Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sermon from 12-30-12; Luke 2:22-40

Dec 30, 2012
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon Title: “Guided by the (Christmas) Spirit”
Rev. George N. Miller

All this month we’ve featured sermons with one word titles that were designed to celebrate a specific concept of the Advent season: hope, joy, peace and love.

Today we will add another concept: wisdom.

We have witnessed the pregnancies of both Elizabeth and Mary. We have experienced the births of John and Jesus.

Now we have this scene in which Jesus is brought to the Temple to be presented, and while there we encounter two elderly people who have a life changing experience.

First, there is Simeon, a man who had been promised by God that he would not die until his eyes had seen the glory of the Lord.

Then there is Anna, a widow who spent all her time in the Temple, taking on the moniker of prophet.

Simeon speaks of revelation and glory. He blesses the family.

He tells Mary that although her child will achieve great things, she will experience some suffering. A truth that any parent knows too well.

Anna praises God and speaks to all who will listen.

In some ways, Luke has completed his introductory cycle of relationships.

We’ve had Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary representing the parents of the world.

Jesus and John are the children.

We’ve experienced the presence of neighbors, relatives and co-workers.

Now, Simeon and Anna take on grandparent-like status.

By doing so, I feel like they are also meant to represent the notion of wisdom and knowledge, the kind that gets passed down from one generation to the next; the kind we soak in from our elders.

Just before, we heard Judy share the lyrics from one of her favorite Christmas songs. I’d like to now share the words of one of mine: “Ava Marie.”

“Take my fear replace it with knowledge divine
though I am weak, make me strong.
Each day I’ll be more understanding
each day more patient and peaceful within
and faith will lead me closer to wisdom
let wisdom deliver me closer to Him.”

These lyrics, which call upon God to show the meanings of love and contentment especially fit this season, especially in light of all that happened these past few months.

Due to the events in Connecticut, due to the events of Hurricane Sandy, due to the events surrounding election season, there has been a sense of fear, and with fear, confusion.

Fear and confusion are powerful emotions to mix that can lead to dangerous decisions and malevolent mistakes.

What I like about “Ava Marie” is the emphasis it places on knowledge, on the ability to think.

In other words: wisdom.

Wisdom is a smart theme to discuss as we close the year, after witnessing the birth of Jesus and rediscovering all that Jesus can be to us.

Trying to figure out who Jesus is has been the task of Christians throughout the ages.

In many ways, our faith is based upon our continued attempt to understand Jesus in new times, new places and new ways.

Way back, when Jesus’ ministry first began, people had various responses when they personally experienced him.

Some people were enraptured by his presence, his charisma, and his spiritual gifts.

Others were indifferent or negative: “Oh, he’s just the carpenter’s son” or “Oh, he must be possessed by a demon.”

Others had a positive response: Jesus was the answer they had been looking for, fulfilling their expectation about how they would meet God.

Those who were waiting for a prophet called Jesus “the Prophet.”

Those who were waiting for the Anointed One called Jesus “the Christ.”

Others came to see Jesus as Healer, Shepherd, Meal Provider.

Then there were those who delighted in discussions and dissertations, who desired to use their brain and were not afraid to faithfully think for themselves.

Read the Bible closely and you’ll discover just how large of a role wisdom and knowledge play.

How the Jews valued study and knowledge. How the New Testament writers, influenced by Greek thought, embraced wisdom, calling it Sophia.

Some of these people, those who prized wisdom, believed that it dwelled within Jesus.

So when Jesus walked past them or stopped to have an engaging conversation, they would say to one another “Behold the Wisdom of God.”

I think back to life lessons I have learned over the years. One that has stayed clearly in my mind is something that happened back in 2004.

I was helping my friend Cari to move. With her father and two friends we moved tables and chairs, books and potted plants, until only one thing remained: her couch.

It was not a simple, small couch; it was a huge, magnificent couch that took up the length of the wall. We tried to get it out the door, but no luck.

We pushed and we pulled, we turned and we flipped. We gritted our teeth and we shoved, but no good.

We took Cari’s front door off its hinges. No help.

We had her neighbor open up his door to create extra wiggle room. No wiggle was had.

We took the neighbor’s door off the hinges. Not a thing happened.

Nearly an hour passed and we had done everything we could do to free that couch from her apartment.

But freedom could not be had.

With nothing left to do, we did the one thing we hadn’t done: we prayed.

