Yesterday’s message continued a series in which we are looking at some of the supporting cast of the Christmas story.
And yet the purpose of the supporting cast is to cast a shining light on the main attraction: Jesus himself. Not simply baby Jesus, but crucified, risen, and returning Jesus.
So by looking at Simeon from Luke 2 we realized that the purpose of a baby dedication gone bad is to let us know that The one thing Jesus can’t tolerate is to be (merely) tolerated.
I am going to have to ask you advance forgiveness today if I become a little over-eager; if I get just a little bit too excited and carried away. Because part of my excitement this a.m. – no, ALL of my excitement today – stems from the fact that we get to look at the MOST DISASTROUS BABY DEDICATION EVER! The baby dedication for which expectations were the HIGHEST ever and then those expectations were dashed lower than thought possible. And that source of that BABY-DEDICATION-DISASTER (BDD) is because the dedicatOR (like, um, me?) talks too much. Oh, when he could have had a great day in church, maybe had the family involved treat him to a free lunch at Hickory Tavern, the dedicatOR KEPT TALKING and ruined everything. So let’s jump right in, shall we? Because you all are on the edge of your seats, all ready to see this disaster this is of, well, biblical proportions (AV Ghostbusters clip) because it’s in the bible.
It’s in Luke 2 as a matter of fact. Spoiler alert: Jesus has already been born. It’s actually typical for churches to spend a chunk of December on what’s called the “infancy narratives” – exploring those stories involving Jesus as an infant & child – even before getting to the birth itself. So let’s be typical & look at 2:22:
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
You know why I love that? See how it ELEVATES Judaism. Joseph & Mary, while parenting the new Messiah, are so careful and serious when it comes to this inheritance of Jewish faith that is theirs. You’re going to see that all over this story, and it goes to show you that the advent of Jesus is not some DEPARTURE from Judaism; it is the fulfillment of it. Not the CREATION of a new religion; the COMPLETION of an old one! Tuck that away.
And look also what 2:22 says: “to present them to the Lord.” That is fabulous because who is Jesus? The Lord. So he is presented TO THE LORD AS THE LORD. Mind bending, but true. Then check 2:23, where there is more of that continuity with & faithfulness to Judaism: 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]). Same with 2:24: 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b] Unmistakable emphasis: obedience to rituals and to history. And exactly what were all these? Well, we figure it’s well after circumcision, which happens on the 8th day, but these involve a rite of post-birth purity for Mary (40 days) as well as acknowledging that the first born has a unique place in the family and is thus presented to / committed to / dedicated to God. So: purifying Mary & dedicating Jesus. Jesus’ parents were really good Jews.
Speaking of really good Jews, hanging around the Jerusalem temple on that day was a man named Simeon. Check 2:25-26: 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Now: who was he and why was he there? An unemployed preacher? Activist? Blogger? Internet sensation? We’re not sure. But he is someone deeply in tune with the will and the ways of God. And he embodies the spirit of expectation that HOVERS over this entire little scene. He had heard from God that he would live until he would SEE WITH HIS OWN EYES the Messiah of God, the Savior of Israel. (It’s interesting … sometimes elderly people wonder with me why God “keeps them around” & they often assuming it has to do with DOING something; if we take Simeon seriously, maybe it has to do with SEEING someone!).
And look how Simeon – who is so faithful to what is ancient – is obedient to the move of the Spirit in the present.
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
So he “just happens” to be in the right place at the right time to meet this little family of young parents & their first born. And here’s where the story gets weird. Because M & J are probably dressed up, their family is there with them with camera phones at least & maybe even better equipment set up on a tripod, and they are all ready for the nice priest to dedicate their baby … and in steps this bizarre old man with spittle on his beard & hair unkempt & he is just about intolerable. Look what he does in 2:28:
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
Notice what it DOESN’T say: “Mary GAVE the baby to him.” Nope. He took baby Jesus. Mary must have been all “Don’t’ you drop my baby! Don’t you drop my baby! What’re you doing you strange old man?”
And then Simeon speaks in 2:29-32:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Now that’s nice. 2:29 essentially means “I can die now,” to which you KNOW Mary thought inside, “Not while you’re holding my baby, you can’t. Give him back and then you’re welcome to die anytime.) But the sum total of Simeon’s expectation for Jesus is that he will bring salvation, he will be a light for THEM Gentiles and glory for US Jews; no doubt he will increase tolerance between the two warring groups. More tolerance, greater peace, everything here seems to be on the up & up. The weird intervention wasn ‘t as bad as we thought. At the end of 2:32, everyone breathes a deep sigh of relief. But it’s TOO SOON.
Because Simeon KEEPS TALKING. If he’d had advisors, you know they’d be doing this (throat slash; ixnay on the alkingtay!). But he doesn’t have a PR team, so he barrels on ahead. Look what he says in 2:34:
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
Fall and rise? You know Mary’s thinking, “why fall? Why not just rise? Why the fall? Can’t you just zip it?” And a sign to be spoken against. What? The one who seemed to bring peace and tolerance will instead by the target of great opposition? More division than unity?? And then the unkindest cut of all in 2:35:
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Uh oh. Judgment reveals more than it decides, and Mary, that sword that will pierce his side will simultaneously pierce your soul. (AV of pic?) That’s what you have to look forward to! Now let’s applaud this baby and get ready for the sermon bumper video and the message itself and you all have a nice rest of the day! And you KNOW that with all that talking, the holy buzz in the room turned into buzzkill. The celebration of the baby has turned to desperation regarding that baby’s future.
