[This is the text I preached off of. My delivery was more colloquial.]
of joys and covenants
Today, the 8th Day of Christmas, many Christian churches celebrate the circumcision of Baby Jesus. I was telling my friend Shoshana that I’d agreed to preach on this Sunday. Being Jewish, she talked about circumcision as covenant and various other covenant moments in the Old Testament. I said that while “circumcision” is a catchy hook into talking about the day, the Gospel reading is mostly about Simeon and Anna’s songs of praise -- and that the other assigned readings for the day follow this praise theme. She said she would still talk about covenant.
I didn’t really have a theme in mind, and this one grew on me as I thought through the lectionary. (Yes, I do like having other people write my sermons for me.) I realized belatedly that of the 3 lectionary options for today, I’d actually picked the one that’s for the first Sunday after Christmas Day, whose Gospel reading begins the verse AFTER Jesus’ circumcision.
Mary and Joseph have shown up at the Temple to offer purification offering, and to present Mary’s firstborn to God. These commandments hearken back to Leviticus and Exodus, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, the Written Law. While the Law often gets something of a bad rap in Christianity, the Torah was a good gift from God, a guide for the people as to how to be in right relationship with God.
And this theme of covenant relationship continues in today’s texts.
Simeon was promised, “You will not see death before you have seen God’s Messiah,” and guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognizes in this newborn baby, the Messiah, the one who will not only be for the glory of God’s people Israel but also a light for revelation to the Gentiles -- salvation prepared in the presence of ALL peoples.
Simeon is hearkening back to Isaic prophecies. Thursday’s assigned lectionary speaks to us from Isaiah: “It is not enough [...] to restore the tribes of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6).
God’s salvation is not for a select few but is for the whole of creation. And this is a beautiful, wonderful, celebrative thing. Our reading from Isaiah introduces the language of marriage, but it stops before my favorite part:
Never again will you be called Forsaken. Never again will you be called Desolate. But you will be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land will be called Married. For HaShem will take delight in you and your land will be joined with God in wedlock. For just as a young couple marry, you will be forever married to this land; as a newly married couple rejoice over each other, so will HaShem rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)God will rejoice over this new relationship with us.
This helps me make some peace with the Galatians text. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that we are adopted as God’s children through Christ -- because we are ALREADY God’s beloved children by virtue of our existence.
But the Isaic texts remind me that pre-existing relationships can change. People who are to be married are still in love and committed prior to the actual ceremony -- but the ceremony change something about that relationship, both for themselves and for their community. There’s an intensifying that happens there.
And that’s sort of like what happens with the Incarnation -- though in some ways it’s as much an expansion as it is an intensification. For a long time, the Israelites were God’s chosen people. And that doesn’t always work out well -- Israel frequently lusts after foreign gods, upset that HaShem, the supposed God of Israel, isn’t giving her what she wants. This comes up a lot in the prophets -- HaShem calling Israel a whore but saying, “I still love you.” So Promise #1 is that HaShem and Israel will finally work out their issues and get married. Promise #2 is that transformation and right relationship will extend not just to Israel but to the whole world. Yes, God is singing the “Boom De Yada” song -- “I love the whole world...”
Through Christ, we are adopted into God’s family in a way that is somehow different than we were before -- as children; and if children, heirs; heirs to a promise.
So what do we do with this promise we have inherited?
As Jeff Mansfield (Associate Pastor at First Church Somerville) pointed out, now that the anticipatory season of Advent is fulfilled, we are faced with the newness of the Christ child, so what are we going to do with it?
[This is where my text ended. I extemp'ed about being bearers of that already-and-not-yet salvation and reconiliation, about remembering that this is not just between us and God in an individually relational way but is about the whole world.]
Editing the NRSV was fairly straightforward (initially I de-gendered Simeon, but then that got too clunky, so I let the masculine pronouns recur partway through; and Anna remained female the whole time), but I really liked what I did with Psalm 148 (adapted from the NRSV, The Inclusive Bible, and Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying) and wanted to share:
1 Alleluia! Praise God! Give praise from the heavens, and from all the ends of the earth!
2 Give praise all you angels; give praise all you hosts!
3 Give praise, sun and moon; give praise, all you shining stars!
4 Give praise, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the Name of Love, by whose Word they were created.
6 God established the enduring pattern of Creation.
7 Give praise from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 Fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling God’s Word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild and domesticated animals, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Rulers of the earth and all peoples, leaders of all nations, all the judges of the world!
12 Young people of all genders, old and young together!
13 Let them praise the Name of Love, which Name alone is exalted; whose majesty transcends heaven and earth,
14 And who has raised up a horn for God's people, praise for the faithful, the children of Israel, the people dear to God. Alleluia!