The Weight of the World
(Luke 2: 22-40)
When we gaze into the face of our newborn child we find ourselves wondering what they will be with they grow up. Will they become a doctor who performs amazing and difficult surgeries? Will they be that scientist who discovers a cure for cancer? Are they a natural born leader who will someday receive the Nobel Peace Prize? Could they grow up to become the President of the United States? What is their potential? What heights will they rise to or to what depths will they fall?
I wonder what thoughts ran through the minds of my teenage parents? I know my father wanted me to be a doctor. He was a medical salesman who seemed to think that there was no greater calling or occupation than that of a physician. I did pretty good in science while in high school, so my guidance counselor suggested I enroll in a course of study that would eventually lead to a career in medicine. Needless to say, dad was overjoyed so I applied to a small Jesuit college in Syracuse that would start me on my way to a post-graduate study in medicine. Apparently, I spent much too much time at the library. The Library was the name of an off-campus student watering hole. After earning an F in both Biology and Chemistry it appeared my medical career was in jeopardy. I had gotten a B in Religion but my interest in the priesthood was lacking. What was it I really wanted to do? When I told my father that I wanted to join the police department you would have thought I had said I was joining the Communist Party! He eventually warmed to the idea, enjoyed going on ride-alongs with me and began to dream that someday I would become the chief of police. Well, I only rose as high as sergeant in the ranks and it appears that there might have been something to that B I got in Religion back in 1970.
Mary and Joseph may have had many of the same thoughts except it was a bit more difficult rising to the top of the heap 2,000 years ago. To be a king you had to be born into royalty. To be a politician you had to come from a wealthy and influential family. A young Jewish boy could rise to the priesthood if he did good in school showing some promise of becoming a Rabbi. If not, you could take over the family business. Fortunately for Jesus, Joseph was a carpenter, so he would, at least, learn a trade.
But there was something different about this child. They had each been visited by the Angel of the Lord who told them both that the child was God’s son and he was destined to lead his people to freedom. Then there was that time when Mary’s cousin Elizabeth welcomed her as the mother of her Lord. And those shepherds who appeared out of nowhere right after the baby was born telling her what they had been told by the Angel of the Lord. This was also weighing on Joseph who, on top of all that had happened, now had to pay his taxes and get back to work so he could make a living and support his family.
This is where our story picks up. Eight days had passed so, as was required of Jewish parents, they brought their son to be circumcised and was given the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification, 40 days after the birth, according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. It was the Law of the Lord that every firstborn male be consecrated to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with the Law, a pair of doves or two young pigeons. This sacrifice represented the buying back, the redeeming, of the child from God through an offering. By engaging in this practice, the parents are acknowledging that the child belongs to God, who alone has the power to give life.
We are told that there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was eagerly awaiting the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit had rested upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, we are told that he went into the temple courts. Now these courts are very busy with people coming and going, including young parents taking their newborn children to see the priests. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus in as the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.” What is significant here is that many thought that Christ had come to save only his people. Luke made sure his Greek audience understood that Christ had come to save all who believe, Gentiles as well as Jews. We are told that Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said about him. We can relate when we think back on those times when somebody told us how special our child or grandchild was. Simeon then blessed them and said to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” To a common carpenter like Joseph and a young girl like Mary I am sure that the meaning of these words escaped them and that, when looking back 33 years later, it would all become clear. We next learn that at the same time there was a prophetess named Anna who was a widow and very old. She never left the temple, worshipping night and day, fasting and praying. She came up to Joseph and Mary at that very moment giving thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. We are told that Jesus grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom and God’s favor was on him.
Who knew that one day this little boy would grow up to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders? Joseph and Mary knew Jesus was special and was favored by God. Like most parents, they just wanted him to grow up healthy and happy. Maybe meet the right girl and start a family of his own. Little did they know that this little boy would grow into a man who would take on injustice, cause the powerful to fall and the weak to rise. Little did they know that people would praise his name. People would exclaim that his name is wonderful, that he is the mighty king, the master of everything. He’s the great shepherd, the rock of all ages, almighty God is he. Bow down before him, love and adore him, his name is wonderful, Jesus my Lord.
Please pray with me.
Most merciful and wonderful God, how amazed we are at your plan for your people that you thought so much of us that you would send your son to live among us. How fortunate we are that we are among the ones who recognize him as our savior. The peace and joy we experience knowing his grace is upon us comforts us as we try to make our way in a difficult world that seems intent on denying his existence and the path he offers to those who seek you. We rejoice in the fact that he came and are comforted by the knowledge that one day he will return fulfilling his promise of a life of peace and love where war, strife and disease exist no more. What a privilege it is to proclaim his holy name and to live in the light of his mercy and grace. In the name of your most loving son, the great shepherd, the rock of all ages, we pray,