Living the Peace, Extending the Joy, December 27

Living the Peace, Extending the Joy

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches, online; December 27, 2020


When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman – that’s the apostle Paul’s declaration of the incarnation.  The word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.  That’s what the gospel of John tells us about Christmas.  A baby is born, A child given to us, Emmanuel, God with us.  That’s a summation of Luke and Matthew’s take on the same subject, with influence from the words of the prophet Isaiah.  The love of God, which has been at the heart of the world from the very beginning, takes on physical being, flesh, soft baby flesh, real enough to need a space to sleep, real enough for shepherds to see, real enough for Simeon and Anna to notice and celebrate and announce to the world as the work of the great God of their faith, a fulfillment of all that God had promised for generations.  This same physical being lived as we live, running and laughing, trudging along dusty roads, weeping, making friends, encountering opposition and conflict, eating and drinking, needing and appreciating hospitality and love.  The four gospels witness to the life of this human, Jesus of Nazareth, to his life and his death.  We celebrate his realness, his physicality, his taking the form of one of us, living with us and among us at Christmas.


Which makes this Christmas especially difficult.  Because we have not been physically together.  We have not appreciated our Christmas cookies over a cup of coffee together. We have not greeted each other with handshakes and hugs in months.  We have not sung carols together, and the Silent Night just isn’t the same without that voice of our friend who sits behind us, sometimes flat, but joyful and wonderful. This has been a most unphysical Christmas.  We still heard the declaration that the Word became flesh, but we have missed being the body of Christ, in flesh, rejoicing together.  We do it, of course, because we are physical beings, capable of getting very sick, all too prone to death.  We do it because our physical lungs can be so harmed by the novel corona virus that the basic physical act of breathing is threatened.  So we have trusted that a non-physical Christmas is the wisest way to honor the incarnation of God.  An odd conundrum.


The story of Simeon and Anna’s reaction to seeing Jesus is a transition from this odd space we find ourselves in to where we might be tomorrow, or sometime next year.  This is, in fact, the last worship we’ll share in the year 2020, the year that has become the punch line of wry jokes already, even before it’s finished.   To say 2020 has been difficult is to put it mildly.  Three hundred and thirty thousand Americans have died of Covid-19; hundreds of thousands more are sick and/or recovering slowly.  Our society is tearing apart from the renewed visibility of racism that has been part of our life together for too long.  We have so many neighbors who are hungry, so many behind on rent and in danger of homelessness, so many without jobs and without hope.  We have people who are exhausted of looking at screens for meetings, and kids and teachers trying to eke out a semblance of learning without being together at all. Our leaders in Washington can’t or won’t agree to help people who are suffering, and some of our neighbors have lost trust in the system of government itself.  People are lashing out with violence, blowing things up in Nashville, shooting strangers who make them angry, slugging cashiers who ask them to wear a mask.  We are all brought low by this pain, the disappointment, the suffering.  We need something new, a way to be together in hope, a new commitment to caring for each other, to listening and acting for love and justice.  The next time we meet for worship it will be a new year, a new start, a time to look ahead at what might be different and hopeful about the weeks and months ahead. 


Simeon sees in the arrival of the baby Jesus a sign of transition, a sign that he had been waiting for all his life, a sign that God had fulfilled the promise and that Simeon would see the beginning of that fulfillment.  Now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.  Simeon doesn’t feel like he has to stick around to see the fullness of the promise completed.  He is thrilled simply to know that it has begun.  Jesus’ coming is not the end of a promise as much as it is the beginning of a new thing God is doing.   We, too, are in the process of living into the joy of the incarnation.  We probably won’t see the end we’re working toward, the full realization of God’s vision of the world of justice and peace to all, but we will find joy as Simeon does when we know it’s in process, it’s coming, it’s on the way.


Our world lives as if Christmas is the end of the season, what we prepare for and then experience on December 25, and then it’s over.  The presents, the tree, the lights, the love shared – much of that ends, or will end, within the week.  The time we’re in now becomes a sort of limbo, no meetings or excessive responsibilities until the new year when everything proceeds back to normal.  Of course, this year, normal isn’t all that normal.  But the coming of Jesus is the beginning of a season of newness, not the end.  The church spends twelve days of Christmas, in part because the incarnation is worth savoring, and in part because it’s the start of something big, something really big, that asks us to let the newness change us utterly, to carry us into something not normal at all, but very different, life marked thoroughly by the joy of the angels and the peace they proclaim. 


Rest in the joy for a while.  Claim this limbo week to bask in the love of God made flesh, Emmanuel in our midst. The Psalm we shared together offers us a model of spending time in joyful prayer, naming before God all that we are thankful for, all the glories of the world and the depths of God’s love we see around us.  The words of Isaiah remind us that there have been difficult times before this year, and the words and promises of God gave the people hope.  The days of Christmas offer us a time to soak up the joy of praise and song, to choose to believe that God can and will bring newness through love.  They also offer us the opportunity to reflect on the time before us.  Like Simeon, we can acknowledge God’s goodness and faithfulness in coming to us in Jesus.  So now we look forward to 2021 determined to live as those who take Jesus seriously, who live in the peace sung by the angels, who offer the love God makes so clear in the life of Jesus.


Despite the lack of physical contact among us, we are still like Jesus, physical beings, and we know that God became one of us for all of us who are physical beings. Fragile beings, capable of succumbing to sickness; beings needing ongoing maintenance, needing food and shelter from the cold; emotional beings, deeply affected by loneliness and sorrow, grief and injustice, encouraged by love and hope and affection.   Living for Jesus, loving that baby who comes in the manger, means addressing the needs of those he loves – our own needs and those of our neighbors.  Because Jesus takes on flesh, we acknowledge that the fleshy needs, the hunger and shelter and health of our neighbors matter.


Rest in the joy of Christmas, bask in God’s love for you made so clear in the incarnation, commit to the peace the angels proclaim, and then claim the hope that Simeon and Anna embody, hope that God is indeed capable and is in the process of doing a new thing, transforming the world through that joy, love, peace, and hope we experience at Christmas.  We know we need the newness.  We can trust that God will lead us as we live out our Christmas love in the days to come.   



Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.


Psalm 148

1Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

    praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens,

    and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord,

     for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever;

 he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost,

    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle,

   creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples,

    princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;

     his glory is above earth and heaven.

14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,

  for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!



Galatians 4:4-7

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. 


Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


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