The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Merry first Sunday after Christmas!

Since it's the first Sunday after Christmas, I preached at my home church in Encinitas! I did the same last year, and this may be becoming a tradition. I'd like it. I love preaching at Bethlehem because everyone there likes me so much. But seriously. Afterward they tell me about how much they love seeing me up there, and I really appreciate that.

This morning I got to talk to Ben on facebook chat for like ten minutes, and it was seriously the best Christmas present (okay maybe second to the Lady Gaga tickets). But seriously, just to have those few sentences of contact, just to catch up and say Merry Christmas and I miss you...it was so nice. And he wanted to hear my sermon, but I do not have the capacity to live stream it to Ukraine...so I'm posting it here. If you don't care to read it, that's cool. It's for Ben, mostly. If you want to know what Ben is up to and live vicariously through his Ukrainian Peace Corps adventures, check it out at www.pcvbenhogue.blogspot.com

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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 turtle-doves 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 for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped 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.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that when I looked at the title of this section of the gospel, as written by the editors of my bible, it says, “The Presentation of Jesus,” and I couldn’t help but think of the presentation of Simba in the Lion King. I just sort of imagined all of the animals coming to see the birth of the infant king, and seeing the baby Jesus lifted high above them. This is probably because I am a child of the 90s who relates everything possible back to Disney movies.

And, like the birth of Simba, the birth of Jesus was greatly anticipated in his family and community, and we celebrate this anticipation every year in the season of advent. We have been waiting and waiting and lighting our wreaths each week, and opening our advent calendars day by day, making our travel plans to be with our families for Christmas, shopping and wrapping and giving gifts to those we love and those with whom we celebrate this joyous occasion.

As a seminarian, I have been participating in planning worship and setting up the chapel to reflect properly the seasons of the church year. Getting ready for advent was wonderful – each week, new decorations were added to the chapel, new words printed on the bulletin cover, and new candles lit in our wreath. But because we got out of school a week before Christmas, we cheated and started our advent preparations a week early. This means we spent one less ordinary week in ordinary time, and completed our four weeks of advent a week ahead of actual Christmas. Coming home, therefore, we got to celebrate the mother Mary two weeks in a row! I think this was a good trade. Plus, don’t tell Bill Harman, but we got to sing Christmas carols before Christmas. Up at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, we’re making our own rules.

Coupled with this advent excitement, of course, was a slough of final exams – no small feat, a sentiment I’m sure I share with all the students in the congregation. And for those of us who had to fly or drive long distances to be home for Christmas, we’ve felt that anxious anticipation even more fully. Delayed flights and bumper-to-bumper traffic did not ease our long journey home. And our frustration in travel may be similar to the frustration of Joseph and his pregnant wife. As though making the trek to Bethlehem wasn’t arduous enough, worrying about her well-being and the logistics of her travel cannot have made the trip easier.

And though we have certainly been waiting anxiously to get to Bethlehem (though our Bethlehem happens to be in Encinitas) we, like Mary, were also waiting for the birth of a savior. And we have this in common with Simeon. As the story goes, his entire life was spent awaiting the Christ. It is no coincidence, then, that Simeon happened upon the temple in Jerusalem at the time that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there.

The beginning of the text tells us that Mary and Joseph were in Jerusalem for the presentation of their son because this was what was necessary under the law of Moses. These laws, presented in Leviticus, are the context into which Jesus was born. But they are also the context that we have been raised out of by the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of the Christ.

First, there was covenant with Abraham – Abraham’s faith became his righteousness. At that time, in that place, the people of God needed assurance that they were the people of God, as long as they had faith. God’s covenant with Moses prescribed laws for righteous living. In that time, in that place, the people of God needed reminding that they were the people of God, and that with that came the responsibility to glorify their God, and only their God. Now, in this time, in this place, in the Christ child, God has once again reined us in with the knowledge that we are the people of God. The birth of this child is the first step toward the death and resurrection of the Christ, which supersedes the Laws of Moses and offers us grace, freely given. As much as this baby did nothing to assume his role in the salvation of his people, so do we do nothing to receive our salvation. We simply participate in the community founded around this child.

