December 28, 2014 – The most meaningful Christmas gift

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him 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 turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”   There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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Christmas 1   December 28, 2014   Psalm 148, Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40   The most meaningful Christmas gift
Guest preacher: Isaac (Ryong Jae) Jung

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Good morning, church. Merry Christmas! I hope everyone of you had a great Christmas! I hope many of you were able to get together with your families and eat and have a good and blessed time.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the word “Christmas” is a gift. We tend to receive and give Christmas gifts throughout this season. We know that the real meaning of Christmas is more than the exchanging of gifts, but we often follow the mood of our time because we live in a materialistic and consumer-oriented world. Many people spend much time and energy looking for the best Christmas gifts. For them, Christmas is not a joyous season, nor a peaceful season; instead, it is one of the busiest seasons of the year. People are busy looking for the best gifts for their loved ones. As parents, they have to spend a great deal of time at stores and malls looking for gifts for their children. As you may know, now that I am a father, I really want to give my baby the most and best Christmas gifts. But I cannot find it. The more hours and days we spend finding Christmas gifts for our children, the more we become exhausted and tired. Afterwards, there is little time left in which to prepare spiritually, in order to make Christmas Eve and Christmas Day more meaningful.

The best Christmas gifts must be joy, happiness, and a grateful heart. If we cannot find joy at Christmas time, we have not found the ideal Christmas gift. As a boy, the first Christmas gift that I had ever received was a new pair of shoes. It was a real surprise to me, because this was the first time that I had received anything at all on Christmas. I may have received a Christmas gift before that, but it happened so long ago that I don’t remember. Although these shoes were just a tiny gift, they filled my heart with joy and gladness because I did not expect anything. But now, I don’t know where those shoes are. However precious and expensive the gifts might be, they can offer only temporary satisfaction—but the gift of God is eternal.

What is it that makes the best Christmas gift? The most meaningful Christmas gift we receive at Christmas is not one of our own gifts but God’s gifts to us. This is the gift of God’s son, the baby Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ comes to us as the best gift at Christmas.

Let us closely look at today’s lectionary readings. In the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph bring the newborn baby Jesus to a temple for the traditional rite of purification. There, they find two people, Simeon and Anna, who have been waiting for Jesus.

Simeon is a righteous and devout man who speaks with the voice of a prophet. To be righteous means to observe the law of God and the law of people by living in an upright and honest way. Here, being devout means to serve God with awe and a trembling heart. It also means to be dedicated to God. Since Simeon lived a devout and righteous life, God delighted in his life. God blessed him greatly and allowed him to meet the Messiah, who had come to Earth. Simeon was also a man of the Holy Spirit. He was filled with the Holy Spirit; he listened to the voice of the Spirit and lived under the guidance of the Spirit. Thus, verses 25–26 say, “the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.”

At this point, Simeon becomes overwhelmed after laying his eyes on this baby Jesus: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)” Simeon takes a quick look at Jesus. He sees his salvation and the salvation of all people. In Jesus’ face, he sees a plan of salvation that extends to all people—not just some, not just the Jews, but the Gentiles also.

Anna also is a prophet. She has been waiting in the temple, worshipping night and day. Her faithfulness is rewarded. She sees God’s redemption plan. Like Simeon, she too knows, just by seeing baby Jesus, that there is one who will redeem Jerusalem and repair the broken relationship between God and God’s people. Within a short time, she sees salvation.

Through today’s passage, we know that the best gift is the gift of God’s son, the baby Jesus Christ. It is joy in the fulfillment of the promise of salvation. Now that the baby Jesus has been born, where is this promised salvation? What do we see in the face of this baby?

When I received a gift from someone, I just need a small hole to know what is in the box. If we peel off a tiny piece of a wrapper from a gift, we can see just enough through that hole to give the whole thing away. That one little look is all that we need to know what is in the box. Through our gospel lesson today, we can see the quick look at salvation. What does that mean for us? It is a new baby, a new hope, and a new kind of salvation.

Today is the last Sunday of 2014. We need to look back on ourselves and our past to be thankful for what we already have in our lives from God. We need to see God’s plan for us. We need a new baby Jesus, as well as a new hope and salvation, so much. We see global poverty and hunger on the rise, and closer to home, we find people losing their jobs, homes, and security. We need to see the quick glimpse of salvation to give us hope.

On Christmas Day, people all over the whole world celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. On that day, Christians reaffirmed their faith that Jesus Christ is the only hope—the hope for our salvation and the hope for the new world. We’ll find our hope, our path, and our direction. Simeon saw a little baby Jesus, but more importantly, had a glimpse of a savior who can touch people all over the world with his loving ways. Anna saw a newborn baby Jesus, but most importantly she had a close-up view of God’s redemption plan for all of humanity.

Having hope in Jesus Christ is not the end of the story. What is even more important is to keep this hope against the hopelessness and despairs in the world. The hope in Jesus Christ is not a hope that can immediately overturn the world’s rules. Having hope can sometimes be relatively easy, but keeping it can be hard. It is not so hard for us to become fascinated by the hopeful mood of the Christmas season. Keeping this mood all throughout the year is usually much more difficult. Having hope in Jesus Christ is a matter of grace, but keeping that hope is a matter of discipleship. Through our faithful struggles, our hope in Jesus Christ becomes the unending hope within our lives.

After Christmas, let us think all the more about the core meaning of Jesus Christ’s coming to the world. A new year awaits us in just a few days. Today is December 28, 2014. When we change our calendar from 2014 to 2015, let us remember that, as Christians who find hope in the birth of Jesus Christ, we must make our way as the disciples of Jesus Christ, while keeping our hope against hopelessness in the world and in our hearts.

We are at a time of new beginnings. We have a new baby among us, a new hope, and a new salvation. Jesus is our savior — the most meaningful Christmas gift of all. Let us keep the faith, and let us keep being hopeful with Jesus Christ.

Joy to the world, indeed! Our savior has come! Amen.