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Israel Reduced to One December 30, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 2:22-40

 Christmas 1

December 29-30, 2012

Focus: God replaced Israel with one little child.

Function: That the hearers recognize Jesus, the Son of Man, as the One who was to come.

Structure: If this…then this…and thus this.

 

Israel Reduced to One

            December must be a perfect time for babies.  My brother-in-law and his wife found out they’ll be having twins.  In the past couple weeks alone, I can name three seminarians who have had babies.  The names of the little ones?  Eleanor, Judah, and Karsten.  And thank the Lord, they’re all healthy.  In talking with Eleanor’s dad, he mentioned that the birth of a little girl is actually less expensive than a little boy.  Now as she grows up, maybe he’ll change his mind about that.  But what he meant is that there is an extra cost involved with a baby boy.  An extra procedure for mom and dad to pay for.  He was talking about circumcision.

Even in our high tech society today, circumcision is still a normal, regular practice in medicine.  So normal, we don’t even talk about it.  When he mentioned the cost difference, it surprised me a little bit.  We just don’t think about it.  But Israel did.

From the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and eventually Israel, circumcision played a major role.  It was the sign of the covenant for the people.  On the eighth day of a boy’s life, he was to be circumcised.  As he grew up, it would serve as a daily reminder to him of who he was, a daily reminder that he was one of God’s people.  A daily reminder that Yahweh is God.

Circumcision was a normal part of life.  Every Israelite boy had it done to them.  Every Israelite woman went through purification after giving birth.  Every firstborn child was given to the Lord’s service.  Every firstborn animal was sacrificed as an offering to God.  These were things that they viewed as normal, regular parts of life.

The little babe in Bethlehem was no exception to the rule.  Sometimes we make Jesus Christ out to be a superhuman, not like the rest of us.  Sometimes we think, that even from birth, He must’ve been able to talk, walk, and perform miracles.  We forget that God took on flesh.  We forget that Jesus became a man. He was just a tiny baby, needing His parents’ care and love.  We forget what Luke tells us, that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon Him.”

We get the sense from Scripture that Mary and Joseph viewed Jesus as a fairly average child.  Outside of the virgin part of His birth, everything to this point had been normal.  In our text today, we see that Joseph and Mary were amazed by what Simeon said about their little boy.  When Jesus is twelve, and they forget Him in the temple, they don’t understand what He means when He tells them He was in His Father’s house.  And when He begins His ministry, Mary and His siblings come looking for Him, trying to stop Him and bring Him home because they thought He’d gone crazy.

Should we expect otherwise from a young Jewish girl?  Nonetheless, there was something special about this baby.  A contemporary song catches this dynamic:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?  Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?  Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?  This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

He was a normal boy, with a fairly normal life.  But, there was something different about this Jesus.  Something different that would unfold as He grew up.  He was the chosen One of God.

Early on, God chose Abraham and his descendants to be His people.  He chose the nation of Israel.  Throughout their history they experienced a rollercoaster-like relationship with God.  Ups and downs, good times and bad.  Stretches of faithfulness and stretches where they completely abandoned God.  But throughout it all, they were God’s chosen people.  The nation of Israel.

One way in which theologians and preachers like to talk about Jesus is by calling Him Israel reduced to One.  The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, reduced to one Man, the Son of Man, the Son of God.  The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming Messiah.  Some prophecies were two-fold, meaning that the prophecy had a present meaning for the people while also pointing forward to Christ.  Some prophecies pointed straight to Christ.  And yet, other things that Christ fulfilled we wouldn’t call prophecy at all.  Events, trials, struggles, and the history and lives of Israel can be seen repeating themselves in Jesus’ life and ministry.

We could spend days talking about the various things that point to Christ.  And while that would be fun, and we’d all surely learn some things together, we won’t cover it all this morning.  But let’s at least look at some of these things.  Luke tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling our Old Testament reading from last weekend, Micah chapter five, where he says:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

 

Luke also tells us that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, brought into the covenant which God had made with Abraham long before.  And then we see today how our Old Testament lesson from Exodus and our gospel lesson from Luke fit together.  The offering of the firstborn child.  This one goes back to the Exodus account and the tenth plague in which God wiped out all the firstborn in Egypt.  But, He spared the people of Israel, as they painted the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and the angel of death skipped over their homes, sparing their children.  The firstborn child of every womb was then to be given to the Lord, presented to Him for service. Like circumcision, this was a reminder to the people of the covenant and their relationship with God.  Little did this little Jewish girl know, that her Son would be the last firstborn child, that Jesus would fulfill this prophecy.

The time of purification that Luke mentions refers to Leviticus chapter 12.  A woman was unclean for a week after giving birth to a son, at the end of which, he was to be circumcised, as Christ was, and she would then spend 33 days in the blood of her purification.  After those 40 days, she was to bring the child with her to the temple, and offer a lamb for a burnt offering and a turtledove or a pigeon for a sin offering.  If she was poor, the family could replace the lamb with another bird, as Jesus’ parents did.  Mary had no idea that she in fact was holding the Lamb of God in her arms.

Just to name a few more for fun:  Christ’s baptism, going down into the Jordan River and coming back out of it, connects to the parting of the Red Sea, and the Israelites crossing through it.  A new people, redeemed, rescued and saved.  That was their baptism by water.  And the forty years of wandering through the wilderness that followed, are immediately paralleled in Christ’s life by forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan.  And the whole sacrificial system, so intricately outlined in Leviticus, is all trumped by what Christ did, serving as the sacrifice for all sin on the cross.

Jesus’ life and ministry is God’s story of redemption.  He is Israel reduced to one in everything that He did.  When Jesus was born, the nation of Israel ceased to exist any longer.  God’s chosen people became a chosen One.  And Jesus then opens that up to all mankind through His death and resurrection.  Jew and Gentile alike are the chosen people of God through baptism.  Through your baptism, you are His child, part of the new Israel, God’s chosen people, a holy nation.  We are not a nation of space and boundaries, but a nation of faith through baptism.  Together, all Christians today are Israel.

Like circumcision was for the first Israel, baptism is a sign and reminder to us that we are God’s people.  In addition to that, so is the Lord’s Supper.  That’s one of the key reasons why God instituted the sacraments with tangible things that are common to us.  Every time you see water, be it in the shower, washing your hands or your dishes, be it an ocean or a river, all water can remind you of your baptism.  And every time you see bread or wine, from the grocery store to the kitchen table, these things remind you of Christ’s death on the cross, the forgiveness of your sins.

Jesus wasn’t a superhero.  He was a boy, a normal boy who happened to be the Son of God.  He was the chosen One of God, set apart from the beginning to be our Savior.  Set apart as the child who “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon Him.”  The very favor God which marked Him as Israel reduced to One.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?  Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?  Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?  And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

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