We joined hands, bowed our heads and simply asked God to send us some wisdom to figure out what to do.

After the “Amen” was said, we went back to work.

We tilted the couch, we grabbed an end, and somehow, some way (no kidding), the couch came right out of the apartment!

To this day I think about that moment, and if I wasn’t there, I would say it never happened.

But it did. How?

We were trying for an hour and did nothing different in those last five minutes but pray. Yet the prayer worked.

Somehow a combination of wisdom, coincidence, miracle and sheer luck all came together to accomplish what needed to be done.

All I know is this: when we stopped trying to do it by ourselves, when we paused for prayer and specifically sought out God’s wisdom, we were able to get the couch out of Cari’s apartment.

My prayer life would never be the same again.

As stated before, Wisdom is throughout the Bible. Proverbs 8 states that wisdom was present during the creation.

Wisdom is there with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah when it came time to rebuild the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, wisdom is referred to abundantly. Look at today’s reading.

Words that refer to Simeon being guided by the Holy Spirit or having things revealed by the Spirit are just other ways to speak about wisdom.

Look at Anna who is called a prophet and said to be a great age; again, just other ways to hint about wisdom.

Then, to make it clear, Luke tells us Jesus “Grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

Read a little further and we’ll see 12 year-old Jesus sitting in the temple, listening and asking, amazing all who hear.

To make sure the point is driven home, verse 52 states how Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew older.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, wisdom overflows.

The teachings of Jesus.

His sayings such as the blind should not lead the blind.

His speeches which did not always make sense but forced one to think, such as calling those who weep blessed.

There was something about the stories he told featuring beggars and lost children which caused people to say, as Jesus walked by, “Here is the Wisdom of God”.

People who met Jesus felt as if God’s wisdom had come down to them and was in their midst.

In fact, the earliest records we have of Jesus did not highlight his healings or miracles, they highlighted what he said and the lessons he taught.

The very earliest of Jesus’ followers gathered his sayings and stories. They celebrated his wisdom, even if his teachings often sounded peculiar, or undermined the official view of the world.

So…throughout this month we have talked about hope and joy, peace and love.

What does all this about wisdom mean for us, especially during this Christmas season?

For on thing, it means we have yet another way to “see” Jesus.

We heard Judy share a song that presented Jesus as black, Hispanic, Asian and white.

We each have our own ways of seeing Jesus. As Savior, Healer, Counselor, Friend.

Now we have another way, as Wisdom Incarnate.

What does this mean?

It means that when it comes to our own personal spiritual life we have another way to pray, inviting Jesus to share with us his wisdom.

It means that when we are faced with a difficult choice or a hopeless situation, we can pray, asking for wisdom on what to do and how to face our situations.

When loved ones go into the hospital, we don’t just ask for healing. We ask for the medical staff, the doctors, the surgeons, to be filled with wisdom.

At council meetings, at congregation gatherings when making a difficult decision, we can ask for wisdom.

Believing that Jesus is indeed wisdom incarnate, we can began to realize how anything which involves education and learning can become an act of prayer.

Teach your son or daughter how to change a tire: you’re sharing wisdom.

Teach a grandchild how to make their bed: wisdom.

Teach a child how to make homemade pasta: you’re sharing wisdom.

Sign up for a new class, learn a new trade, sit down with a loved one to read together: you are sharing wisdom, you are experiencing God.

I believe that anytime you embrace, share or seek out wisdom, you are embracing, sharing and seeking out the Divine.

In conclusion, since that day when I helped Cari move her couch, I have found that praying to God for wisdom takes me out of my world, and helps to move me away from my biases and worries.

It moves me closer into the realm of God, in which different realities exist, in which wisdom, not fear rules, and the Spirit of God, not the spirit of my ego dominates.

I invite you this week to take some time out, to engage God’s Wisdom in your own way.

The next time you face a crisis, or have a difficult decision to make, invite Jesus to become a partner in your situation by asking for and seeking Wisdom.

See what happens.

You may find yourself moving from helpless to an active participant.

And just like Anna, Simeon, and Jesus you will be guided by the Spirit, opening up doors and conquering things you never thought you could.

In the words of “Ava Marie”, may God take your fear and replace it with knowledge divine.

May each day make you more understanding, patient and peaceful within.

May faith lead you closer to wisdom, may wisdom deliver you closer to Christ.

Amen and amen.

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