Joy Still Reigns
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
36 There 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, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At 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.
You have all probably heard of Christmas in July, most likely as a marketing campaign by retailers to increase sales during the traditionally slow shopping season in the mid-summer. Hallmark is widely known for its Christmas in July celebration complete with new movies and the debut of their annual line of Keepsake Ornaments. Other retailers have followed suit. QVC, the television home shopping channel, has July Christmas sales, mostly décor and early gift ideas for children.
The history of Christmas in July, however, goes back much further than you might think. According to Wikipedia, the first mention of the concept was in an 1892 opera, “Werther,” In the story, a group of children rehearse a Christmas song in July to which a character responds,” When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season.”
The term, if not the exact concept, was given national attention, with the release of the movie comedy, Christmas in July in 1940. In the story, the main character is fooled into believing he won $25,000 in a contest, which he proceeds to spend on gifts for family, friends, and neighbors.
Later in the 1940’s, Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC began celebrating Christmas in July to collect gifts for missionaries serving abroad so as to have ample time to distribute them. And the US Post Office and US Army and Navy officials threw a Christmas in July luncheon during WWII to promote an early Christmas mailing campaign for service men overseas.
American advertisers adopted the Christmas in July theme in their advertising for summer sales as early as 1950.
Who knew Christmas in July has been a thing for so long?
You are probably wondering why I am talking about Christmas in church on July 31st. Certainly not to promote watching movies or buying Christmas ornaments (although I have already bought my Keepsake Ornaments for this year!) or getting a jump on holiday shopping.
I think, as the song says, “We Need a Little Christmas.” At least an infusion of the Christmas spirit. A reminder of the joy of celebrating the birth of Christ without all the holiday hustle and bustle.
In July we are almost midway between the two primary celebrations of the Christian church – Christmas and Easter. What a wonderful time to bring to our minds the phrase from Christmas: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Jesus is the reason for every season, not just the Christmas season.
Today, Christmas is our jumping off point, to going beyond the baby in the manger, the message we always hear in December. Christmas doesn’t end with that baby in the manger. So, we’re not letting Christmas stop. We’re going to move forward.
Our first landing spot (it’s a short jump, more like a step) is on one of the two stories of Jesus as a child after the traditional Christmas story.
Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord as required by the Law. In addition, they went to the Temple for the purification rites for the mother after the birth of a child.
This single act, the presentation of Jesus to God, is the foundation for Jesus’ life – the traditions and religious observances of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph teach Jesus from birth the importance of following the Law. Jesus grew up as a devout Jew.
That Jesus knew and followed the Law provides the context for his later critique of religious leaders. Those who claimed to follow the law by practicing rituals they deem as proof of their faithfulness but miss the point entirely. They forgot the most important part of the Law, to love God and to love your neighbor.
Jesus and his family experienced the love of neighbor through the hospitality they were shown in Bethlehem when they traveled there for the census. The owner of the house, the innkeeper, didn’t turn them away. He found a place for them to stay that was warm, safe, and dry. Then, Mary and Joseph traveled to their faith community in Jerusalem to present their son to the Lord.
The love of neighbor they experienced in Bethlehem and the love of God they demonstrated at the Temple in Jerusalem were what they taught Jesus.
We also learn from their visit to the Temple their family’s place in Jewish society. The sacrifice they offered, two turtledoves or pigeons, were those offered by the poor – those who lived day-to-day on what they made. It may be that the experience of barely making ends meet, of working hard to survive in the world, provide the framework for the compassion Jesus later expresses to those in need.
In this story, we encounter Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Two, let’s be honest, old people, They were both very faithful people, full of the peace and joy of the Lord. Simeon was waiting for God’s promised Messiah. Anna – never leaving Temple, fasting day and night. Both were waiting for God’s word to let them know that the one they were waiting for had arrived so that they could go in peace.
When Simeon saw the child, he knew exactly who the child was. Simeon held Jesus as he praised God for fulfilling that promise he had heard so many years ago. The promise that he would see Messiah.
Surprisingly, Simeon gave a prophecy of who Jesus would become and what Jesus would do. He said that the child would become the salvation for all, the light of revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory to the people of Israel. Then Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph with a word to her about the future, both Jesus’ and hers. He tells them that the child would be the causing the falling and rising of many, a sign that would be opposed so that many will be shown to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Simeon tells Mary that she would be deeply hurt. Something no mother would want to hear when they brought their child to be blessed. This message was one of hope and of fear.
Anna the prophet, a woman full of faith, wisdom, and hope, was praising God and telling all the world who this child was and would be.
Then, we’re off to the next landing spot, Nazareth. There we learn almost all we will about Jesus’ youth. He became strong and wise and that the favor of God was upon him. We stop very briefly again in Jerusalem. Jesus was the boy in the Temple who was teaching those there and worrying his parents to death.
Our next stop is Jesus’ baptism. Jesus goes to John the Baptist who baptizes him in the River Jordan. The Lord’s voice says that Jesus is his beloved Son, and that God is well-pleased with him.
Then we are whisked away to the Wilderness where Jesus meets the devil who tempts him three times. Jesus meets the challenges using the Word of God as his weapon.
On to choosing disciples. Jewish men of faith who worked hard to make ends meet. Then three years of ministry. Teaching, preaching, healing, and offering compassion and hope to the poor, the sick, the outcasts, and all the others nobody else wanted to deal with. Jesus demonstrated what it meant to love God and to love neighbor. There were moments of lightheartedness and joy, sadness and despair.
The next stop is in Jerusalem that last week of Jesus’ life. The joy at the beginning when Jesus rode into the city on a donkey to the cheers of the bystanders. The time of teaching and preparation in the middle, and then death and despair at the last part of the week. The cross on which Jesus was hung and the instrument of his death. That old rugged cross, the sign of death and the reminder of hope.
We jump to that glorious Sunday morning. The stone rolled away, the grave clothes neatly folded and the angels at the tomb to greet the women who had come to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The are greeted with the joyous words, “He is not here, he has risen.”
Then the joy at seeing Jesus alive when they thought he had left them forever. He appeared first to the women. Then to the men on the road to Emmaus whose eyes were opened when Jesus broke bread with them at the dinner table. And then he appeared to the disciples in the upper room where they say wondering what to do next.
During the next forty days, Jesus gave his followers instructions for their future ministry. A crash course for what to do next. The command to go and make disciples everywhere. Baptize them and teach them everything they need to know.
Suddenly, Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the Father. The disciples watched in shock and dismay. “You just returned to us, Jesus. Now you are leaving us again to fend for ourselves!”
There were still more landing spots. The disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and were empowered to teach, preach, and heal. Paul, who met Jesus on the Damascus Road, becoming the missionary to the Gentiles in the whole of the Mediterranean region. The church through the ages that has shared the good news of Jesus throughout the world.
We’re not done yet. We go to the landing spot that is us to find our place in the picture of faith. We are now the followers of Jesus who carry on his ministry to the poor, sick, outcasts, needy, lonely, abused, hurting, and many others.
We are the bearers of the joy that was present long before the baby in the manger and the angels singing of the joy to the world. We are those who experience and share the joy of knowing Christ.