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December 23 lesson: Love God for the Gift of Jesus

December 18, 2018
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Love God for the Gift of Jesus

Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 1: God Is Worthy of Our Love

Sunday school lesson for the week of December 23, 2018
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers


Lesson Scripture: Luke 1:26-31; Luke 2:22, 25-35

Although our scripture has verses specified for this week, we think you should read the intervening verses as well. Context is critical to understanding the scriptures, and connecting the dots here will add meaning to your study. We know some of this account is the most familiar of all stories, but, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” If contempt is too strong a word, at least an assumption, “Oh, we know THAT story!”

Context in Biblical studies is crucial. Our lesson jumps from Gabriel’s encounter with the young woman Mary, with his surprising and disturbing announcement, to the aged Simeon’s meeting with the holy family 40 days after the birth. In church history, these two events are called the Annunciation and the Nunc Dimittis. The Latin for Simeon’s message is based on the words “Lord, dismiss your servant in peace.” (Luke: 2:29)

These bookends frame our study, but so much is between them – again, some very familiar, but others we often pass over. We pray our in-depth reading will add much to our celebration of Christmas – and yours!

We begin with Gabriel’s encounter with Mary in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. She is betrothed to Joseph, and betrothal was much more than our engagement. She was Joseph’s wife in every way except physically. She was young, and her father and Joseph had a binding agreement which could not be broken except by unfaithfulness. No wonder she was surprised, afraid, and bewildered, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 

She knew this experience was real – she wasn’t dreaming! She sees and hears and waits! The first word spoken to her is one often repeated in scripture: “Do not be afraid, Mary…” (101 in KJV and 71 in NIV) Immediately, Gabriel gives her THE MESSAGE he had come to deliver – she will have a baby and name him Jesus. This completes the verses designated for this lesson, but we yearn for the rest of the story before vaulting to 40 days after the birth. From Nazareth to Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Mary will make an arduous and memorable journey she will always deeply ponder.

Her first trip, however, was from Galilee to Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The scriptures tell us the visit of the angel occurs in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. These kinsmen have much to share, and Mary was glad to leave Nazareth! Think and talk about why!!!

Elizabeth’s welcome song, Mary’s Magnificat, and Zechariah’s song after the birth of their son, John, complete this first chapter of Luke. Luke gives us three memorable songs of the heart to help us understand and remember the story. Music always helps us to do just that. No wonder music is so integral to our keeping the Christmas season. Annually, we join these saints in singing praise and thanksgiving.

The next scripture for this study is in Luke 2. So much happens before Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple for consecration. The list is long: a Roman census, a long journey, a baby boy born in a stable, shepherds in a field, an angelic chorus, the shepherd’s visit to see the baby, and Mary watching – waiting – pondering – WOW!

The next two events are related to births and the keeping of the Mosaic Law. The circumcision and naming always occurs eight days after a male baby is born and is the outward and visible sign the child is Hebrew.   Sam has always related our baptism of babies as the outward and visible sign we belong to Christ. Sometimes we misname this event as a Christening. The Christianing is when the baby is given their Christian name, but the baptism is the act incorporating the child into the family of God.

We have finally arrived at the final lesson of our study. The Holy Family waited in Bethlehem for the time required for Mary’s purification – 33 days for a baby boy and 40 days for a girl – according to the Law. She was considered “unclean” and could not enter the Temple. Their poverty is highlighted by the offering they were required to make. Leviticus 12:8 offers two pigeons or two doves for the poor, rather than a lamb.  

Luke tells us many important characteristics about Simeon:
  • He lives in Jerusalem in his old age awaiting the coming of the Messiah.
  • He is righteous and devout. “Righteous” means he cares about right living and justice in his community, and “devout” indicates he is a man of prayer and participates faithfully in Temple worship.
  • He “awaits the consolation (comfort) of Israel” as stated in Isaiah. Do you remember how the Messiah by Handel begins? “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”
  • The Holy Spirit “rests upon him.” There are several themes in Luke/Acts: women, songs, and the Holy Spirit. oThe Spirit comforts, directs, and reveals the truth of God.
  • The Spirit had revealed to Simeon he would see the Messiah before he died.
In the marvelous way God works through the Spirit, Simeon and the Holy family arrive at the Temple together.  Mary and Joseph are presenting their firstborn son for consecration as instructed in the Law. Obviously, they are “observant Jews” in keeping the Law meticulously.

“Sovereign Lord, as you promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of the nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”  

This Song of Simeon, called the Nunc Dimittis in Latin, became part of the liturgical tradition of the Church very early.

We have a picture when our grandson, Samuel Gordon Rogers, V, was born. The picture includes the baby; our son, his father; Sam, the grandfather; and Sam’s father! Sam’s dad is holding the newborn baby. A great moment preserved in time.

So is this moment preserved with the word picture of Luke. But there is more – much more.  He sees not only Who this baby is, but the awesome results of what is happening in the world because of this child: Israel’s task in the world will be culminating. Jesus will be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.

This result comes with great cost: division, conflict, controversy, the exposure of hypocrisy, and great pain.   Jesus’ ministry will not bring joy to all. Many will feel threatened by Him, and His rejection will be especially painful to His mother. Many scholars feel Luke had an interview with Mary when preparing to write Luke/Acts.  Whatever the source, we have gained a very personal picture of two people whose lives were forever changed by Jesus’ coming into the world.

He is still changing lives and will until His return. This Christmas, sing YOUR song and tell the story with joy.    isHiH
 
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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