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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- Tradition Edition (December 28)

(Since we have two significant preaching moments in the coming week, 
there are two posts today, 
this one for December 28 and another for December 24,
 which is just below.  
Blessings to you...)

For Sunday, December 28

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 148

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:22-40


It is the tradition of the church that on the first Sunday of Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ dedication in the temple.  The dedication would actually have occurred when Jesus was 40 days old, since that would have been the first time Mary, considered unclean after giving birth, would have been allowed in the temple.  It was Jewish tradition for the first born son to be dedicated in the temple by their parents.  It was also tradition that the mother would provide a sacrifice to God to thank God for the gift of a child.  If she had money, she would provide a lamb.  If not, then two pigeons or turtledoves would suffice.  Mary was a woman of meager means, and Luke tells us that the turtledoves were given.

Which is to say, that, Simeon and Anna didn’t have to worry about whether or not the Messiah would show up in the temple, they only had to worry about when.    Tradition dictated that the parents would bring them there.

And so they waited, and depended on the traditions of their lifetime.

Christmas, for so many of us, is a time for traditions.  Christmas crackers.  Gingerbread cookies.  Family gatherings.  And the flexibility (or lack thereof) of these traditions is often the source of great turmoil this time of year…

Near where I live, one institution decided not to post some of the same Christmas decorations.  Their break from tradition suddenly had them labeled as “enemies of Christmas.”  Was it really about those two artificial Christmas trees, or was it about tradition?

What can the church learn from the way in which we handle traditions as a culture?

Have we learned it?  Will we learn it?  Do we need to learn it?

Or, are you off on another text for this Sunday?

Will you sing carols?

Peace to you-


  1. On traditions: there seems to be a culture war over Christmas. To prove that you are Christian enough you have to say "Merry Christmas" not "Happy Holidays" and should a clerk in a store say "Happy Holidays" you must bristle with indignation. Heaven forbid that you respond with love and joy.

    It just occurred to me that the grasping onto tradition is a sign of death. When we are alive, we can let go of the past so that we can move into the future. As we look towards death, nostalgia for our past life, when we were alive becomes stronger and so we cannot let go of tradition.

    Sunday we will sing carols: a tradition I will not let go of ;-)
    I will steal (with attribution) a sermon from William Willimon on joy. I don't have a link to it; I think I found it at textweek, but am not sure. I'll have to find it again. Anyway, he talks about how we put off joy. His ending is that he spends most of his time convincing people who think they are good Christians that they are not and then tells them go out an enjoy.

  2. All good questions; however, our lectionary is different, repeating John 1:1-18 which I will also preach on Christmas Day - minus the last four verses.
    Is anyone else preaching Christmas Day? Does anyone else even have church that day? It seems to me that we place so much emphasis on Christmas Eve that we forget it is the Eve and not the Day. Sort of like doing an Easter vigil and not doing Easter, right?
    I love the Christmas morning service. We will have a few carols, not nearly as many as Wednesday night, and probably no more than 25 people. I won't chant the service and it will be quiet overall.
    In my parish in New Orleans, this was always a small service. Then the organist decided he would play for it and word got out that it was a nice antidote to all the holiday hoopla. Pretty soon we had people sitting in the hall because the chapel, which held 100 people, was overflowing. Families came, older members who didn't drive at night were there, and some who had spent the Eve at a big party and now had "time for church" were there, too.
    So if you haven't added this service to your already busy week, I recommend it. Maybe it doesn't even need a sermon!

  3. As per the last few weeks, I'm linking to the sermon starters I wrote for the UMPH Circuit Rider

    If you scroll down to the next post, there is also a totally just for fun little video!

    Joan Calvin - i hadn't realized it at the time, but I bought cards that said "happy holidays" on them for all of my confirmation kids - they were the right size to stick in their little gifts, and were sparkly! I'm a little frustrated by this whole argument too... i mean, Christmas IS a holiday also!

    I digress.

    I hold a lot of value in tradition, but tradition is something to be remembered and shaped and formed by our current experiences as well. It should be fluid, not a concrete expression from the past that we refuse to change. If we let tradition be dynamic, we should be fine.

    As for Sunday - lots of carol singing... and I may not write much more than my "sermon starter" for my message. I might have a time for people to stand and share where they have seen Christ in the last few days - and celebrate them.

  4. I'm back on lectionary after an Advent away, mostly. Looking at Simeon and Anna...but that's all I'm doing, lots of staring at the text and/or my laptop screen. Why is that passages to which I have a strong emotional connection are the most difficult to preach? My title, chosen a month ago (how I HATE doing that) is "Seeing Salvation."

    And, yes, we'll sing carols--it's still Christmas, right?

  5. Yes...I am preaching on Simeon and Anna...your intro, LS, is great. Thanks for helping me percolate.

    My sermon title is "Holding God". That's about all I have!

