Salvation Has Come
A few years ago, a former student of mine asked me to perform their wedding ceremony. This was a student that I had known since they were in middle school and I had spent a lot of time with her and her family. The wedding was out of state, but I agreed, and was excited to participate. One of the unique things about performing a wedding is the law varies state by state and each county is slightly different. As the time drew closer for the wedding. I called the county in which the wedding was going to take place. A woman answered the phone and I explained I would be performing a wedding a few months from now and that I wanted to check with them about any local requirements. She kind of paused and said, “are you ordained?” I, of course, said, “Yes, I am an ordained Presbyterian Pastor.” She said, “do you have a church?” I said, “Yes.” She then said, “are their actual people at your church?” Being that this was pre-COVID-19, I of course said “Yes.” Then finally she asked me to “mail a bulletin or order of worship to the court house.” Then I would be invited to come to the courthouse, and I would need to bring a copy of ordination certificate and then they would make the decision on if I could perform the wedding. At this point in the conversation I was a little annoyed with her, but I managed to ask her very politely “what this was all about”. I will never forget her two-word response, “the internet”. She went on to explain that they have a lot of weddings in the county and the county has decided that only judges and religious leaders can perform weddings and they didn’t want someone who got ordained online performing the ceremony.
Our text offers us a beautiful vision of a young family, a family following the religious customs of their day. We see Mary and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem to the temple. His family makes the sacrifices that are required. This would have been done about 40 days after the birth of Jesus. The law required a sacrifice of either a lamb, turtledoves, or pigeons. The offering of pigeons is a clear indication of the socioeconomic status of Mary and Joseph. But they honor God’s law and make a sacrifice. This account parallels the dedication of Samuel, from 1 Samuel chapter 1, with Eli offering a blessing and a song of praise offered to God by Hannah. Samuel brought great change to Israel and helped fix a corrupt system.
Jesus’ presence in the temple causes quite a stir. The Holy spirit is speaking to two prophets. As this family enters the Temple Simeon picks up the young baby and praises God for him. Simeon describes Jesus as the “salvation which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” We see again God’s concern for all peoples. That God has a special relationship with Israel but salvation has been brought to all people through Jesus Christ. After Simeon shares these words, Anna, a woman of great faith, speaks about this child redeeming Jerusalem. Anna’s words are not recorded but it is understood that she blessed the baby in a similar vein as Simeon. Both Anna and Simeon recognized that salvation had come to the world and to the people of God that day. This small family followed the law of their day. The Mishnah, or the oral law of the Rabbis, teaches that wherever the Torah or scriptures are studied or spoken, God’s presence rests among the people. Jesus modified this saying and said “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”.  Both Anna and Simeon recognized that salvation had come to the world and to the people of God that day. It makes you wonder how many other people spotted the infant that day, and sensed the presence of God? The family then returned to Nazareth. Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and favor with God.
The modern church is facing many challenges. Our influence in the culture has changed, our influence in family has changed. The pressure on modern families is great. Parents in general are struggling to keep up with careers and activities. Until the pandemic many families ate fewer meals together and fewer prayed together before those meals or conducted any sort of at home bible study. Families have begun to approach religious participation, like music and sports, as an extracurricular activity: a good, well-rounded thing to do, but unnecessary for an integrated life.  The result is that the markings of special religious ritual and the acknowledge presence of God is gone from the daily life of many families. In the minds of many it has become associated either with superstitions and cultic practices of the past or the peculiar excesses of religious fanatics. God has receded from the awareness and experience of everyday life. Many then naturally assume that God is found only in certain places, in sacred buildings, in holy books, or in observances led by holy persons. Their lives, on the other hand, move in a secular realm devoid of the presence of the holy. Little room for mystery remains in the everyday. What have we lost by removing ritual observances from our daily experience?
In the Washington Post Article, I used to love playing violin. But mastering it broke my heart by Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch. Arianna shares her own personal journey with the violin. She writes how she fell in love with the instrument at the age of 6. At the age of 11 she switched to a new violin teacher, that had connections to pre-college conservatory. She immediately took Arianna off any real pieces of music and had her practice finger exercises after a year she was allowed to return to music, but her perception of that music had changed, the mystery had receded in its place were technical challenges for her body to overcome. She kept advancing but grew unhappy. She kept feeling as though eventually the music would mean something. She finished her time at Juilliard eventually going on tour with a rock band. But she felt like a fake. She felt the need for a change and moved to Berlin she put down her violin and just lived, she started turning down opportunities to play and eventually stopped playing altogether. Months past and violin collected dust. A friend convinced her to play a private party and after several weeks of preparation it was time for her to play. She writes as we began to play, I felt something shift inside me. Suddenly, the months of estrangement and resentment and sadness and confusion, and the uncertainty about my future as a violinist, became part of a new story. It wasn’t the same kind of story I’d have invented when I was young. It was darker and more complicated than anything I could have conjured back then — almost elegiac. The music sounded different to me now. More bittersweet, more profound and more beautiful
The challenge to the modern church is to help family find ritual, is to celebrate God in the in the ordinary. We need to learn to greet each moment, each morning with gratitude; to celebrate the goodness in our lives, to recognize mystery and holy and give families and parents the tools to make this happen. To help individuals and families connect to God and see themselves as part of a larger story and help them see the ministry of faith.
 Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (p. 6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.