Contributed by David Delaney, Salem, VA
- For anyone who has grandparents, what are some of the most wonderful things they’ve ever said to you?
- Who is the oldest person you know? What is your relationship to him/her? What is s/he like?
- Have you ever seen a very old person interact with a very young person, like a new baby in the family? Describe what the old person’s face looks like. Chances are it is full of joy, delight, and wonder. What must that older person be thinking?
- If you have an older mentor or someone else who has guided you or looked after you at some point – maybe a youth leader or employer or the parent of a friend – how would your life be different if that person suddenly disappeared? What has she/he meant to you?
What’s in a Name?
On Dec. 3, 2012, England’s royal family announced that Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, is expecting the couple’s first baby. Immediately people started speculating about what sort of child this would be. The institution of royalty is evolving in England, so lots of things are unknown. Of course everyone wonders if will be a boy or a girl. But beyond that, people sort of wonder what it means to be royalty anymore. What sort of life will the child lead? What will s/he become as an adult? One very interesting question that is, oddly enough, very related to that, is what the child will be named. This is apparently a huge deal, because the name the child gets can suggest a particular relationship to the past, a relationship to the present, and even a relationship to the future. For example, if a boy is named George or Edward after one of the 20th century British kings, then that suggests a desire to preserve tradition and recent memories. A girl might be named Elizabeth in honor of the current queen, so that name would carry a different kind of symbolic responsibility. If, however, the couple names the child something offbeat and unconventional, like Raine or Electra, that would suggest that the child is expected to break norms and resist being forced into traditional roles. In any case, a royal child is very special.
- What are the stories behind the names of participants in your group?
- What kind of future would you envision for such an extraordinary child? What could she or he accomplish simply by virtue of being the heir to the British throne that an ordinary kid would probably not be able to do?
- Imagine you were traveling back from the future to the time of your own birth and could tell your own curious parents how awesome you were going to be? What kinds of things would you predict? What advice would you give? What warnings would you give?
- Do you remember that scene in “Back to the Future” where Marty McFly advises his own parents that when their future 8-year sets fire to the living-room rug that they should “go easy on him”? Is there anything you wish you could tell your own parents about your future as they held newborn you?
- Some people think this idea of having a “destiny” is ridiculous. Others think that everyone has a pre-planned future that they must discover. What does your group think?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 3, 2013 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
One can scarcely imagine receiving news as jarring and honest as that which Simeon delivered to Mary. She had already suspected the way God works in engineering reversals of fortune in society (see Luke 1:46ff) but now it was getting real for her. Her son was being singled out as one who would become a very disruptive influence in the lives of otherwise comfortable people. It was surely one thing to have God bring about change from heaven, but quite another to have her son undertake the extremely risky business of opposing people who could have him killed! Yet Simeon makes it clear that this will happen. And, as we often find in the old and wise, Simeon knows better than to spare Mary from the truth, which is that she will feel deep grief and pain because of the work that her son Jesus will have to do.
In our baptismal and confirmation promises, we pledge to be diligent about things like worshiping, studying scripture, loving others in the church and outside, and living a life of service and advocating for justice. The work that we have been called to do might sometimes cause grief even to our families because God’s intentions for us do not always square with the hopes and fantasies our families may have had. Yet it is difficult to know how we could possibly accomplish some of those important tasks without the blessing of those who have gone before us in the faith – the Simeons and Annas of our lives. We should never be afraid to seek them out!
- Back up one verse to 2:21 and notice that the family was very careful to follow the prescribed Jewish rituals for how to treat a newborn. This rite of circumcision was more than simply the removal of extra skin from the infant boy’s penis for health or other reasons. From the time of Abraham (Genesis 17:12) it was a tie back to a very long history of parents making promises on behalf of their children, making sure they were included in an unimaginably long line of ancestors and given certain rights and responsibilities by being born into that family. In that way, circumcision bears a certain resemblance to our sacrament of baptism. What do you know about your own baptism? Do you know the date? Who performed it? Who was there besides your parents? How does your congregation prepare families for baptisms of their children? If you don’t know how that is done, it might be interesting to find out!
