First Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
The celebration of New Year’s is all about beginnings and endings. It is the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year. We celebrate on New Year’s all of the great things that happened in the year that is just ending … the TV and the radio and magazines are filled with countdowns of the top events of the year … the Athlete of the Year, the Person of the Year.
To be sure, for many of us, and maybe all of us, I suppose in one area or another, the end of the year has a bit of good riddance, too. There is always the hope that we are leaving the pain and sadness of last year behind us. That all of the ugly things that defined that year will be last year’s things. And there is a bit of hope looking forward that the New Year will be better, it will be happier, more prosperous, less hurtful and less sad.
There is always hope, I think, and this too is why we celebrate that the new year will be filled with peace, with love, and with the Grace of God.
That first Christmas, the birth of the Christ-child carried that same promise. It carried the promise that what came after Jesus’ birth would be completely different than what had preceded it. That having “God with us,” would make things better. That having “God with us,” would indeed bring us the shalom of God, that it would bring us peace.
That is indeed what Simeon believed. I feel a little sorry for Joseph and Mary. They bring their beautiful boy to church for the first time and they had no sooner walked in the door than here comes Simeon and Simeon says, “Lord, now you can let your servant go in peace,” meaning, of course, now you can let me die, for I have seen the Messiah, I have seen the son of God.
I don’t know about you but that wasn’t what I was expecting the first time we brought Sam to church. And yet Simeon understood what this Child meant. He understood that the coming of the Messiah did indeed mean that everything had changed, the old was passing away, and in Jesus, the new was coming into being.
Simeon could now go in peace. He could go knowing that God was keeping his promise. Knowing that even though this child was going to bring both joy and sadness, peace and conflict, that God was indeed in control, and because of that, things were going to be okay.
Simeon understood that one of the meanings of Christmas was that God was actively taking part in our world, that God was with us. And that understanding gave Simeon courage … courage to face his death, courage to leave this world, his family, his friends, his nation in God’s hands. Simeon knew that the coming of the Christ-child meant that God hadn’t given up on us, hadn’t left us to our own devices, and because of that the future was full of hope.
My friends, Christmas still means all of this! That Christ was born, that God lived among us, and that God is still very much interested in us, means that we too can face the future with that same Christmas courage of Simeon. That we can believe that what lies ahead of us is so very much better than what lies behind us. That with God’s love and God’s care and with God’s grace, all of the problems we see around us, all of the worries, all of the pain and sadness and grief, they will not overcome us. They will not defeat us. We can face them head on, with a Christmas faith and a Christmas courage, knowing that Christ is still “God with us.”
I know sometimes it seems that Christmas is all done with when the last piece of pie is eaten and the last bag of Christmas trash has been hauled away, but I think New Year’s can be for us a reminder of the promise of Christmas. That what lies ahead of us is full of hope and light, and that like Simeon we can face the future with the peace of knowing that God is indeed Emanuel, God is with us. Amen.