New Year’s Day 2017
Psalm 131; Luke 2:21-40
The Book of the Psalms are a collection of poems and songs, the ancient prayer book of the Hebrews, used undoubtedly by Jesus in his own life. Many scholars believe the title “Song of Ascents”, indicates that these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals [Deuteronomy 16:16]. Psalm 131 invites us to humility and perspective. The poet warns about giving oneself over to heroic exploits or achievements in the objective of rivaling the power of God. It’s not a Marxist retarding of human achievement or prohibition of seeking understanding, but rather a faith-full admonition to recognize who is God, and who is not divinely sovereign.
The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. The Greek language is more complex, and Hebraic notions, Jewish practices are explained (whereas in Matthew they are not). Luke’s gospel also has the most fleshed out version of the birth story of Jesus. Both of the gospels place the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judea (37-4 bce), but Luke takes pains to place this event in the wider perspective of the world context. Luke contrasts the reign of Jesus with that of the Emperor Augustus, between military power and God’s power. Curiously only Luke contains the story we read today, whereas Matthew tells instead of the visit of the Magi [Matthew 2:1-12] and the family’s escape of King Herod as refugees in Egypt [Matthew 2:13-18]. The story calls to mind other stories such as the prayer of Hannah upon the giving of a child to her in her impotency, the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant of Lord (in particular chapter 11) and the mystery of how Jesus would be a stumbling block for many (1 Corinthians 1).
Questions for the Practice of Examen & Contemplation
- These scriptures reflect upon the majestic sovereignty of God. The Lord is beyond our imagination, expectation and projection. The psalmist poet points to humility as the key to knowing God and being known by God, like a child feeding at the breast of its loving mother. The gospel selection insists upon faithfulness: the faithfulness of those in the story to God’s Ways – Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna – and in particular to the way in which God is faithful to the divine promise and project first spoken to Abraham in Genesis 12.
- How do you experience God in your life? Like a child that’s being breastfed, knowing where you are grounded, nourished and connected? Or are you feeling more like an adolescent child these days, unsure of how to be who you are, to affirm your own identity while being grounded, nourished and connected to God? Or are you a mixture of both developmental states? How do you need to grow, become strong and be filled with wisdom as you seek to listen to God and walk with the Lord in all of your life?
- How do you understand the message of peace on earth in this continuing nativity story, which is foundational for Christianity? How have we lost sight of the centrality of this message to the story? How do we need to (re)claim it? Talk to God of the hope you hear in the story, the hope you need and hunger for.