Sunday, January 3, 2016

Glimpsing the Promise

Glimpsing the Promise from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far a the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain - that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees - as far as Zoar. 4The LORD said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." 5Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD's command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bethpeor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor hat not abated. 8The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

9Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.

10Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12and all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 2:22-40
22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons." 

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 
29"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 
30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 
31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 

33And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

I just got back from a week with my family at the beach. My grandparents owned a time share at Atalaya Towers down in Murrell's Inlet, and our tradition is to celebrate January 1st there every year. The weather was a bit unusual this year, with a large chunk of the week being over 80 degrees.

We got up one morning and looked out the window of our 14th floor room and saw nothing but white fog. The warm, humid, afternoon air had mixed with the cool of the morning and built a wall of water vapor suspended in the air all up and down the beach. We could hear the waves rolling up the shore, but we could not see them. It was as though creation had been reduced to one condo and its balcony, curtained in by close-hovering clouds.

We marveled at the beauty of the fog while we shared our morning coffee, and as morning progressed, the fog began to dissipate, so that we could at last see the sea, but the piers that flanked our building were still hidden, the world began to open up ever so slightly, resetting our perspective just as we had reset our calendars.

Then in a long unbroken moment the ambient light from a thousand refracted rays coalesced into a single beam as fog gave way to sunlight, already high in the sky, its dawn masked by the wall of water vapor.

That's the way I picture Moses on the Mount Nebo. I see him making his way up to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, surrounded by thick fog, until he reaches the top and the sun parts to give him a glimpse of the promised land. The LORD shows Moses all of the land that has been promised to Abraham and his descendants, a geography lesson that would mean more to later readers who might forget the physical reality of the covenant they had inherited. Moses has heard the voice of God many times during his leadership of the people of God. He has heard the promise that a population of slaves would be a nation with their own place in the world. He has heard that all nations would bless themselves through his ancestor Abraham, and that his people would be a light to the nations.

But Moses, that great prophet, has seen mostly a squabbling tribe full of grumbling complainers. He has seen the great works the LORD's mighty hand, but he has also seen the pettiness of a rebellious and stiff-necked people.

Now, as all that fog parts on Mount Nebo, Moses is glimpsing the promise. They are as sure as the ground on which he stands, as sure as the terrain laid out before him. But even as he can see them, he knows they are not yet fulfilled.

As the Christmas season comes to a close this week, we also know that this story is not over yet. The promise of God's anointed one gives us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, but Christmas is a promise that the crucifixion and resurrection are yet to come. This promise is literally in its infancy. But word of the promise is spreading, and the glimpses of the promise which we are given give us the hope to wait for their fulfillment, and give us the peace to follow where God is leading our people.

The LORD is leading the Israelites into the promised land, so that they be dedicated to glorifying the God who creates, redeems, and sustains them. The journey takes generations while they shed their identity as slaves and are re-identified as God's chosen people. Moses has led them this far, and is glimpsing the promise that is sure, but whose fruits he will not see. Although he has tasted manna in the wilderness, he will not know the taste of land that is flowing with milk and honey.

Neither will Simeon or Anna.

Luke's the only gospel writer to include this story, and we usually skip over it to get to last week's less of the boy Jesus in the temple. But the infant Jesus in the temple doesn't do much, he's still too young to have much agency in his own story. But even so, his presence in meaningful to Simeon, a man who is "righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of the Israel." Jesus's presence is meaningful to Anna, a prophet and widow who worshiped in the temple "with fasting and prayer night and day."

Like Moses, they have heard the promises of God, and had faith in them. Like Moses, they are Glimpsing the Promises though the fog that surrounds them. Like Moses, they will not live to see the promises brought from their infancy to their fulfillment. But that glimpse, that barest revelation of God's redemption is enough to send them out into the world with praise. Simeon "took him in his arms and praised God, saying, '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.' And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him." The prophet Anna also sees the child, and perhaps hears Simeons song, and immediately "began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."

They have come to the temple to adore God, either out of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as with Simeon, or out of faithful habit, like Anna. But they do not stop with coming to the temple to adore him. These ancient saints, Moses, Simeon, and the prophet Anna know that God's promises are as sure in their infancy as they are at their fulfillment, and that sends them out to tell the good news of God's steadfast love.

Us too.

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