The Rest of the Story
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GLORY TO THE FATHER AND TO THE SON AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
IS NOW AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
There is an odd little carol which is sometimes sung on this first Sunday after Christmas. It begins:
There’s snow on the mountain and ice on the pond,
The Wise Men are home now in the back of beyond.
The Shepherd’s have left us; the heavens are dumb;
There’s no one to tell us why Jesus has come.
But God’s in His heaven, and Jesus has come
To show every sinner he’s welcome back home,
To be this world’s Saviour from hunger and fear,
And give us new courage to face the New Year.
We have courage to face this New Year because of Jesus. He is Immanuel—God with us and for us. I remember sitting with a family in the waiting room of an intensive care unit of a hospital and happened to overhear the conversation of a pastor visiting with a family. It seemed that the wife and children were regretting a decision they made and kept wondering if it was the right thing. They kept asking, “ How do we know?” The pastor, wisely, said to them that they were human beings and did not have all wisdom or knowledge. A decision had to be made and God would bless that.
I thought about what he said. We are human beings. We do not know and can not know all the consequences of our decisions. We can second guess all we want but we still need to live with what we decide. In all that, God promises to bless us because we have a loving heavenly Father who wants only good things for his children. We have a Lord and Savior who is with us in our good times and in trouble too.
The Scriptures tell us, “This is the confidence we have in God, if we ask anything according to his will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him.” We can bring our requests to God. God hears us and will give us just what we need. We can not always know what is best for us, sometimes even what we should pray for, but we can be confident, even bold—the word can be translated as that—in bringing God our needs and asking God’s blessing upon whatever we decide.
What we must not do is give up. People of good will can differ on means to a good end. People in our churches can seek to follow the Bible and still come up with different answers to major questions such as abortion or health care reform, capital punishment or war. We can come to different decisions on how to approach these great issues and also congregational issues and personal decisions. None of us are aware of all the unintended consequences of our actions or our inaction. We are not omniscient people, knowing exactly what to do. We can seek to the right thing, the god-pleasing thing, but do not always know what it is. Yet we are not without a guide. As Christians, we believe that God has revealed to us how we should live and what we should believe and do. As Lutheran Christians, we confess that the Bible is the Word of God and our only norm for preaching and teaching and personal life. In the Old Testament and the New Testament, God has left us a faithful record of God’s Word and Will. We can seek God’s Will and look to the Bible for a witness to that will.
And now in this wonderful Christmastide, we confess that God has revealed Himself in fullness through His Son, Jesus. The Bible may not always be easy to understand. The text may be difficult or seemingly contradictory. Some of the Scripture may seem unduly harsh and we wonder how this could be God’s Word for us today. Every one of us has what has been called a “canon within the canon,” those parts of Scripture that are more meaningful than others or that speak better to our time. We are not unduly concerned with eating meat with blood or mixing wool and linen—those things spoke to a different people in a different time. We are often appalled at the destruction in the conquest of Canaan or what Phyllis Trible has called the “texts of terror” for women. But we need not be so troubled with these things. We confess that we truly understand the Bible only when we view it through Christ. Martin Luther speaks to our Christmas joy:
“I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh. Look upon the Baby Jesus. Divinity may terrify us. Inexpressible majesty will crush us. That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor, he should console and confirm. Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother, still a virgin. What can be sweeter than the Babe, what more lovely than the mother!” He continues, “Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.”
The Christmas story tell us of God’s glad tidings of great joy to all people. We can never be sure we are making the right decision or even truly following God’s will, but we can bring God our needs, trust in God’s comfort and forgiveness and believe in God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. We believe and trust in God’s good and gracious will for us in Jesus.
And then we follow in obedience. The rest of the story of Christmas is about the obedience of Mary and Joseph. After the shepherds have returned to their flocks and the angels go back into heaven, after the Wise Men have given their gifts, Mary and Joseph do what God’s Word commands them to do—they bring the Child to be presented in the Temple.
Three times in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded that the Holy Family is faithful to the Law of Moses. On the eighth day, Jesus is circumcised and made a son of God’s covenant with Abraham. The Son of God, Jesus, still needs to be a son of the covenant. On the fortieth day after the birth, according to the Law, Jesus as the first-born male is presented to God in the Temple along with a ritual offering. This dates to the time of Samuel when the boy was presented to Eli, the priest, in the Tabernacle of the Lord. Jesus is called holy to the Lord—not because He is the Son of God and Savior. He is that of course and Luke tells us that Jesus is the expected Messiah and the Savior of Moses and Jacob, Isaac and Abraham, but because the Law says that the first male is sacred. Jesus is presented in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is done, according to our text, to “fulfill all righteousness.” Christ has assumed our human flesh to save it; He has lived under the Law to fulfill it. He is an example to us of obedience.
Mary and Joseph brought the baby to the Temple. When they were there, they were greeted by the aged Simeon and Anna—a pairing of male and female which is typical of Luke—both of them are prophets who are inspired to speak God’s Word. They represent the very finest of Israel––those who knew God’s Word and believed in Jesus because of it. They saw this baby and believed that God was fulfilling His promises. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the consolation of Israel and the Savior of the world. Many would fall and rise at His coming. The rich and powerful would turn away from the Savior. The mighty would be cast down from their thrones and the haughty in their conceit not recognize their Lord. But an old woman of 105 years and an old man who was righteous and devout—these poor, humble, insignificant people saw and believed. They were the best of the old covenant finding that God did fulfill the promises God made. Fasting and prayer and worship, devout and obedient and righteous living—these were what was important as a response to God’s grace.
Our passage ends with the simple words, “When they had finished everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned…” God’s Word does not tell us what to think on every issue. It does not give us a map of just what to do, what to think, or how to decide. It does promise that God is with us as we make decisions. It promises that God hears us and will give us what is best for us. God knows our needs even better than we do ourselves and we have a loving Father in heaven who will give us what we need. God’s Word promises us a Savior and with Him forgiveness and blessing and strength.
The Shepherds have gone back to the fields and the angels into heaven. The Wise Men have returned to the East but God is still with us in Jesus. Amen.
Copyright 2006 James D. Kegel. Used by permission.