Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest
Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day

Due to Icy Weather conditions services are cancelled Sunday, Dec. 31.


Please read Father Doug Thomas' Sermon below.


First Sunday after Christmas Day: December 31, 2017


Scripture: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Prayer: Thank you Almighty God for sending the Spirit of your Son into our hearts; crying, ‘Abba! Father! Amen.


 In chapter 12 of Leviticus the Jewish law declares that for 40 days after giving birth to son a woman is ceremonially impure. At the end of that time period she was to take an offering to the temple for the priest to offer as a sacrifice to God.


Today’s gospel reading informs us that the 40 day period since Mary delivered Jesus into the world had been completed. God is present with us in a brand new way, and Mary and Joseph were headed to the Temple to make the sacrifice of purification.


Awaiting their arrival; 

Simeon sat in the shadows watching the Temple door

confidently expecting what he’d long waited for.

moved by the Spirit that morning, its purpose to fulfill

Simeon sang very softly, while all was quiet and still.

The King has come, the King has come;

the consolation of Israel.

The King has come, the King has come;

and by His grace we’ll be made well.” [DT]


Luke’s gospel includes a quote from Exodus, which says: “every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.” The context for that passage was God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Consecrating their firstborn son to God was a way of both: remembering God’s deliverance; and announcing their trust that God will continue to deliver His people from whatever enslaves them. 


Even so, Jewish law did not require the baby to be taken to the Temple to “be designated as holy….” However, Luke’s gospel says that Mary and Joseph did bring the baby Jesus with them. Many scholars believe that Luke included this detail to connect the story of Jesus to the story of the Old Testament prophet Samuel whose mother took him to the Temple to “give him back” to God. You’ll remember, Samuel eventually became a Priest. 


By making this connection, Luke prepares us to see Jesus as our “Great, High Priest” who will fulfill the promise of the Angel Gabriel when he said Jesus will “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and…will be called the Son of God.” 


Can you imagine what it was like when Simeon first saw Mary and Jesus? 


 “In walked a mother with baby, a sacrifice to make.

Simeon saw very clearly, someday her heart would break.

Taking the child from His mother and lifting Him on high,

Simeon praised his redeemer, who’d come so He could die.”

The King has come, the King has come;

the consolation of Israel….” [DT]


Simeon’sgreat expectation was the deliverance of Israel from its long history of oppression by other nations: first the Egyptians, then the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and, throughout the entire course of Simeon’s life, the Roman Empire. 


It was an expectation based on the promises of God, one of which we read in today’s passage from Isaiah, wherein God speaks through the voice of the prophet, declaring:  “I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch….”.


That passage from Isaiah was written after Jews, forceably taken to Babylon, were allowed to return to their homeland. It was a bittersweet situation: they had been delivered from their captivity, but there was still much to be done to fully restore the nation and Jerusalem. As they worked toward a better future, they clung to this promise from God.


Old Testament scholar and Professor of Hebrew-Edgar Conrad-maintained that the book of Isaiah is more than an historical document: it can also be understood metaphorically; applicable to people of every generation.  Such an understanding encourages all people of faith “…to live in hope toward a future which is claimed and redeemed by God…. [and] will ultimately involve… setting… things right not only for Judah and Jerusalem, but…for all peoples and nations.” 


Simeon surely saw the fulfillment of this world-wide promise when he held the baby Jesus in his arms, for he said: “…my eyes have seen your salvation,… prepared in the sight of all nations: 


a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of…Israel.”


Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us a deeper understanding of how God’s deliverance is accomplished for all peoples. In the 4th chapter, Paul asserts that the story of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, is also more than an historical account. It is the story of two covenants: one based on the effortsof human beings to follow laws prescribed to make us “good enough” to be accepted by God, and the other covenant based on God’s gracious gift of acceptance, despite our failings.


In chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul proclaims that the purpose of the law is not to make us acceptable to God, but to teach us that we are not able to be who God calls us to be, despite our best efforts. 


Each Sunday, in Holy Eucharist: Rite 1, we cite Scripture which tells us that the two great commandments are to “…love the Lord… [our] God with all… [our] heat…soul…and…mind….


[and to] love [our] neighbor as [our self].” 


I know this, but I do not consistently do it.So, if I try to “get right” with God by obeying His law, I find myself repeatedly failing…guilty…and condemned. 


But thankfullyPaul insists, “the law… is our teacher [designed] to bring us to Christ, [so] that we might be justified by faith…. after faith has come, we are no longer under [the authority of] a teacher.“


In today’s reading from Galatians, Paul adds: “…God sent his Son, to redeem [to deliver] those under the law, [to adopt us as His children. Then ] God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So… [we] are no longer slave[s], but God’s child[ren]; 


and since…[we] are his child[ren], God has made…[us His] heir[s].”


This is the ultimate message of Christmas: we can be holy and acceptable to God: adopted into His family; not by following certain rules, but by having a relationship with God through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.


Even as Israel was delivered by God from the oppression of foreign nations, so, too, we can be delivered from the oppression of the law.


Paul then advises the Galatians: don’t put yourselves back under the oppression of the law! 


Maintain your freedom - by trusting Jesus.


Unfortunately, it’s easy for us to slip back into slavery: let me give you a simple example.


Today is New Year’s Eve. As we review this past year, we are likely to discover that there are things we intended to do, but didn’t: and there are things we did not want to do, but we did.


How are we to deal with this reality? 


Some of us may experience the burden of guilt or shame: oppressed by our own thoughts and feelings.


Some of us may make resolutions about what we will and will not do this coming year. We say we will be better. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not good at keeping resolutions. For me, a resolution quickly becomes a burden - just another form of oppression.


Hear again the words of Simeon: “This child [Jesus] is destined for the falling and rising of many….” Biblical commentator James C. Howell advises us to “notice the order. In the world, it’s rise and fall. [As in the case of] the rise and fall of a business tycoon, [or] the rise and fall of a movie star. But with Jesus its fall and rise….. [It was true of Him], he suffered…died [and was buried], and then was raised to glory. [It is true of us as well] We suffer and die – and not just at the end of life.”


As we journey toward our final death, we suffer and we die the ‘little deaths’ of life again and again: such as when we experience failure or fear. 


But if we have been crucified with Christ, let us remember we “are no longer… slave[s] but… children of God], destined to receive the inheritance of a full, abundant and everlasting life.


So, let us live now, not as slaves fearful of the slave-master, but as children trusting our Heavenly Father.


Even though 


We sometimes still sit in shadows, watching the Temple door: 

the door of our heart we open - to welcome the One we adore.

Entrusting ourselves to His keeping, for He will faithful be;

singing our song of assurance, that He has set us free.

The King has come, the King has come;

the consolation of Israel.

The King has come, the King has come;

and by His grace we are made well. [DT]    Amen. 


Morning Prayer Thursday, Apr 19 @ 8:00 AM
Bagpipes Thursday, Apr 19 @ 7:00 PM
Morning Prayer Friday, Apr 20 @ 8:00 AM
Holy Eucharist Sunday, Apr 22 @ 8:00 AM
Children's Sunday School Sunday, Apr 22 @ 9:15 AM

Easter 2018
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
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