January 1, 2012
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Year in Review
Rev. Leanne S. Walt preaching
It’s about that time of year again – in fact, it’s exactly that time of year again - when we look back upon the previous year and various news and media outlets offer their own “Year in Review” slideshows and written analysis of the events of the past year. If you haven’t yet come across at least one of these this past week, you’ll surely catch some rendition of a year in review later this afternoon or evening if you tune into the radio, flip on the TV, or peruse the Internet. Now, maybe I’m just a sucker for a good photomontage, but I always enjoy these tours through the previous twelve months - a chance to look back, to remember, to reflect, and to mark the passage of time.
These years in reviews are full of the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, chronicling moments of revolution and repression, misery and jubilation, triumph and defeat. As such, they’re usually tearjerkers, tugging on our heartstrings with poignant quotes scattered throughout and inspiring music playing in the background.
The Yahoo! News Year in Review called 2011 “A Year of Extremes,” contrasting the devastation of the Japanese earthquake and nuclear crisis with the extravagance of April’s Royal Wedding.
The New York Times December 22nd Year in Review described 2011 as a “spectacle of anger,” making note of the wave of Arab Spring protests rippling through Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Jordan and the Occupy movements taking place right here in our own backyard.  A local heading from The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune reads: “Year in Review: Winds of Change Defined 2011.” From London to Athens and Tahrir to Dudley Square this has been a year of revolution, kindled with an anger that has fueled the winds of change.
President Obama remarked of the Arab Spring, “There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for change that has been building up for years…across the region those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy.”
Longing and hope, anger and courage, transformation and joy.
This past year marked both the killing of Bin Laden and the 10th anniversary of 9/11. In his 10 year anniversary speech at Ground Zero, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City reflected that, “We have lived in sunshine and in shadow, and although we can never unsee what happened here we can also see that children who have lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born and good works in public service have taken root to honor those we have loved and lost.”
Sunshine and shadow, terror and grief, fear and audacity, loss and growth. A year in review.
In the days after Jesus’ birth as they traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, perhaps Mary and Joseph engaged in their own version of the Year in Review 6 BC (or there about, as the exact date of Jesus’ birth is not known), reflecting and remembering the events of the past year. It had no doubt been an incredible year for this couple. An angelic message and divine mission, an immaculate conception, a marriage, a journey, a pregnancy, a birth.
Today when we meet them in the Gospel of Luke, they are bringing their firstborn son to the temple to make a sacrifice for Mary’s purification, as was customary according to Jewish law. Upon entering the temple, they are greeted by a man named Simeon, whose years of old age seem to drape over him like a cloth, obvious and discernable. This stranger takes the infant Jesus into his arms and in his righteousness and wisdom he embraces the child whom he recognizes as the Son of God. He cradles Jesus there in his arms and speaks to Mary, telling her that, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many.”
If we pause here for a moment and linger with Simeon’s prophecy, we would notice the oddity of his ordering of things: “the falling and rising of many.” For if we were to review the years throughout all of history we would find that they have been full of the rising and falling of many: from the Roman Empire to the 3rd Reich, Saddam Hussein to this year’s fall of Moammar Gadhafi. Even the peacemakers and pacifiers have fallen to death at the hands of hate: Martin Luther King, Jr., Bonheoffer, and Ghandi.
And of course the rise and fall of financial and business tycoons has become a hallmark of our times, from Enron, Goldman Sacs, and Lehman Brothers to this year’s Rupert Murdoch, most notably. Not to mention that we seem to be obsessed with contributing to the rise and then watching the fall of the rich and famous. This year we witnessed Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger fall from grace, to name just a few.
The media certainly had plenty to work with this year and they usually do because the rise and fall of fame and power appears to be the way of the world. But, here, in this brief encounter in the temple with an old, strange man, Mary learns that the birth of her son challenges and reverses this order of the world. In Jesus, we become destined to rise, as he did. Falling on the cross into what seems so ultimate and final, then rising again for all eternity. Some of you may remember at one point or another reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, which articulate the fall and rise of God in Christ:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
Held within these few words that Simeon offers to Mary in the temple, so fleeting and easily glossed over amongst the rich stories of the gospel, is the very promise of our faith: that in Jesus Christ, though we most assuredly will fall as we stumble along the highways of the world, we will rise with Christ. We remember the Word that came to us last Sunday, on Christmas morning:
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).
As a congregation, we have our own year in review coming up at the end of this month. At the annual meeting we will look back and reflect upon all that has come and gone in 2011. We will look at the good and the bad, our joining together in this exciting and new ministry and the financial cost of embarking upon such a journey of faith. However, as we engage in our year in review as a body of Christ, I can assure you that the startlingly startling cost of the fall of our boiler will be vastly overshadowed by the rise of our faith.
The scripture I have held closest as I have contemplated my call to turnaround ministry is Proverbs 16:3, which reads:
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
I believe that as a congregation, we have committed our work to the Lord, and by the grace of God, our plans are being revealed. If we continue to put our trust in Christ in the coming year, we are destined to continue to rise with him.
The gift of a year in review is the power that such an exercise holds to bind us together in our common human experience. And, as Christians, it has the power to remind us that despite all of the bad, awful, and terrible that has come and gone in the previous twelve months, we remain children of God who have been born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God so that though we may be fallen, we are risen in Christ.
 “2011: The Year in Pictures,” text by Colin McCann, The New York Times, Published: December 22, 2011