A new creation

Psalm 8

Luke 2: 21-39

 Ten days in to the new year, and what has changed? The year is new, 2021, but we still find ourselves within the same struggle of 2020?

Words from the book of Ecclesiastes say,

…there is nothing new under the sun.
   Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?.. (Ecclesiastes 9-10)

These word have a tone of cynicism, and we too may feel that same cynicism.

So, what’s new? Well, the birth of a child is always new. Children were born in the midst of the challenges and sadness of last year and they continue to be born. Every new born child is a new creation. Creation begins anew, every time a child is born. That is what the birth of a child is, from a biblical point of view.

After telling us the story about the birth of God’s Son, the Gospel writer Luke tells us  what happened to the baby boy that was born in a stable in Bethlehem, when he was eight days old. And we’re told, because Luke wants to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus was born as a Jewish baby boy. For on that day, the eight day, He, like any other Jewish boy, was circumcised and was given His Name. Mary knew, before she had conceived, that her son would be called Jesus, and Joseph knew that as well. He was told in a dream. Still, it was not until the eight day, that God’s Son was given the name Jesus, as was required by the Law of the Lord.

The Gospel writer Luke also tells about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth too had conceived. Elizabeth’s husband was Zachariah, the priest. And they were a couple that were far too old to become parents. For nature, they were too old, for God they weren’t. He gave them a son, despite their old age:

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.  And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”  And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.”  And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. (Luke 1:-57-63)

Here we have it again: wonder, after a discussion had taken place about the child’s name. John? Where does that name come from, no one in the family is called John; he should be called Zachariah, after his father.

The birth of John the Baptist; a child born for a particular purpose of God. Because of that, the patriarchal practice that the son is called after his father, didn’t happen. Instead, God’s way happened. He was called John, according to God’s will, who called him.

God’s ways cause to wonder, as His ways are not ours. He who created the world in seven days didn’t call it a day, after those seven days of creation. No, being a God of new beginnings, He begins over and over again. And therefore, since the eight day follows those seven days of creation, it is that eight day that symbolizes in the bible, God’s new beginning.

That is why a Jewish baby boy is circumcised on the eight day, because on that day he, as God’s new creation, enters the covenant that God made with Abraham. The baby boy is brought into that covenant by his parents and so is included and participates in that covenant. In fact, in Hebrew it doesn’t say that a covenant is made; a covenant is cut. Belonging to God is something that cuts deeply. It involves heart and soul and might, as it says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5)

Like all other Jewish baby boys, both John and Jesus are brought into God’s covenant on the eight day. Their names are called out on that day. Just as the Law of the Lord required. But there’s a difference in how it happens. There are lots of people on John’s eight day. As for Jesus, it says,

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)

That’s all it says. A plain statement. It seems as if Luke thinks: ‘less is more’. And that more lies in His name. No, not just more, everything lies in His Name, in the Hebrew name that he was called, Yeshua, which means, God saves. Who He is, what he will do, His whole being is held in this name.

He is the Saviour, through whom God came to save the world. He was called Jesus for us. So that we would be saved, following Him. There was the blood from his flesh that came with his circumcision, but so much more blood was to come from His flesh, later, for us.

Mary and Joseph didn’t know, but the old Simeon did.

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

Both he and the old Anna, had been waiting for their redeemer. The solidness of their faith, their patience, their joy when they at last after years and years of waiting see Him.

And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 38)

Meeting our Redeemer. It’s not a superficial thing. It’s deep, as he reveals thoughts from the hearts, as Simeon says.

 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:39-40)

May, through our Lord Jesus Christ, the favor of God be upon you all

Amen.

 

Choosing Love

If you ever watch the program ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, you see and hear sometimes a young girl or boy singing with a voice that you never expected to come out of such a young person. A voice that leaves even Simon Cowell speechless; mature, powerful, filled with emotions that could normally only come from a man or woman with life experience.

It’s a bit like that in our New Testament reading. Its words come from the young Jewish girl Mary, but the words with which she expresses herself are immensely powerful; words that come out of her soul; words that spell out the essence of who God is: mighty, holy, filled by His mercy.

