the first sunday of christmas

Luke 2. 22-40
Jesus isn’t given to god by us. He’s given to us by god!

Well, another Christmas come and gone! Theoretically, though, today is the third day of Christmas and, as I said earlier, the gift du jour is chickens! Three of them! Merry Christmas, True Love! And technically, there are, still, nine more days of it. But for all intents and purposes, it’s over. For a couple of days, now. The songs are silent. The decorations unplugged. And over the next few days, we’ll be seeing one more Christmas, boxed up and packed away, all over again. But here in the church – at least, in our little corner – we’ll be trying our hardest to keep it going! Leaving the halls decked with boughs of holly. Leaving the stockings hung by the chimney with care. All metaphorically speaking, of course. And Christmas will live on. Lukewarm. With half a heart. But it will live. For the entire twelve days. But truth is we’re tired. The past month has worn us out. The planning. The preparing. And if not eager, we’re ready. Ready to get back to living-as-usual. So, here we are … the Sunday after the day … and it’s still Christmas …

But if you’re like me, you’re, probably, just going through the motions. If this was the good old days, we’d be standing up when we’re supposed to stand. We’d be sitting when we’re supposed to sit. Singing the songs – every verse. Saying amen to all the prayers. The pastor saying one thing; us saying another in reply. And when the words were being read, we try to listen. We really would. But our minds would, no doubt, wander. Distracted. Sidetracked. We’d be thinking about something else. What we coulda. What we shoulda. And we might, actually, listen to a verse … or three … And as good luck would have it, this morning, that would be enough. Luke, chapter 2, verses twenty-two, twenty-three, and twenty-four …

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

I apologize. Those are, still, too many words to get hold of. Let’s just get to the point …

[Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord.

That’s the gist of it. “[Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” And turtledoves and young pigeons have nothing to do with it. You see, the laws of the Temple – what Luke calls the Law of the Lord – views giving birth as one of the ways of becoming ritually, ceremonially, unclean. It had to do with worship. In Jerusalem. At the Temple. And making it “right,” undoing it, required a sacrifice. Two turtledoves or two young pigeons. The presentation was something else, entirely. And Luke conflates the two. He combines then, compresses them, into one.

Let me read a verse from the second book of the bible, the Old Testament book Exodus. Chapter thirteen, verse fourteen …

Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem. When in the future your child asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall answer, “By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of
slavery …”.

Let me repeat that …

When in the future your child asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall answer, “By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery ….”

Do you see the difference? On the one hand, the purification is just that. It’s being purified, cleansed, of ritual impurity. It’s being decontaminated. Disinfected. Sanitized. And it requires an offering, a sacrifice. On the other hand, being presented to the Lord is being rescued! Redeemed! It’s being reminded that you – like everyone before you – have been set free, delivered, by god! It’s a gift. It requires nothing from us! “The Purification according to the law of Moses” goes back to the Temple in Jerusalem. “The Presentation to the Lord” goes back before that … to the mud pits … in Egypt. The Purification is a liturgical thing. Worship. The Temple. The Presentation is more basic, more primal. It has to do with who we are, whose we are. And of the two, the more necessary, the more essential – especially on a day like this – is the Presentation.

There’s more to the Presentation than meets the eye. Just as there’s more to Baptism than just the water. Mary and Joseph – Joseph and Mary – didn’t just walk down an aisle and hand Jesus to a priest, who in turn lifted up Jesus to god! They didn’t say, God, this belongs to you!” And god didn’t say, “Thank you very much,” in return. That’s not the way it works. Mary and Joseph – Joseph and Mary – brought Jesus to god. And god said to Jesus, “Know this: the same thing I did for Joseph, I did – I do – for you, as well! The same thing I did for Joseph … and for his father … and for his grandfather … and for every grandfather since the beginning … I do for you! As I brought them out of Egypt, I bring you out! As I set them free, I set you free!” It wasn’t Mary and Joseph – Joseph and Mary – handing Jesus over to god. It was god giving Jesus his identity! It was god giving Jesus his birthright! His birthright as god’s very own! And it had nothing to do with two turtledoves or, even, three French hens!

This is the day, god centers us! This is the day, god focuses us and fixes us on what matters! On who’s important! We’ve exhausted ourselves in one day of celebrating, on twenty-four hours of reveling. And here, today, in the presentation of our lord, god reminds us. It’s not the candles or the carols that make Christmas Christmas. It’s not the concerts or the parties or the dinners. It’s not what’s under the tree or what’s in the stockings.

When in the future your child asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall answer, “By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery ….”

The reason? The reason for the season is us! Christmas isn’t here for god’s sake. Christmas is here for ours! For yours! For mine! This is the day! This is the hour! That deliverance dawns! This is the day, the hour, freedom is born! We don’t present Christ to god; god gives Christ to us! By strength on hand the Lord brings us out, as well! Out of Egypt! Out of the house of slavery! My friends, this is our time! And this! This is our place!