- Two Jewish rites are being referred to in Luke 2:22-24. One is for the benefit of the mother who, having given birth, was regarded as “ceremonially unclean.” Ancient Israelites made a careful distinction between human activities that were very private and personal (toilet duties, menstruation, sexual activity, childbirth, etc.) and activities that were public (eating, worship, work, etc.), partly to protect people’s privacy and partly to make sure that public and communal activities could be enjoyed without the unpleasantness of dealing with some of those private matters. One thing Israelite law always did was to require a little more time than you might think was necessary between a private activity and a public activity to make sure that people (who can sometimes be impolite) were quite done with their messy personal business before participating in an event where no one would really want to hear the gross details. There were all kinds of guidelines for these things, and the rule for childbirth was 40 days following the birth of a boy or 70 days following the birth of a girl, as prescribed in the Old Testament book of Leviticus 12:2-8. (No one has exactly been able to explain why there was a difference in the waiting period between boys and girls. It may have been due to the belief that infant girls were more susceptible to sickness than infant boys, so the mother and baby should be sequestered longer). In any case, we know that Jesus was 40 days old in this passage. Note, however, that in this Luke passage the reason for the ceremony is because of the special status of the first child in a family – designated as holy to the Lord. Once again, the time of waiting before the dedication and purification could be thought of as a time of reflection about what God might have planned for this child. Do you think God has a purpose for you that may have gone back as far as when you were 40 days old?
- If we read Leviticus 12:8, we realize that the reason Mary and Joseph brought two turtledoves for the offering was that they were poor; otherwise they would have brought a lamb as prescribed in the law. Some old traditional commentators have remarked, “But they *did* bring a lamb! It was Jesus!” Do you think of Joseph and Mary as having very little in the way of money or other assets? What kind of mental image do you have when you think of Jesus living and growing up in very poor circumstances?
- Luke’s gospel gives the readers little geographic clues as to what the points of his stories are. Threre are two older people in the story whose names suggest two different areas. Simeon reminds readers of the southernmost Israelite tribe, the tribe of Simeon. We are then told that Anna is from the northernmost Israelite tribe, Asher. So it is as if the entire country is coming together to welcome the baby Messiah. This means a great deal because for nearly a thousand years the tribes of Israel had been involved with some-or-other kind of internal strife, even when parts of the nation had been destroyed or other parts had been carried to exile. Can you think of groups of people in our culture or in your daily life who need something as powerful as a Messiah to come before they could possibly come together as one?
- The other reason that Mary and Joseph were at the temple was to dedicate their first-born son to God. Simeon describes how this special calling will happen in the life of Jesus – pagans (=Gentiles) who have had no knowledge of God will be informed of God’s love and sovereignty, and people will discover the vast riches of wisdom and God’s providence in the long history of Israel. In baptism this happens in a different way to all of us – we all receive a calling to reveal God’s love and God’s history to those around us who may be blindly devoted to shallow, pointless activities or habits that are deeply hurtful or unjust to others. How can we imitate Jesus’ calling to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel?
- Arrange to have some of the senior members of your church come to visit with younger members and exchange faith stories. Ask them about their earliest memories of worship, favorite hymns, people who were important to them in their faith development, and so forth. And then ask them for their blessing; there is nothing more essential in life than receiving the blessings of our elders. We do not do enough of this in our congregations, and this story is the ideal place to begin!
- Prepare gift packages for all the parents of children who will be baptized in your church in the next year. Collect promises from the scriptures and write them on small cards and collect them in a fancy envelope or little basket and present them to the families. They can be brought out and read to the newly baptized children as they grow older.
The Prayer of the Day for the Presentation of Our Lord (Feb. 2): Almighty and ever-living God, your only-begotten Son was presented this day in the temple. May we be presented to you with clean and pure hearts by the same Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.