church that day. Friends – Do you hear this? Is your life complete? Do you recognize Jesus as your Savior? Are you holding on to him, like Simeon? Another person there that day saw the significance of Jesus. Her name was Anna, a devout prophetess of advanced age who lived in the temple, praying and fasting continually. When she saw the Christ child, Anna gave thanks to God for Jesus and told everyone about him. The church equips us to be disciples of Jesus.
Today I want to tell you a true story which appeared in Good Housekeeping a number of years ago entitled “A Child is Born” by Michael Lindvall, a Presbyterian pastor.
The story begins with the baptism of a baby, the grandchild of one of the veteran elders.
This particular congregation had a unique baptismal custom where the pastor asks, “Who stands with this child?” and the whole extended family of the little one rises and remains standing for the ceremony. When baptism and worship were completed that Sunday and everybody had gone home, the minister went back into the sanctuary to turn off the lights. A middle-aged woman was sitting in the front pew. Although hesitant to speak she finally said that her name was Ruth and oh – how lovely the baptism had been. After another long pause, she added that her daughter, Tina, had just had a baby, and well, the baby ought to be baptized, shouldn’t it? The minister suggested that Tina and her husband call him to discuss it.
Ruth hesitated again, but finally looked the pastor in the eye and said, “Tina’s got no husband; she’s just 18, and she was confirmed in this church four years ago. She used to come out for the Senior High Fellowship, but then she started to see this boy who was out of school . . . ” Now Ruth’s story tumbled out fearlessly: . . . and then she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby and she wants to have it baptized here in her own church, but she’s nervous to come and talk to you, Reverend. She’s named the baby Tom–Tommy”
The minister said that according to their practice, he would take the request to the Session for approval. When the matter came up at the next meeting, the minister had to explain what everybody already knew, namely, that Tina was a member of the church and a single parent and that he didn’t know who the father was. They all knew who the father was, of course; it was a small town.
The real problem was their fear that Ruth (the grandmother) would be the only one to stand when the question was asked, Who stands with this child? And it really hurt their hearts to think about it. But the Session approved the baptism.
The church was full the day of the baptism. It was Sunday after Christmas. Down the aisle came Tina, nervously smiling, shaking slightly, holding month-old Tommy
She was so young,-so alone. It would be a hard life for this pair, thought the minister.
He began the service of baptism and looking at Ruth in a front pew –asked the question:
“Who stands with this child?” The pastor nodded at a lady named Mildred to coax her to her feet. She rose slowly, looking to either side. The minister was just about to ask Tina the parent’s questions when he became aware of movement in the pews. The church elder mentioned at the beginning of the story and his wife stood up. Then a couple of other church leaders stood. Then the sixth-grade Sunday School teacher, then a new young couple in church, and soon, incredulously, the whole church was standing up with little Tommy. Tina was crying. And Ruth was holding on to the pew as though she were standing on the deck of a rocking ship, which, in a way, she was.
It’s times like those my friends when you truly feel the Holy Spirit blowing through these sacred walls. And it’s here in church that children and adults learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to tell and live out the Good News of God. “
Luke says that Joseph and Mary left church that day and went home to Nazareth. And Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God. And in these days, on the other side of Christmas, so may we all. Amen.