January 2, 2022, Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, “Perfect Timing”

January 2, 2022

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Scripture: Luke 2:22-40 and Galatians 4:1-7

   Time is on our minds on this first Sunday of a new year.  We’ve made another journey around the sun and, in some cases, have miraculously lived to tell the tale.  We lost some very dear people along the way in 2021, but we also welcomed some new very dear people to First Pres and our families.  We saw each other through another year of COVID 19.  We strained to hold the fraying fabric of our nation together.  We lived that past year as well as we could live it – some days good and some days not so good.

   But now we are given a new year – unformed and unwritten.  The new year arrives like the tablets and pencils we used to get in school – unmarked and unsharpened.  Whatever the new year will be, will be written by each of us – individually and together.

   In the past week, Jesus has been growing as all babies do.  On the eighth day, we find the new family in the Temple.  Perhaps they were there for Jesus to be circumcised.  Perhaps they were there to observe the ritual practice of the “redemption of the firstborn”.1  It was not time for Mary to be “purified” following childbirth, for that would take place forty days after the birth.  Add to that the fact that Luke has been using images from Samuel’s childhood throughout the telling of Jesus conception and birth, and we may never really know why they were in the temple that day.

   But, that’s where they were.  Everyone okay with that?  Mary and Joseph and Jesus were in the temple.

   But they were not alone.  A certain man – righteous and devout, we are told – named Simeon was there.  Through the Holy Spirit, God had promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Messiah – the Promised One of God.  Luke tells us that Simeon was guided – by the Holy Spirit – to be in the temple that day.  Talk about perfect timing!  Just as Mary and Joseph and Jesus entered, Simeon took the baby in his arms and offered his prayer, which would become known to us as the Nunc Dimittis: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation…”  Simeon had seen the promise fulfilled.  He knew that God was faithful.  It was as it had been promised to be.

   Another person was in the temple that day.  The prophet Anna, eighty-four years old, we are told in something of a rather unusual detail, was in the temple that day.  In another serendipitous moment, she sees the new family and begins speaking about this child to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Another moment of perfect timing!

   Now, I have little doubt that Luke tells the story in this way for a reason.  Because all the gospel writers were writing in the rear-view mirror, that is to say that they wrote after the resurrection, they could add insights and vignettes to their stories to enhance the message.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But Luke – whoever Luke was – wants us to be sure to understand that Jesus didn’t just become the messiah, but was born as the messiah.  For Luke, Jesus didn’t become the messiah along the way, but entered the world as the messiah.

   Where does Luke get such an idea?  Well, it could be from Paul.  Remember that the gospels were written after the epistles.  In the letters of the church, theological themes were being developed and adopted by the church.  The gospel writers were using the teachings of the epistles to construct their gospels.

   One such teaching is found in the Letter to the Galatians.  There we read these words:

But when the fullness of time had come, God

sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

in order to redeem those who were under the law,

so that we might receive adoption as children.2

“But when the fullness of time had come…”  That’s a strange phrase that deserves some attention.

   What made the first century in the Mediterranean basin “the fullness of time?”  Volumes have been written in answer to that question and there is still no definitive answer.  The Romans provided peace – the pax Romana.  The Greeks provided culture and a common language, as well as their cultic practices, mystery religions, and “divine men.”  Jewish culture gave the monotheistic framework, Scripture, messianic teaching, and apocalyptic stories.  Maybe it was the perfect timing of ingredients coming together.  Who knows?

   The New Testament uses two koine Greek words for time.  One is Kairos.  The other is chronos.  Kairos refers to an appropriate time for action.  Chronos is more the tick-tick-ticking of time.  I thought I would find Kairos being used in Galatians.  But I was surprised to find that the word used in the phrase “the fullness of time,” is, in fact, chronos. 

   A little more digging offered me this – and I offer it to you.  In the birth of Christ, God broke into the tick-tick-ticking of time, turning the ages, and ushering in the “fullness of time.”  As one commentator offers it, “If God has sent the Christ of Israel to redeem the world, then the fullness of time has come.”3

   And why has Christ been sent into the world?  Again, the Letter to the Galatians tells us:

…so that we might receive adoption as children.

And because you are children,

   God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying,

   “Abba! Father!”

So you are no longer a slave but a child,

   and if a child then also an heir, through God.4

We are no longer strangers to God.  We are the children of God.  We are the heirs of God.  Because Jesus Christ entered this world, we are now part of God’s eternal family.

   One of the great expressions of this congregation’s generosity is the number of our families who have adopted children.  This is such an expression of love and kind-heartedness.  This is an amazing gifting of oneself to another who is without another to care for them, nurture them, raise them, and help them become independent and wholly-formed adults.

   This is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  God has made us God’s own and gifted us with love, nurture, kind-heartedness, and compassion.  God has equipped us for full maturity in Christ, bestowing gifts – temporal and spiritual – so that we might serve God and neighbor.

   And God’s timing was perfect.  God broke in – and continues to break into – the tick-tick-ticking of time, the here-and-now.  God breaks into our time when we least expect it.  God breaks into our time in the usual round of things.  God breaks into our time in moments of surprise and wonder.  God breaks into our time calming troubled waters and stilling eruptive moments.  God breaks in – in perfect timing – and reminds us of who we are and whose we are.

   My mother was a firm believer in God’s time.  It was a faith so simple yet so all-consuming that she was forever reminding me of what she perceived as God’s sense of perfect timing in her life and in mine.  Some of that has rubbed off on me.  Looking back over the course of my life, I can see those moments when God entered into the tick-tick-ticking of my life and my life was made better for it.  I’ll bet you can do that too.

   God’s perfect timing.  It’s for real.  It draws us into God’s unfathomable heart and labels us as God’s own children.

   So, with the Psalmist, at the beginning of this new year, we say:

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”

My times are in your hand;

   deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

Let your face shine upon your servant;

   save me in your steadfast love.5

   For now and evermore.  Amen.

1) Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 114

2) Galatians 4:4-5

3) Erik Heen, Working Preacher, commentary on Galatians 4:4-7

4) Galatians 4:5b-7

5) Psalm 31:14-16

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