The Dedication of a King
First Baptist Church
Sunday, February 3, 2019
The idea of getting off one’s life started on the right foot takes on a whole new meaning in the Indonesian island nation of Bali. Bali, you see, is home to one of the most unusual traditions related to the birth of a child. There, the belief is held that in the early days of life that a baby is holy and thus a very special gift from the gods. As a holy being, the Balinese believe that for the the first three months of life that a child remains suspended between this world and the world above. In turn, Balinese infants are not to touch the ground for these first three months. As a result, mainly the mothers, but also the fathers, grandparents and other family members and friends do everything in their power to keep their precious newborn from touching the earth until these three months of transition have ended – in Bali, until you are three months old, you are too Holy for dirty feet.
The truth is that the world is full of interesting traditions related to the birth of a child. In Japan, children don’t come out of the house for the first twenty-one days of their life. And, in various countries, at different times, parents have chosen to eat the top portion of the their wedding cake to celebrate the child’s christening or baptism rather than eating that portion on their first anniversary as we do here in America. Speaking of America, we too have our own customs that also make us unique. Having baby showers are uniquely American. Or, what about the now forgotten tradition of dads giving out blue and pink cigars on the day of the birth?
In the days of Jesus, Israel also had customs and traditions that were unique to their culture related to how the birth of a child was to be marked and celebrated. Their traditions were not only deeply embedded in Israelite culture of the time but they were also a unique part of their faith and worship of God. Although it can be easily lost on us as modern readers of the text, Luke 2 is clear that Joseph and Mary followed these customs carefully.
Our text for today mentions three of them. First, according to verse 21, when Jesus was eight days old, the Israelite tradition going back to Abraham was followed that he was to be circumcised and named. It is at this point that his name is solidified as Jesus – not a family name or name that Joseph and Mary liked personally but the name given to them by the angel of God.
Likewise, verses 22 through 24 state that other two customs were kept. On the one hand, with Jesus as their first born son, Jewish custom required that they redeem him. This went back to the day when first born animals were sacrificed to God as way of recognizing them as God’s gift. At that time, a provision for first born children was set up where an offering of five shekels was given in place of the sacrifice as a sign that one recognized that this child was also a gift from God. On the other hand, Mary also brings her offering to temple at this same time of two turtle doves as an offering for her unclean state as someone who had just given birth and who as a result was ceremonially unclean until an offering had been made.
You can imagine the scene, Mary, Joseph and Jesus – a newborn child carried in the arms of a new mom with the child’s new dad by their side, arriving in the temple in Jerusalem to offer their gifts – five shekels for Jesus as their first born and two doves as an offering for Mary both a sign of tradition, custom but also of worship, reverence, thanksgiving.
In essence, we do something very similar right here in this house of worship on a regular basis. It too is a way of keeping our faith, custom and tradition. New moms and new dads bring their children on special set aside days and they stand in front of the altar. We celebrate with them the coming of their child as we dedicate them. In dedicating the child, we offer things, not shekels or doves, but our lives. They offer their lives to be good parents and to teach the faith. We offer our lives by pledging to join them in that work. And, together, we all thank our Heavenly Father for this special new life which is a gift of God to all of us.
Luke wanted to be clear about something by telling us about Mary, Joseph and Jesus and their following through with circumcision, naming, the first born offering and the offering for Mary. He wanted to tell us that they were normal, good, faithful Jewish parents. He wanted to counter against any later person who would say that Jesus as an adult with his unusual ways was the product of an unusual upbringing. Instead, he wanted to say and to be clear that Jesus came from faithful, law abiding, custom keeping Jewish parents. He was raised in the right way; following the normal customs.
In doing so, Luke emphasizes something else. Luke points out a crucial lesson. In being faithful to the ordinary aspects of life and faith, Joseph and Mary were positioning Jesus to live in an extraordinary way. Two times in Luke 2, both in verse 40, which we read earlier and in verse 52 which we will read next week, Luke makes it clear that Jesus grew, in wisdom and in favor with God and man.
Jesus was growing. He was growing in wisdom and he was growing in favor with God and with people. This was no ordinary thing. This was an extraordinary thing. It was the result, at least in part, of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary to bring Jesus up in the ordinary things of life and faith.
I want to make a simple point this morning. One that Harold has already made in his remarks about great football players and teams. It is a point that is also true of Jesus as we find him in Luke 2 and a point that can be true of us. Extraordinary lives are the result of a commitment to ordinary disciplines. Extraordinary children are the result of ordinary, faithful parents.
Lets be honest, in this day and age, doing ordinary things is no ordinary thing. I want to say that again. In the world in which we live, doing ordinary things is no ordinary thing. You and I living daily into the faithful, ordinary tasks of taking care of our bodies, doing honest, good work, reading God’s word, praying, trying to live according to God’s laws, coming to church regularly not occasionally, tithing and be good stewards of our money and treating our neighbor as ourselves is ordinary behavior and yet to live this way, day in and day out over the long haul of life is not ordinary. Yet, it is these things that positions us to live and do extraordinary things.
The same is true for our children. I worry about the children we are raising. I really do. I worry about them not because they never get to do amazing things. I worry because lots of parents don’t seem to be concerned about doing the ordinary things. The commitment is gone to eating together, to balancing their schedules, to setting real priorities with faith at the top, to having our children at church week in and week out, to teaching our children about what to do with their money and possessions in the eyes of God, to helping them to learn about the importance of not just going to church but to joining a church and actually being committed to it, to challenging them to live by God’s ways as it relates to relationship, marriage, sexuality. No, we are running after the amazing, unusual experiences and ignoring the ordinary and thus we are not creating the foundation out of which the truly extraordinary comes. Why are many of us here today? Not because our parents did the extraordinary but because they were faithful to the ordinary.
We received an annual package in the mail the other day that is the epitome of ordinary. It is a package of every stamp issued in the US last year. It came from a friend of mine named James Whitely who is a retired High School history teacher. James and his wife Janet were faithful members of our Kentucky church and it was while living there that Callie was born. James is a stamp collector and as a gift to Callie, he agreed to do something. He agreed to collect a copy of every stamp issued in the US from the time Callie was born until she reach 18 years of age – every one.
Can you imagine? There is nothing super exciting about that. In many ways it is boring, monotonous, tedious and time consuming. It requires patience, extra work and commitment over the long haul of 18 years. But, out of the ordinary comes an amazing, extraordinary gift.
Callie has absolutely no recollection of James Whiteley. But, because of his ordinary work over these first 18 years of her life. She will never forget who he is or what he has done. Ordinary or extraordinary? You can decide.
Let those with ears to hear listen. Amen.