In our own sacrament of baptism, we are, like Simba and Jesus, presented to God and to our community in Christ. One of the important pieces of Jesus’ presentation was his naming. In this ceremonial naming, the words of the Angel Gabriel are fulfilled – those familiar words of the annunciation, “You shall bear a child, and his name shall be Jesus, the chosen one of God most high.” Simeon’s words echo these, as he tells Mary surely what she already knows – this is no ordinary child. This child, bearing the name Jesus, or Yeshua, from which we get Joshua, this name that means “God is Salvation.” This baby will be the savior of the world. God with us, come among us, as us, to save us.

Mary and Joseph are surprised and amazed at these words. Certainly, they remember the words of the angels who spoke to them of their child. But it may be surprising to them that there are others in the community who recognize that this child has changed the course of history. Many mothers would claim that the existence of their child has changed the world – it has certainly changed theirs.

And though she is only briefly mentioned, Anna is a key player in this story. She, like Simeon, has been waiting for the redemption of Israel. She has spent night and day in the temple, worshipping, fasting, and praying to her God for some knowledge of the messiah. She was a prophet, and it seems that those to whom she prophesied were waiting, too. The text says that she began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. This community seems to be no stranger to waiting. But it also seems that their wait is nearly over. This child, here, has finally come to redeem them. Anna and her community now just have to wait and see who this child will grow up to become.

Additionally, Simeon does not have only praises of God to share with Mary and Joseph. He tells them that their baby will be “a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” The salvation their child brings will not go over easily, and many will suffer for it, though none as much as Jesus himself. No mother wants to hear that her child will suffer. And Simeon says that a sword will pierce Mary’s soul, as well. These words are a far cry from the blessings he initially offers. But what’s beautiful about Simeon is that he moves forward in hope. He has seen the Christ child, sent by God to this world. This is what he has been waiting for forever. He can now go in peace, because he has seen the salvation that has been promised to his people. He does not focus on how that salvation will have to come about. He does not dwell on the persecution, suffering, and death of the Christ. He focuses only on the fact that this baby is being named Jesus, and is the one for whom he has been waiting. This name, Jesus, has assured Simeon that the God he loves and lives for has given him the salvation he has been promised.

Yesterday we celebrated this day of Jesus’ birth with much rejoicing. I have a giant family, and, each year, we spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas day together in celebration. There is much food, conversation, laughter, gift-giving, and love. It is a joyous, joyous occasion. My mom’s favorite Christmas hymn, is Joy to the World. This is a perfect representation of how Christmas manifests in my family. We take the hint from Simeon and Anna and do not dwell on the eventual sacrifice of the Christ. We have spent advent preparing him room, and (skipping the sin and sorrow growing) and move right ahead to the wonders of his love. Heaven and nature do much singing, and we repeat the sounding joy.

And because we are many, we have many pieties and many ideas of what this Christmas celebration is about. We are of a spectrum of practices and denominations, but we are family, and we celebrate together.

My best friend from college, Ben, is serving in Kolky, Ukraine in the Peace Corps. This morning, I was lucky enough to be able to chat with him on facebook for a few minutes. He asked about my giant family Christmas, and told me he'd spoken to his parents for a bit, and that they were going to call again from his grandparents' house today. What was weird, though, was that, in Ukraine, yesterday was not Christmas. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, Christmas isn't until January 7. So what were Ben and his PCV friends to do? Make some borscht and keep waiting.

In class a few months ago, one of my professors said that Jesus has the name that is above all names. This does not mean that “Jesus” is the best name ever and that all of our children should, from now on, be named Jesus. What she meant was that Jesus has the name that is above the idea of names. We were first simply Christians. We are now Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Russian Orthodox -- but before we ever made any of those divisions, we were called together by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. When Jesus received his name during this presentation and purification, it was then that we were first invited into the saving grace of God. Amen and Merry Christmas.

Rico's with Thomas

I'm a fighter and a lover.