Because it sounds like before this baby will be a LIGHT he will be a LIGHTNING ROD. The object of controversy, criticism, and contempt. Before he is the Cornerstone, he will be the stumbling block. Before he is the uniter, yep, he will be a divider. And … why? Why, when baby Jesus who seems all sweetness & light, love & tolerance, does it land here? Why does Luke, the most loving Gospel writer of the four, include this ominous note? Why does he keep Simeon in Christmas?!
And as I wrestled with those, I realized: Simeon told the truth about how Jesus would be received because he wanted us to know the truth about how to receive him. He knew the kind of reception that Jesus would both COMMAND and DEMAND. He knew that baby Jesus would grow up to be despised adult Jesus and the allegiance he’d demand would be total, not partial. He knew that Jesus’ message was ultimately less about peace, light, and tolerance of all and more about truth, clarity, and the all or nothing response to him. Because Jesus did not want to be liked or admired or appreciation. He stakes a claim to our lives and our destinies and one thing that is clear even from the very beginning is that you can’t be Switzerland when it comes to him. No neutrality! And that insistence by Baby Jesus / Crucified Christ / Risen Lord / Returning King means everything. Here’s the end result of a baby dedication gone bad: The one thing that Jesus can’t tolerate is to be tolerated.
Think about it! Simeon holds up this baby Jesus & says, “Lightning rod more than light; Stumbling block more than cornerstone; divider before uniter! Which means you gotta decide: with him or AGIN him? You can’t be in the middle.” It’s not OK if Jesus is OK. It’s not all right if he is just all right (Doobie Bros!). Jesus does not want some kind of generalized faith in a vague God who regards all beliefs as equally valid; he is JEALOUS (for me) and he wants it all. The one thing that Jesus can’t tolerate is to be tolerated.
This gets closer to home than you think. When I was young in ministry, I was at a meeting of UM pastors (on reflection, I might have been sent to a remedial session for needy preachers?) and one of my colleagues said, “I LIKE Jesus but he’s not my SAVIOR.” What? And she was being allowed in the UMC as a pastor? Or, another, more recently declared that “We have to be cautious regarding some of the bigotry that Jesus had.” Huh? Jesus the bigot? That’s a new one! Jesus, whose BLOOD APPLIED breaks down all the divisions created by our BLOOD INSIDE … that Jesus is a bigot? Puh-lease. REFRAIN. Or even in a different era altogether, listen to what happened when Frederick Douglass’ master became a Methodist:
If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to be a much worse man after his conversion than before .. after his conversion he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. His house was a house of prayer. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and his activity in revivals was great. He proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them.
Gulp The one thing that Jesus can’t tolerate is to be tolerated.
See it’s like trying to serve you a nice glass of water. SHOW. And to that water, just to make it more … tasty … here’s some sewage. Nice! Nope! Can’t mix! Can’t have it both ways. Can’t have a little bit of Jesus in your life any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. He is so divisive because the allegiance he commands is so comprehensive.
This is why … and this might sound odd … why we wouldn’t host any inter-faith services here. You know, community services with reps from Xnty, Islam, Judaism, Bahai, Hinduism. Those might be fine civic affairs, especially if they help ppl get along better, but we just can’t host it here. Know why not? Because a service like that positions Jesus as ONE AMONG rather than CHRIST ALONE. And here is a really inconvenient truth from a ruined baby dedication: He’s your Lord or you’re his enemy. Half measures avail you nothing. The one thing that Jesus can’t tolerate is to be tolerated.
Here’s the time I have to ask you: are you OK with Jesus? Do you believe in him? Suppose he’s alright? Are you like the young friend who told me once that he did believe in Jesus but he couldn’t really follow him very well? Oh Lord, as I say those words I am struck by how many people that describes! Believe in him, admire him, but TO THIS POINT incapable of surrendering to him. Oh, don’t leave church today without setting that right. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be tolerated. He came here to be adored. Served. Surrendered to. He loves you too much to allow you merely to like him in return.
It’s like the then 8 year old in our church who was playing with kids in his After School program. And, as kids do, the group came up with some pretend tribes & even pretend deities. And the group told the GS boy that to be in their tribe, he had to worship either the Dust God or the Guardian God. To which he answered, at 8, “Nope. There is not Dust God. There is only one God.” And so there is. And his name is Jesus. Don’t tolerate him. Yield to him. Today.
Then we recited this pledge, borrowed from Saddleback Church in California and then adapted for our needs:
Today I’m stepping across the line.
I’m tired of waffling and I’m finished with wavering;
I’ve made my choice, the verdict is in and my decision is irrevocable.
I’m going God’s way. There’s now turning back now!
To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say:
However, Whenever, Wherever, and Whatever you ask me to do,
my answer in advance is yes!
Wherever you lead and whatever the cost,
I’m ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway.
Whatever it takes, Lord; whatever it takes!
Because You are Lord and I am not.
You are Lord and there is no other.
This is the foundation of my living relationship with You.