The joyous strains of the angel voices singing praise to God can be heard echoing from the heavens and across the mountains. They invite us to join in singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” Yes, “Glory to God in the Highest!” And as Isaiah declared: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). Let us, therefore, join this joyous chorus that brings together the voices of heaven and earth and all that dwells within them, in shouting “Praise the Lord!” Or, if you prefer the Hebrew, we can shout “Hallelujah!”
This morning we gather on the third day of Christmas, which means our true loves should give us “three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree!” That means there are still nine more days of Christmas before the season closes on January 6, the Day of Epiphany. January 6 is the day western Christians celebrate the coming of the Magi, or as I like to call them, the “three wise guys!” More specifically, this is the first Sunday after Christmas for us. Of course, if you follow the calendar used by many eastern Christians you can celebrate Christmas again on January 7. Whatever dates we use, we’ve just gotten started with this Christmas celebration.
I realize that the more secular world has moved on from Christmas to New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. The radio stations that have been blasting Christmas songs since before Thanksgiving have now switched back to their normal formats. The prices on all the Christmas paraphernalia are now half off so the stores can clear space for their Valentine’s merchandise. But, once again, we’re on a different calendar, so let’s keep this Christmas spirit going at least until the magi visit on January 6!
The gospel reading for today that’s stipulated by the lectionary comes from Luke, who takes us from Bethlehem to Jerusalem so Mary and Joseph can dedicate Jesus in the Temple. After they make the appropriate offerings and receive the blessings of the priests, they encounter two elderly people named Simeon and Anna. These two individuals have been waiting for much of their lives to see the revealing of the Messiah. So, when Simeon, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, saw Jesus, he gave praise to God. He prayed to God: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:25-32). After Simeon blessed the child, the prophet Anna approached the Holy Family and gave praise to God. She proclaimed to everyone in earshot that this child would be the redemption of Jerusalem (Lk 2:36-38).
The 148th Psalm reveals that young and old join together with the cosmos in giving praise to God. That includes Simeon and Anna who added their voices to the cosmic chorus that runs from the heavens to the earth (Ps. 148:1-5, 12). While the angels sing from heaven, the sea monsters, fire and hail, frost and stormy winds, mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and cattle, add their voices to that of Anna and Simeon and us, giving praise to God our Creator, whose “name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.”
This cosmic chorus lifts up an offering of gratitude to the Creator. It is a thank-you note to the God who not only creates all things but redeems all things as well. We who are followers of Jesus participate in God’s redemption of the cosmos by being adopted into God’s family and receiving the family inheritance in Christ (Gal. 4:4-7).
Since most of us opened Christmas presents earlier in the week, we know that it’s now time to say thank you. I assume that every child has been instructed to write thank-you notes for the gifts received. These thank yous are due even for ugly sweaters given by a beloved aunt or grandparent. Here’s the thing, when it comes to the gifts of God there are no ugly sweaters or pink bunny suits.
Concerning this song of thanksgiving we encounter in Psalm 148, Frederick Buechner writes that this invitation to join with the cosmos in giving praise to God “is about as measured as a volcanic eruption and there is no implication that under any circumstances it could be anything other than what it is” [Wishful Thinking, p. 85]. He goes on to write that “we learn to praise God not by paying compliments but by paying attention. Watch how the trees exult when the wind is in them. Mark the utter stillness of the great blue heron in the swamp. Listen to the sound of the rain. Learn how to say Hallelujah from the ones who say it right” (Wishful Thinking, p. 85).
So now we can sing:
Angels, from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
you who sang creation’s story,
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the new-born King.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 27, 2020