It is Mary’s Magnificat. She begins with magnifying the Lord, as her Saviour, how He has done great things for her, but then she moves away from herself. There is shift of focus from the personal to those who fear Him. Her view broadens as she draws into her song, God’s way, God’s history with the whole of Israel

And so Mary’s song works like a stone that is thrown into a pond, creating circles that become bigger. Mary’s song begins as a song that proclaims and celebrates God as the Saviour in her life, after which she moves to all the people of Israel, to whom she belongs, as they all, like Mary, have experienced Him as their Saviour.

Hymns in which God’s might, holiness and mercy are praised have been sung by more women, long before Mary, who all have experienced that God turned His words into deeds.

Miriam, the sister of Moses, the judge Deborah, and Hanna, the mother of Samuel. They are all Old Testament women who have done what Mary does, generations before her, each from within their time and circumstances.

In the book of Judges, Deborah the judge, sings

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
    that the people offered themselves willingly,
    bless the Lord!

“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
    to the Lord I will sing;
    I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel”

Hannah, after leaving her little boy Samuel in the Temple and so kept her promise to God that she would give her son back to Him, sings:

‘My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation’.

And Miriam, Moses sister, when Israel had crossed the Red Sea after which their enemies, Pharaoh and his men drowned, Miriam sang with all the women,

‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously’

Miriam and Mary. There is this close connection between their names. But that connection signifies so much more as both stand within the salvation story, in which we also have been given our place.

All those inspiring forces from the past are mobilised and channelled into Mary’s hymn of praise.

The voices from women of Israel. Israel, the people with whom God chose to have this unique partnership. But from that partnership all the nations in the world were to be blessed, through the covenant, that God made with Abraham. And that is why Mary concludes her song with him, Abraham. The intimacy between God and Israel has its root in how God spoke to Abraham and from then to Abraham’s offspring. And because of that special and intimate bond, Israel belongs to no other god than to the God of Abraham.

That is why Israel is so often called virgin.

‘Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel ‘(Jeremiah 31:4)

‘She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion’ (2 Kings 19:21)

As the mother of God’s Son, Mary represents this virgin Israel; and so she belongs first to God only. And from this virgin, Jesus Christ was born, out of God’s will, not out of procreation but from His visit to Mary, God’s Son was born.

Out of Israel. And so,only so; only in this way; the way of God, salvation came from the Jews.

It may feel bittersweet, to focus on Mary’s words that express her awe and wonder about God, while we aren’t allowed to sing the words of the song that we would have sung,

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and for evermore!

Our reading says: Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’. And magnifying the Lord can of course be done with loud voices. That is what we want through singing, it’s what we long to do. And we will again, but meanwhile, be comforted. Remember that the One to whom our praise is addressed; the One in whom we have faith, He doesn’t mind whether we express ourselves loudly or quietly in our hearts. He doesn’t hear or see us better, when we are loud.

The way we in which praise, in which we confess our faith in Him..it may well be more important to ourselves than to God. What matters for Him is that we do it, in the church, outside the church, in our homes, outside, loud or quiet, singing or just saying. What counts for Him is what is really there in our hearts; what He finds there, within us.

Human nature doesn’t allow much for being humble. Naturally, that’s not what we choose to be. Yes, we are willing when it’s not too costly, when it doesn’t touch our pride too much, when it doesn’t last too long. We don’t want to be left the darkness that, we feel, comes with dependence. We want the opposite: the light of our independence, our strength, our control.

But that is not state that Mary is in when she magnifies the Lord. That is not the light in which Mary stands when she says the words, ‘Let it be to me according to Your Word.’ When she says those words, she finds herself standing in the light of God’s grace. Maybe, realizing that, letting that sink in more, we may be drawn more into that state of humility.

It’s the state that God chose for Himself, when for Him the time was right to reveal Himself as He did: humble, in the vulnerability of a new born baby.

God’s choice to show His face in His own Son Jesus Christ, His choice for the humility that comes with love, which is patient, kind, which doesn’t envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude.

Let God’s choice for love be our choice too.

After all, we have been created by Him, in His image…

 Amen