  6. I am going with the title "Old Meets Young -- God Revealed" I think I will use it as a time to talk about one of the greatest gifts of faith communities being that they are intergenerational. I know it will be short.

    OR I may ignore the title altogether and read Ralph Milton's retelling of the Anna& Simeon story. Or maybe do that at children's time and a brief meditation on the sermon title.

    Guess I should decide soon! Or on Saturday at teh latest :)

  7. I also am preaching Simeon and Anna. I can relate to Esperanza's frustration about choosing titles/themes a month ahead of time. The e-mail I sent out to our worship team a month ago suggested that the theme for this sermon would be: "The waiting is over, our salvation is here --but are we ready for what comes next?"

    Of course I can't at this point remember exactly what I was thinking came next at that time ... but I am guessing I was looking especially at Simeon's prophecy over Jesus, which has a certain "uh oh" quality about it, I think.

    Under the category of "Be careful what you pray for --you might get it" ... are we ready for fallings and risings, oppositions to righteousness, the revealing of our true selves, the piercings of our hearts?

    Infant Jesus = Potential Energy?

    Or maybe I'll drop back and punt, riffing on Simeon and Anna as exemplars of faithfulness ...

  8. singing carols. intern in preaching, thank goodness.

    traditions: person went out of church on Sunday, can't we sing at least one Christmas song before Christmas?

    and I'm left wondering whose is most rigid: her or us?

  9. I am preaching on John 1, with a heavy reliance on Kenneth Bailey's wonderful exposition of the history, symbolism and theology of why the Christian Church decided to celebrate Christ's birth on December 25 (and it ain't cuz that's what his birth certificate said.) I was hoping to get to my seminary library 45 minutes away but blowing snow and icy roads have me locked away at home. I believe the Bailey lecture I need is available online and, if so, I'll be posting it later today along with my "Pondering the Preach" entry.

  10. I've been askedto preach at the Lutheran church this coming Sunday. (This will be the first time I've preached in Finland in three years - almost to the day ... It feels a bit scary to step back to the pulpit ...but God with us, right?

    I Will focus on the Gospel I think and the idea I've started to play with is that of Love Came down at Christmas but what did that mean in the everyday reality

    I really like the thougts in this opening - that of post-Christendom and traditions. ... Let's see come Sat


  11. we will have a carol concert on Ephiphany Jan 6th ... and I'm glad about that ... the carol singing (of christmas rather than advent songs)is way too short otherwise

  12. OK, so now reading the Christine Pohl article "Living on Tiptoe" on has me thinking that Simeon and Anna lived their lives in faithfulness to a Messiah tradition that had not been fully developed yet, a tradition that this infant would fulfill/change/alter in incredible, undreamed of ways that only the eyes of faith could see.

  13. This is all great stuff! I'll be sure to come back to it in a few weeks--I moved Simeon and Anna to January 4 so I could preach on them. December 28, I'll be away and the parish will do Lessons and Carols (a long-standing tradition).

  14. I'll be visiting St. Casserole and preaching Anna and Simeon at her church! I'm currently mulling the outstretched arms of the Baby Jesus figures in our nativity scenes (wrote a little about it yesterday) and think I'm going to open that image up and talk about Jesus' little baby arms open to Anna and Simeon. We look at him and see the inevitability of the cross, but they saw the in-breaking of God's love for us, a new way of being alive, a sign so powerful they did not even mind being gone when it came to pass fully.
    And we're still waiting for love and vulnerability to win, aren't we?

  15. Oh nooooo! I just learned we have another guest for Christmas Eve and we only have 6 crackers!
    My daughter will be preaching this Sunday in our home church, and her sister will sing. Wish them luck! And Merry Christmas to all of you, don't stress out too much!

  16. I haven't even begun to deal with Sunday. I haven't finished Christmas Eve yet! Meanwhile...check out

  17. I'm echoing Margaret - we have John 1:1-18 in the Episcopal Church (we observe the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on February 2nd).

    I confess I'm taking a preaching "holiday" and doing a traditional service of Christmas Lessons & Carols on 1 Christmas. After 4 services between Christmas Eve & Day, I'll be pretty fried!

  18. We also have a different lectionary for this Sunday. John 1:1-18. How can you NOT talk about the light and the darkness? Still very foggy but I'll see what falls out.

  19. For all you John 1 folks, I think I've found some helpful links (re: light coming into darkness) that focus on the early church's decision to celebrate Christ's birth immediately after winter solstice -- as the world gradually fills with light. We are now participating in the gradual, growing light of Christ's Kingdom on earth.

    Also check out a link for the earliest recorded Christmas sermon by St. Greg of Naz. (I can shorten his name like that 'cuz we're peeps. What up? ;-)

    Blessings to all in this busy week. May you discover that it is, indeed filled with gracious mystery!

