December 29, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Luke 2:22-40

22 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 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 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, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

36 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, 37 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. 38 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.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (NRSV)

Galatians 4:4-7

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (NRSV)

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Sermon - Only a Baby Came

I hope all of you had a good Christmas… and a safe Christmas. We were blessed when the snow decided the start about one minute after all of our kids arrived on Christmas day. That made our Christmas perfect. That was really the only gift that I wanted this year.

Gifts are difficult - the giver can spend hours agonizing over a gift. Is it exactly right, will the size and color work, how much should be spent. Will it convey the message of love that is intended?

We gave our granddaughter a doll - the exact one that her mother said she wanted. Lots of angst went into that gift… it was a small rag doll and we thought, too expensive for what we were buying. Wouldn’t she rather have a bigger, do something kind of doll. No – her mother assured us, this was the one. So we got it and wrapped it up. And we were so glad. Tess, our granddaughter ran through the room, with her arms lifted up, dancing with delight when she opened it. It was a Laura Engles Wilder Doll and she chanted the name as she danced… great joy filled the house.

From all accounts, that is how the world initially received the gift from God, the infant Jesus. The shepherds followed the star, the wise men traveled great distances to worship the infant. The angels heralded the birth with “glories”. And Mary’s heart swelled with love. Great joy filled the world.

But then, just as now, life has to get back to normal. Routine sets in, and Mary and Joseph realized that the time for purification had come. So they travel to the temple, bringing their sacrifice of a pair of doves because they were too poor to afford the lamb that tradition dictated.

When they arrive at the temple two of God’s lowly faithful see the child and recognize the holiness that is present. They see in this infant, this babe, the salvation that Israel had been waiting for… All of their hopes and dreams, all of God’s great promises seemed to reside in this one tiny baby.

They had waited for a king, yet they rejoiced at the sight of the infant Jesus.

They had waited for a mighty warrior, yet, their salvation came in a baby.

Salvation along with holiness is often disguised. It can be difficult to recognize.

Any time that God intervenes in our lives it is a matter of eyes to see and ears to hear. Initially it is a matter of interpretation - It is a matter of faith and trust.

This past week, on Sunday night, our SYF gathered to help Santa by answering some of his Letters. In the middle of all of the letters was a long note from an 8 year old named Juan, from Los Angeles CA. His letter began by saying My name is Juan - I am 8, and I have 3 sisters, Mary age 10, Anna age 6, and Victoria age 5.

My father is sick and can not work. My mother works, but there is only money for rent and food. We are afraid that we will not receive any gifts for Christmas, Santa.

Their Christmas list was on the back.

There were no toys in that list. They asked for shoes and jeans only.

The youth and their leaders were taken aback.

They looked at the address – it was addressed to

Santa Claus,

North Pole, 00000

How did it end up in New Milford. How did it end up in our hands.

Was it for real?

We still have no answers for any of that.

All we knew was that it was nearly 10 pm on Sunday night, December 22, and we didn’t have much time. By noon the next day 350.00 had been collected and we had 3 people out shopping for this family. The post office had been contacted and had agreed to pay the shipping for Next Day air and they were working on having a “Santa” deliver the gifts on Christmas morning. By 5 pm on December 23 all of the gifts of toy, jeans and bit of money for shoes had been purchased for each of the kids in the family – and the presents had been wrapped and packaged and shipped to Los Angeles Ca. to arrive on Christmas morning. They were truly from Santa.

We still don’t know have any answers to our questions. But somehow in all of the busyness of Christmas, with most the money spent, with people focused on their own families and lives, this amazing thing happened. And I can tell you, as we walked through Walmart shopping, it felt Holy. We felt guided. We knew that somehow God had intervened into our lives to bring us face to face with the true meaning of why an Infant could so change the course of world history. We understood why Anna and Simeon could look at a baby and recognize salvation.

Paul says in Galatians that Jesus was sent in the fullness of time to redeem all of us. that we might be adopted as God’s own Children. We would be set free to live – not as a slave to the law, but as a child of God. Being adopted means that our burdens are shared by God. We always have a place to go for advice, for comfort, for guidance. Being adopted means that there is someone who worries about us, whose tears mingle with our own when we grieve. Being adopted means that we are not alone in the world any longer – we are never alone. Being a child of God means unconditional love, it means having a parent who only wants what will be best for you. Being adopted by God means Salvation – a new kind of life. A life of trust and faith. A life of Peace and joy.

The poor will be lifted up, those who morn will be blessed. The hungry and the homeless will receive graciously from God’s own hands. Even small children will be celebrated in the kingdom of God.

Even children in Los Angeles, who fear that Christmas will not come to their family.

This is the best Christmas gift ever - we can dance around the room – with our arms lifted in the air, crying Abba, Abba. Alleluia.

The world believes that Christmas is over… it discards Christmas with the torn wrapping paper to prepare to celebrate the coming of the New Year, and returns to the routine of everyday life.

If, as a Church, we are going to make a difference in the world we have to ponder the real meaning of Christmas. We have to search for the ways in which our faith implicates us in passing along the possibility of a new world. We have to have eyes to see and ears to hear – we have to be tuned in, alert to the potential for holiness that exists in each day. And we have to be ready to proclaim it with our actions.

A baby has been born among us – salvation has been offered to the world. May we as faithful followers of Jesus Christ ponder what this means to us…. and then lift our hands in the air and dance as our hearts cry Abba Abba.  Amen

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