February 2nd, commonly known as groundhog day, in the church is Candlemas or The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus. Candlemas is actually a lot older than the groundhog, but it doesn’t have a cute animal mascot. In pre-electric times it had a great ceremony, but candles just aren’t as important as they used to be. Anyway, the point of the day is seeing the light. Regardless of what extreme we are coming from – male or female, jew or gentile – the light of our salvation has come. This sermon invites us to ponder the reality of Jesus, redeemed by Mary and Joseph as true man, but also true God, and how that redeems us.
The text for the Sunday after Christmas this year was the Purification and the Presentation of Jesus at the temple. These are actually two separate things. The Old Testament laws that are being fulfilled are from two separate places. The OT text of the day is the basis of the Presentation of Jesus. The Purification is from Leviticus. The Sermon is an attempt to ponder what odd ceremonial laws have to do with us today. I think they might mean more than we would give them credit for.
New Year’s Eve is not something on the Traditional Church calendar, it is the 7th day of Christmas for those who follow the liturgical calendar. I know that other Protestant traditions (typically Reformed) have a long history of worship on New Years, but here, as I mention in the sermon, it is the first time in my pastorate that I’ve had the pulpit on the Eve. A new year automatically creates a looking backward and a looking forward. What this sermon attempts to do is ground it in the saintly examples of Simeon, Anna and the Holy Family. Instead of wishing the old gone and the new on our strength alone, the old is our grounding and the new we look for is the strength of God. Happy New Year, and may the consolation of Israel be found in your hearts.
Christmas eve evening is mostly about the people and the candles, the sights and sounds together. But after 10 years I finally hit a message that I felt was worthy of the night. I’ll say and post that now before tomorrow erases the feeling.
It always helps having both a wonderful opening hymn (Hark the Herald Angels Sing) and a fantastic liturgical piece by the choir (The Magnificat – Vespers Chant). Both are left in.
Whenever Christmas is on a Sunday there are a bunch of minor holidays of the the life of Christ that are also observed because they fall on a Sunday. A couple of them come right away. January 1 is the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus – 8 days after the birth. This sermon tackles that subject.
I hope the really bad joke at the start cleared the air for a stronger consideration of the day, because as I hold in the sermon I think the Circumcision and Naming is a deep strain of the gospel. If we weren’t able to contemplate the day because of snickering, we are missing something that stretches from Abraham to the Eschaton. I’d invite you to listen.
Part of the sermon is the example that prior generations have left us in the hymns. I left in our three hymns today. The first two are referenced directly: The Ancient Law Departs LSB 898 and Jesus Name of Wondrous Love LSB 900. I also left in our concluding hymn, O Sing of Christ LSB 362. The words are modern and the tune is familiar (Forrest Green, the Fancy O Little Town of Bethlehem). That combination makes for a surprisingly good 1st Sunday after Christmas hymn. It moves on from the simple fact of the incarnation to ponder it along with John 1 but including the themes resonant with the Circumcision and Naming – the frailness of the flesh and the wealth of the Name.
The recording for this night just didn’t turn out. The sermon conceit is a challenge: write the great Christmas hymn from the shepherds’ story. Unlike with the Angels or Mary and the Wise Men or even the night or the town, that song about the Shepherds that everyone has first doesn’t exist. What would it have to include to capture the shepherds tale of the incarnation. Take a read to see.
Instead of the recording, I did take some pictures of the place before everyone arrived. Nobody every believes me when I talk about the quality of the light in St. Mark’s sanctuary at night. These snaps capture the warm yellow glow of it.
This sermon in the third in a week, and the last, so instead of the polish of a story, it is more intensely on the text itself. The good thing, I think, is that the text lends itself to such a homiletic study. I would be helpful to have the text in front of you while listening. You can double check my referents that way and see how the text is constructed. I’m not going to tell you the main purpose right here, because I think that would betray the purpose of the text and sermon which is understanding. And understanding takes some marveling.
Doing prep reading for Christmas day this year I was struck by the consistency of the commentary of the Church Fathers on this text. This sermon attempts to proclaim what they would. That the savior, from birth, has always been offered up as the bread of life for our eating. And this eating takes us from animals to reborn humans. Merry Christmas.
The format was lessons and carols, so the main part of the service, singing all the great carols reflecting on the lessons, isn’t on the recording. But, this is the first Christmas Eve sermon in eight years that I’ve felt solidly good about. So, if you are ok with a single lesson and a homily for Christmas Eve, give this a listen. I think it comes close to the strangeness, the holiness, of the night.
And you can still come to Christmas day Divine Service tomorrow at 9 AM. Merry Christmas.
The text is the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. It is a text deeply rooted in the religion of Israel. It is also with Simeon and Anna a text populated with the advent of the Holy Spirit. What the sermon does is look at what happens when we treat the Spirit and Religion as either/or instead of both/and. From Anderson Cooper and Gwenyth Paltrow to Anna/Simeon as models for the church.