  20. I'm off this Sunday (Dec 28), but since I've never preached Simeon and Anna and I've done Epiphany more times than I care to repeat, I'm saving this one for Jan. 4 when I'm back from vacation.

    I finished my appropriately generic bulletin for that Sunday today, so that it will somehow fit whatever I do, but I don't know what I'll do.

    I saw an interesting use of the passage with and intergenerational worship - or worship honoring the diversity of generations. I remember the website was UCC, but I can't remember if that was United Church of Christ or UCCanada. Hmmm...I think I found it through textweek.

    I also read a commentary somewhere that used the phrase the "end of the beginning." I made that my sermon title, but now I worry that it's not quite at theologically sound as I'd like it to be because it feels a little, oh, what do we call that...supercession-ist. Is that the right word when I mean it sounds like I'm discounting that Hebrew Scriptures as only useful for leading to Jesus? Or the Jewish faith as only "honorable" until Jesus came?

    Whatever it is, I don't want to sound like that, and I don't mean it that way, but I'm already concerned my title sounds that way.

    Oh well. It's the title that is likely to be printed.

    Anyway, I'm thrilled to play with this text after what will be 4 weeks out of the pulpit - and I'm a solo pastor!!! We'll be changing that next year somehow. Feels to weird to me.

    'Til then I have an old Christmas Eve sermon to tweak for tomorrow and a plan to catch on Christmas morning. Couldn't be heading to Florida from Wisconsin at any better time!

  21. I'm preaching!! And, (this is weird) I'm actually preaching on Simeon and Anna. It was my choice. God is funny!!

    The sermon topic is pre-determined - on Hope. I'm using a "big idea" scaffolding - being supervised in the writing. And the editing. And the giving. I am a student. I am a student. I am a student. This is my mantra. :)

    Anyway - rough outline:
    Big idea: Holding out for hope is as simple as holding on to God.

    1. Refuse to hope in the wrong things. (Simeon could have given up - the dire times he lived in, waiting and waiting with no response from God). We get sidetracked by our wants and wishes. We don't realize that hope is based on facts, not feelings.

    Simeon goes to the temple and holds on to Hope. The promised Hope of Israel.

    We can hold on to hope if we
    2)Understand the character of God

    He's unchanging. the 3 Omni's. He had a personal connection with God that nurtured his faith and his trust. Prolly will throw in the unchanging nature of Jesus (Heb.13:8)

    We can hold on to hope if we
    3) Discover the promises of God

    Sounds churchy- but how often does that Bible get cracked open between Sundays (oh yeah - read it for myself... whatta concept)

    Talk a bit about the promises Simeon and Anna knew -
    Abraham and Sarah
    The rebuilt Temple
    and then waiting for 400 years...

    We can hold onto hope if we
    4) Stay connected to hope-filled people.

    I'm going to shamelessly talk about my parents. They have (and had) exhibited a life of hope. My dad holding my nephew as a newborn. My mom continuing to "LIVE" after his death - celebrating life, seeing God in the midst of her life change and grief. Believing God was bigger than her pain.

    Simeon and Anna were in the temple - God's people are (shoudl be) hope-filled people. The kind of people I want to rub off on me. Infect me with their trust and their rest in God.

    My closing is based on applications of the above and probably will read a poem.

    I could read "My Hope is built on nothing less"... but I'd rather get something a little less hymnotic.

    As for Christmas Eve - two services. I'm playing keyboards for the first time in 6 months. and I suck verily yea sucketh since I have not played my own piano. I need to fix that.

    Your ideas and comments totally appreciated.

    Back in touch later...

    merry Christmas everyone...


  22. On Sunday the 28th... we will be doing lessons and carols. I love this tradition... and it gives the congregation a chance to lead worship. There is no sermon... just a time to hear God's word, sing praise, and pray.

  23. I have a title!
    It shall be, "Simeon Says."
    Playing off of Simon Says.

  24. Margaret we had Christmas Day (Not Eve!) service and it was lovely

    I just found out that Lutheran church here don't do the presentation of Jesus in the temple tomorrow at all ... yikes ... and I was all psyched up to preach about tradition and what is important to hold on to (and what is not!) ... instead it's what they call Holy Innocence day (or something) with ghastly passages about the murder of Egyptian boys (Moses time) to sufering as Christians (1 Pet) and then Joseph's dream ... which led the family off to Egypt. My I HAVE NO IDEA what to do now ...

    back to the drawing board

  25. God is good, I just phoned the pastor of the Lutheran church and she said I could run with the revised common lectionary readings (Anglican, UMC but not Finnish Lutheran!) ... rather that the holy innocents day. Phew.

    (No idea what mess there will be with the music and the other readings though ...) but anyway I'm back to plan A which is to preach on Luke 2:21 on ...

    Huge sense of relief as I'd been meditating on that Gospel since last Monday :)


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