Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sermon for Christmas 1 (New Year's Eve / Day): "Lucky Ducks"

(Texts for the day here.)


"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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah."

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and the Holy Spirit rested on him."

Lucky duck.

The Holy Spirit makes a lot of appearances in the first few chapters of Luke's gospel. The spirit that rests on Simeon is the same spirit that Gabriel proclaims to Zechariah: "Even before your son is born, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit." The same spirit came upon Mary, so that the child she bore would be called Holy. The same spirit filled Elizabeth, when she heard Mary's voice and the baby leaped in her womb. The same spirit filled Zechariah when John was born, saying, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on God's people and redeemed them."

Lucky ducks.

And out of that Spirit comes an overabundance of praise. By the Holy Spirit, Isaiah spoke: "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and has covered me with the robe of righteousness." By the Holy Spirit, Israel took up Isaiah's words and sang, "You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God." By the Holy Spirit, Paul proclaimed, "You are no longer slaves but children, and if children of God then also heirs of God." And guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon cradles Jesus in his arms and calls him a light to the nations and the glory of God's people Israel.

Lucky ducks.

Some of you know that I didn't grow up Lutheran. I became Lutheran in college, after a lot of searching. And one of the things that really drew me was how Lutherans talk about the Holy Spirit. (Wait for laughter.) See, what's funny about that is that Lutherans don't talk about the Holy Spirit. We're mainly a Jesus people -- which is a good thing. But the Holy Spirit can get set aside, at least in practice, and only trotted out on special occasions, like Pentecost, or Jesus' baptism, or when pastors-to-be are asked to talk about their "call story." As if I was just sitting in my kitchen one day when my cell phone rang. "Hello?"  "Hi. It's the Holy Spirit." "Oh, um, can I call you back?" "No. You can't."

As part of my journey through the ordination process, I've had to talk a lot about my call story. About how I knew that I wanted to become a leader of the people of God, and about who Jesus is for me and for the church. And I've become a little jealous of people like Simeon and Anna, who just look at Jesus and -- know. They know that he is the salvation prepared in the presence of the people and the redemption of Jerusalem. In contrast, my last report to the synod office was somewhere along the lines of "Look, I have read and studied too much this semester to have a good idea about exactly what I believe right now, but I think that Jesus might be important." Thankfully, I have a committee that accepts that as an answer, that recognizes that I'm on a journey, but I couldn't help but read this story -- of Simeon's great faith and great praise -- and think, "Well of course. Of course he recognized the Messiah. I mean, the Holy Spirit rested on him. Isn't that kind of cheating?"

So you might think that what drew me to Lutheranism is that we don't talk much about the Holy Spirit. But if we dig around in our roots, there is actually a lot going on with that third person of the Trinity. You see, one of the things that just resounded in my heart like a gong was this idea, in the Lutheran church, that as Christians we live in this tension between sinner and saint.

We're subject to God's law. The law is how we know who God is, and how far we are from perfect, and how much we need God's love to help fill in where we've forgotten how to love each other, or ourselves.

We're subject to the law. And yet at the exact same time we're enveloped in the gospel. In the story of God's grace. In a promise that no matter how far we may feel we are from perfect, God's love is sealed in us at baptism and we are marked as Christ's own forever. We're wrapped up in the good news that no matter how imperfect we may feel, no matter how we may look at our own work and see only the space for improvement -- God looks at us and sees children.

God sees children called by a new name, that the mouth of the LORD has given.
God sees beloved children, and heirs of the promise.

There's a richness in this tension between justified and liberated, between freed from the law and freed to love. Martin Luther, in one of his earliest essays explaining his theology, wrote:
"A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all."
And Luther goes on to explain that what keeps us in this in-between space is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes to us unbidden and surprising, like the leap in Elizabeth's womb, like Simeon and Anna stepping forward in the temple as Jesus is presented. The Holy Spirit comes -- and not because we are so very righteous and devout like Simeon and Anna, but because God out of infinite love sends the Spirit into our hearts. 

 The Holy Spirit rests on us.

And not because of anything we do, but because we are the children of God.

We are children called by a new name, that the mouth of the LORD has given.

We are beloved children, and heirs of the promise.

We are children who have seen God's salvation, a light for revelation and the glory of the people Israel.

We are children who take other children into our arms, and bless them, and help them grow and become strong, with the grace of God resting upon them.

We are not only children but heirs, heirs of God's hands and feet and heart, heirs that can look at the world through the eyes of God and act accordingly, out of love and joy.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

And we are a chosen people, whose name is children of God, and the Holy Spirit rests on us.

Lucky us.

Amen.

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