Gift cards for Christmas

Luke 2:22-40

 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
   you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
   and the glory of your people Israel.”

 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four, She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

            I am not going to preach a long sermon today.  Please, hold your applause.  I know that nobody wants to hear me talk today; you want to sing.  And besides, what can I say today that hasn’t been said already, many times before?  But it is a story that is worth retelling.

            Since this is a shorter sermon, I am also going to make it a thinking kind of sermon.  So get your notebooks ready and keep your pencils sharp!

            Our text for this morning comes from Luke 2; it is the story of Jesus being presented at the Temple.  Leviticus gives the instructions that parents are to bring their children to the temple for two reasons: One is for the mother to go through the rituals required to become ceremonially clean and the other is to present their first-born son to God.

            Verse 23, which is in parentheses in my version of the Bible, says, “(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’).”  To consecrate something means to set it aside as holy to God.

            We find this practice in Exodus 13:1-2, which says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.’”  Set aside as holy the first born of the family.  Originally, when the Israelites came out of captivity in Egypt, it was the first born son’s duty to serve as the priests to the people.  If you were the eldest boy, you were dedicated as a servant of the Lord.  You didn’t have to worry about what you were going to do for a living, it was already decided by God.  I don’t know if that would take some of the pressure off your career choice or add more pressure.

            Well the Israelites wander through the wilderness and they come to Mt. Sinai, where Moses receives the 10 Commandments and the rest of the Torah.  When Moses comes down from the mountain, he sees that the Israelites have fashioned a calf out of gold and they were worshipping it.  Not cool guys, not cool.

If you read through Exodus 32 you will find that as a punishment, God tells Moses to consecrate the Levites as his priestly people, taking the privilege away from the first born.  But this transaction did not occur for free.  The firstborn child needed to be purchased out of the priesthood.  A slightly edited version of Leviticus 44-48 shows how this happened, “The LORD also said to Moses, ‘Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel… The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD.  To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.  Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.’”

            So when Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, they would have been going through this ritual.  Before the golden calf incident, Jesus would have been set aside as a priest.  But since the Levites now held the priestly position, all first-born sons had to be redeemed, that is, 5 shekels had to be paid to the Levites to release the first born from the priestly duties.  And this is a practice that some Jewish people still participate in today; it is called Pidyon haben, which means “redemption of the first born.”

            We probably think about redemption in the church as the forgiveness of sins, and it is indeed that.  But let me ask you this: Did Jesus, or any other baby for that matter, need to be forgiven for some sin?  Of course not.  Redemption in this case meant something more than forgiveness.  Redemption is a word that we use frequently in our culture, probably without really knowing what it means.  For Christmas you might get a gift card to one of your favorite restaurants or stores.  For instance, we got my dad a gift card to a restaurant in Ohio called “Cleats” and another gift card to Playhouse Theater for a musical.  We bought that card in advance so that my father would not have to pay the price of admission.  All he has to do is take the card to the restaurant or theater and redeem it.  The word “redeem” literally means to “repurchase” something.  So the restaurant repurchases the gift card with food.  Before they give you the food, they owe you.  Something is offered to make everything right.  Redemption is making things right.

            As Mary and Joseph go to the temple to participate in the sacrificial rituals and the consecration/redemption of their son, a man named Simeon snatches up the young boy and he begins to praise God.  It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw with his own eyes the anointed one of God, the Messiah.  And having been led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon knew that this baby boy was the one he had been waiting for.

            But our text also speaks of another individual named Anna.  Verse 38 says, “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  When Simeon snatched up the baby Jesus and began praising God, Anna also realized who he was.  She began proclaiming that the Messiah had arrived to all that were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

            Jerusalem was under occupancy by the Roman army.  The people were slaves in their own land.  They were taxed heavily, and they even had to use Roman money for their taxes, which bared the image of Caesar.  To an Israelite, this was blasphemy.  The Israelites were to have no graven image.  Remember that whole golden calf thing?  Furthermore, the leader of the Romans was called things like lord, savior of the people, and even the son of God.  The Israelites were looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come and redeem the people from the Romans, purchasing them from the Romans who were not only oppressive, they were forcing the Romans to participate in acts that clearly were contradictory to their religious beliefs.  So they used the metaphor of redemption for God acting in their world to set everything right.  Come, Lord, and redeem us from our enemies.  Buy us back from the Romans and make things right.  Anna and Simeon believed this little boy to be that Messiah.

            Let’s stay in the book of Luke, but fast-forward about 33 years.  Luke tells us that Jesus had been crucified and raised back to life again.  And we pick up in chapter 24 with two men going on a walk to the city of Emmaus.  And as they are walking along and talking about all that has happened over the last three days, a stranger appears to them.  We are told that this stranger is the resurrected Jesus, but they don’t know that.

            Jesus asks them what they are talking about and they are a little surprised that this guy has no idea about the things that have been going on.  And they tell him, beginning in verse 19, “‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’”

            Again, we find this redemption thing.  We had hoped that he was the one to redeem us, to repurchase us from our enemies, to make things right.  And Jesus replies, “He did.”  He then explains to them, walking them through the Hebrew Bible, that what happened to Jesus was how the messiah was to redeem the people.  Not through war, not through power and might.  The messiah was to redeem the people by providing them with them with the way to live as God’s people within the empire; a countercultural, upside-down way of revealing the sins of the people and calling them to repentance.  And as a final act of redemption, the messiah purchased the people back from their sinful ways through the cross.  It is not only Jesus’s death that redeems Israel.  It is Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection that redeems the world.  Which is good news, because the world needs redeeming, and we are called to work with our redeemer for that purpose.

            Last week I spoke of my high school’s success in the recent football season.  Recently I got the chance to watch the game that my little brother had DVR’ed.  It was truly one of the greatest high school games that I have ever seen.  However, I realized after the game that the night was bigger than any one person.  It wasn’t just about the star quarterback or the mean linebacker.  It was about the community coming together.

            The thing that made me start to think communally about this game was a saxophone.  A single saxophone sat in the bleachers among the other woodwinds in the marching band, only this one was without a musician.  You see, a few years back a young girl passed away after a battle with cancer.  She lived the next block over from where I grew up.  Hattie would have been a senior this year and she played saxophone in the school band.  So as a way to remember her and honor her, they placed her saxophone with the band.  And this was explained over the loudspeaker during halftime of the game. 

            We live in a world that needs redemption; things are not right, they are not as they are supposed to be.  I know that redemption is a word that is often associated with the forgiveness of sins, and it is indeed that, but redemption is much more.  Through Jesus Christ, God is redeeming the entire world, God is making things right.  And we are to continue in the work that Jesus began.  The redemption that we have experienced is just the beginning for us.  We are to work for God’s redemption of all the world.  That is why we work for peace, that is why we work for justice, that is why we love our enemy, that is why we care for the poor and the needy, and that is why we fight to defeat cancer.  The redemptive work of Jesus reached its pinnacle on the cross, and it continues through his resurrection.

            Just as I believe that football game was about more than one person or even one team, I believe the redemptive work of Jesus is more than about what Jesus can do for me.  Redemption is bigger.  Like Simeon, Anna, and Jesus’s traveling companions on the road to Emmaus, I believe that Jesus is the one who will redeem Jerusalem, and all of the world.  And we are called to be his hands and feet, giving the world a taste of the redemption that is to come.  Because one day Jesus will make everything right.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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