Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:10–62:3 | Psalm 148 | Galatians 4:4–7 | Luke 2:22–40
…for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
It’s hard to believe the new year, 2021, is almost here. Though none of us know what it will be bringing our way, I know a lot of us are hoping that it’ll be a lot better than this past year. That the worst parts of 2020 will be learned from and left behind, and that the way forward for our world will be a whole lot brighter.
Of course, this idea of starting fresh… of beginning a new year with positive change and progress is nothing new. Our culture has long promoted the idea of making New Year’s resolutions… making plans for how we’ll better ourselves… usually by doing things like eating better, getting more exercise… or some other practice meant to make us ‘better people.’ Like many others I’ve talked to, though, I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions. The purpose behind them might be praiseworthy, but the problem seems to be that so many of us struggle to faithfully put our plans into practice. In seems we need more than the desire to make healthier changes… we need the will to devote ourselves to a whole new way of life, not just for a few weeks, but for the long-haul, whether we feel like it or not. If the start of a New Year can help you find some motivation to change, that’s great. But what I think we need, more than a change of date, is a renewed sense of devotion. Of deliberately committing ourselves to follow the way of life.
Our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Luke highlights the theme of devotion through each of the people it introduces to us. Each in their own way embody deep, life-giving commitments, inspiring us to reflect on our own commitments in life.
Again this week, we begin with the examples of Mary & Joseph, as they bring their infant Son, Jesus, to the Temple in Jerusalem, in order to perform the ritual of presenting Him to the LORD. In this action, it is revealed that they were devout observers of God’s Law; putting into practice Israel’s commitment to the LORD’s covenant. Their journey to Jerusalem was certainly not a vacation, it was a pilgrimage, a concrete act of putting their trust in God into practice… embodying their faith by making this sacred but costly trip. We were told they purchased the proper sacrifice, designated for those who were poor: In Leviticus 12, regarding the laws for ritual purity after childbirth, it says: “When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering… If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.” (Lev.12:6,8). Though they were not well off, this young Jewish family, did their best to live out their faith. To rearrange their lives around their commitment to God.
After Mary and Joseph, we’re introduced to a man named Simeon, a man that St. Luke refers to as “righteous & devout.” But Simeon was not simply a rule follower, he was someone on whom the Holy Spirit of God rested… someone eager to respond to the LORD’s leading. Simeon embodied his faith by listening for the voice of God, and letting the Spirit guide his steps, not simply going about his own business.
And along with Simeon, we are introduced to Anna: A prophet of God, living as a widow in God’s Temple, worshiping, fasting, and praying as her daily routine. At 84, she lived a life of sincere ministry, utterly devoted to the LORD and His people. Anna embodied her faith by setting aside her own path in life, and putting the LORD and His word to His people above all other concerns.
All of these are great examples of enduring devotion. They all embody their commitment to God in various ways, able to inspire us to re-examine our own devotion to the LORD… to reflect on how we are embodying our faith, and putting it into practice. Not like a New Year’s resolution… a self-driven attempt to better ourselves… but as a response to the faithful love of God, a gift that shapes and rearranges us… and how we live out our days. For as great as these other examples of devotion may be, the faithfulness and loving-kindness of the LORD is what upholds them all.
It is God’s own devotion that drives this story forward.
The Law which Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to fulfill echoes back to the days when the Living God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. Since the time of Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were slain, and the firstborn of Israel spared, God’s people were to offer a sacrifice to acknowledge that their children belonged to God… to remember that without His loving faithfulness, they would have never left Egypt. They would have had no future, no hope of rescue without Him. In Exodus chapter 13, we are told that, Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem [with a sacrifice]. When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’” (Ex. 13:12-15). This Law kept alive the memory of God’s saving faithfulness, which the whole story of Israel highlights again and again.
And the hope that kept Simeon attentive to the voice of God was the promise that the LORD would not leave His people to struggle and suffer forever. Even in the darkest times of Israel’s history, when their cities were destroyed, and their people carried off into exile, God’s Spirit spoke to the prophets of old and promised them there would be a day when God’s salvation would come again and rescue His people, once and for all. That God would finally deliver them from all of their oppressors, and draw, not only Israel, but all nations back to God… to recreate the whole world in righteousness and truth.
And the ministry of Anna as a prophet in the Temple, with her life set aside in unending service to the LORD, reflected the Living God’s unending devotion to His people. Anna was able to see in the boy Mary & Joseph brought that day the hope for all those seeking the redemption of Jerusalem. For this ordinary looking Child would grow up and spend His whole life enacting the devotion… the faithful love, of God.
Jesus was, after all, the Son of God incarnate: Very God of Very God, taking on human life in all it’s fractured fullness, in order to rescue, and redeem, and reconcile us to God once more.
In this child, the Living God Himself was embodying His devotion to save his sinful creatures, and bring them His New Life: To enlighten the Gentiles, that is, all the communities of the earth, and to share His glory with His covenant partners, Israel… binding them all into one worldwide family of God, through the life, and death of Jesus.
God’s devotion would cost Him dearly. From the very first breath, Christ’s ministry would lead Him to the cross. But in facing it for us, through being faithful even unto death, Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice to save us all. And through His resurrection, never to die again, Jesus opened up the way for the world to share in His New Life forever… beginning God’s re-creating work in the world, right now in our hearts, which He will finally bring to completion when Christ comes again in glory.
It is because of God’s devotion, His faithful loving-kindness we have come to know most clearly in His Son, Jesus Christ, that we can confidently face the days and years that lie before us. It is because of the holy Child born to be our Saviour, that we have come to know that the LORD’s faithful love is stronger than death. That in love the Living God gave to His Son to set us free, so that we might be spared, and share in His blessed New Life.
So as we think about the kind of people we want to be moving forward, and what kinds of practices we will need to put into place for that to happen, may the faithful loving-kindness of the LORD be our strength and guide, not only in shaping our desires, but in shaping our wills, our devotion as well. May our top priority always be following Christ faithfully, even if it means re-arranging our own plans. May we listen closely to the LORD, in the Scriptures and in prayer, eager to respond to His Spirit’s leading voice. May our devotion take deep roots in the rhythm of our lives: not coming in fits and spurts, but growing in faithfulness. And most of all, may we remember that even when we stumble and fall, our devoted Saviour Jesus Christ has come to raise us up. Amen.