The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 27, 2020
The longer I walk through life with Jesus, the more amazed I become over how wonderful He is. He keeps surprising me anew by revealing how spectacularly great and good He is.
Christmas sparks such awed amazement over Jesus. By His birth in Bethlehem, I am amazed at how He brings the human and the divine together in Himself; and by His presentation in Jerusalem 40 days later, how He brings the ordinary and the extraordinary together in Himself.
When Jesus’ parents took Him to the temple just over a month after His birth, His childhood was following the customary course for a first-born Jewish boy. He’d been circumcised 32 days before, and now it was time to be dedicated.
There was nothing out of the ordinary with the ritual. It was a normal rite of passage in the life of any pious Jewish family – even one as poor as the family of Joseph and Mary who could afford, not the typical sacrifice of a lamb, but only the cheaper one of a pair of pigeons.
So Jesus’ presentation started out remarkably unremarkable. In that, it was right in line with how He entered the world. Yes, back in Bethlehem there’d been some angelic fanfare; but it was seen by but a few unwashed shepherds of next to no influence – and the rich, exotic magi were still on their way to find Him. (After all, if they’d already done so, Joseph and Mary would have had plenty of money, from the gold the wise men gave them, to buy a lamb as their son’s sacrifice.)
No, it was, until the Holy Spirit moved two prophets to show up, a pretty run-of-the-mill event.
We’d do well not to pass over this fact quickly. For it reminds us of how the momentous can pop up amidst the mundane, of how something extraordinary can occur when there’s nothing exceptional going on. If we bear this in mind and desire all God desires to give us, we will be constantly on the lookout for divine surprise blessings, even in seemingly unpromising settings. For God needs no special context to do a special work. If then the holy might invade the humdrum and the revolutionary the routine, there’s no telling when a great gift of grace might come. God’s presence is ever that near; and a divine visit, ever that imminent. We’re wise to be always alert and attentive.
Into this commonplace event in Jerusalem, no different than countless others, God introduced a stupendous revelation delivered by two of His very good friends, who were moved by the Spirit to arrive at the exact right moment, and who testified that this average-looking kid was far more than first meets the eye.
Holding that baby in his wrinkled arms, Simeon burst out into song of how this infant was God’s Messiah, God’s salvation, God’s consolation for Israel, God’s light for the Gentiles. Hearing Simeon’s witness, Anna burst out into loud praise and proclaimed the wonder of Jesus “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.
God’s grace is always close and poised to bless us. We just have to watch for it and stay ready to receive it. For the light might break upon us at any time and in any place.
In 1995 filmmaker David Attenborough was sailing on a British merchant ship through the Indian Ocean 150 miles off the coast of Somalia. With no warning or anyone’s expectation of any such thing, the sailors suddenly noticed the seas beneath them begin to gleam. As they glanced ahead, they saw a glow on the horizon that was growing brighter and brighter. Fifteen minutes later, they found themselves surrounded by a sea of radiant light emitting a milky white color so substantial in appearance that it seemed as if the ship were sliding over snow or flying over clouds.
While stories of glowing seas have long been a part of maritime folklore, their reality had never before been scientifically confirmed and was usually dismissed as the product of the fervid imaginations of bored sailors. But, upon hearing that the ship’s entire crew swore they saw the sea illumined, a group of scientists led by Dr. Stephen Haddack embarked upon an ingenious means for checking up on their account. They obtained photographs, taken that very night over that very stretch of the ocean, by a weather satellite orbiting 600 miles above the earth. Sure enough, the photographs presented a verification of a luminescent area in the ocean as large as the state of Connecticut. Later marine biologists identified the shining as a rare but real occurrence created when an immense swarm of bioluminescent bacteria feeds on an immense population of algae.
The holy day of Christmas has come and gone, and the historical event of the first Christmas has long since passed. The tales of its glowing light and its afterglow in the souls of believers are often dismissed as the product of the fervid imagination of wishful thinkers.
May we by our faithfully serving Jesus, in our ordinary moments and in the dark demanding moments of this pandemic, be a presentation of the Light of the World as we shine forth he character and conduct He’s created in us by His grace. Let us pray.