Several films I saw this year included something that is called a “post-credits scene,” which is also known as a tag, a stinger, or a credit cookie. What this means is that the filmmakers decided to include a short clip that appears after some or all of the closing credits have rolled. Perhaps you’ve seen one in films such as Justice League, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Post-credit scenes are usually included for either their comedic value, or to set up a possible sequel. In short, they usually tell us something we need to know that will help to propel the story forward. The thing about post-credit scenes is if we leave the theater too quickly, we will miss them.
Today’s gospel lesson might be considered a post-credit scene. Most people left church on Christmas Eve thinking they heard everything they needed to hear. Angels, sang, shepherds rejoiced, and Mary pondered things in her heart. We lit our candles, dimmed the lights, sang Silent Night, ate some cookies, and went home. End of story.
Well apparently, Luke was not quite finished telling the story of baby Jesus. Today’s gospel lesson is his version of two post-credit scenes that tell us something about the Christ Child that we really need to know. It propels the story forward.
Unfortunately, our lectionary cut the first scene. Apparently someone left the theater a little too early! Luke writes, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
Jesus, the name given by the angel, means “God saves”, or “deliverer.” If names tell us something about a person, this one tells us something very important about the Christ Child. This baby born in a manger would be our deliverer. He would save us from sin and death. His kingdom or reign would be different than the reign of kings and governors such as Augustus and Quirinius who were spoken of at the beginning of Luke 2. He would teach others the value of serving the poor and marginalized instead of trying to control and demean them.
This post-credit scene also tell us that Joseph and Mary were devout Jews and followed the traditions of their ancestors. This very Jewish world, with its rituals and festivals, is the one that Jesus grew up in, his ministry would begin in the towns which surrounded his boyhood home of Nazareth.
The second post-credit scene is our gospel lesson. According to Leviticus, after a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for 40 days. At the end of that period, she is commanded to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice. This is the “purification” spoken of in our gospel reading. The interesting thing about Mary’s offering is that two turtledoves is a sacrifice that is designated for the poor. (Lev 5:7, 12:8, 14:22).
We miss this detail because we aren’t 1st century Jews, but it is HUGE. It is telling us that as Jesus’ ministry begins, the poor and outcast are not simply a “cause” that Jesus champions. He is, in fact, one of them. He doesn’t merely have compassion for the harassed and helpless, he is one of the harassed and helpless himself.
Let that sink in for a minute because it tells us something important about Jesus. He was not born in the upper classes. He was not a child of privilege and resources. He was an insignificant boy who was born in an insignificant town. This speaks volumes about the way God operates in our world. The Word, not only became flesh and blood and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus came from lower class working folk, the same folk he would speak of repeatedly as the gospel of Luke unfolds.
Those of you who have studied Luke with me, know that Luke’s gospel contains more “outsider stories” than any other gospel. In fact, Jesus ministry begins in Luke with the announcement that he had come “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Lk 4:18-9]
We miss all of this if we stop with angels singing, shepherds praising, and Mary pondering things in her heart. We need to stay after the credits begin to roll and pay close attention to the post-credit scenes which follow.
But we’re not finished yet. Enter Simeon, whom Luke describes as “righteous and devout” and “the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Like ObiWan Kenobi in the original Star Wars, Simeon is filled with great wisdom. He takes the infant in his arms and starts praising God, saying, “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.”
Then he turns to Mary and says “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Clearly, Simeon was telling Mary, that her baby boy would bless many people, but would be seen as a threat by some. He warned Mary that the good news Jesus proclaimed would not be seen as good news by everyone. There was going to be a cash of kingdoms: the kingdom of Christ vs. the kingdoms of this world. Cue the Star Wars music…..
The final segment of this post-credit scene is Anna, an 84 year-old wise woman, who spends her days in the temple fasting and praying. When her eyes catch a glimpse of baby Jesus, she begins to praise God. Then she turns to the crowd and tells them that THIS, THIS baby is the one who will redeem Israel. Her words echo the words of Simeon. and I’m sure she gave Mary another wonderful memory to ponder in her heart.
Then, at the end of the scene, the Holy Family returns to Nazareth and the following words appear on screen: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” We miss all of this, ALL of this, if we stop with the angels singing, and shepherds praising. There is a wealth of knowledge in these two post-credit scenes that sets the stage for everything that will follow in Luke’s gospel. It gives us a greater appreciation for the way Luke sets up his story in the first few chapters.
Friends in Christ, as we make our way through the twelve days of Christmas, may we take our time pondering what the birth of Jesus means to us and to our world. Jesus, is the light who shines in the darkness that lives in us and in our world. His kingdom is the one where the poor and marginalized are valued and loved as treasured citizens. Not everyone gets it. Some even distort the message Jesus proclaimed. But we know what Jesus taught. May we have the courage to be citizens of his kingdom, first and foremost. May we share with others the hope and joy we have found in the babe who lies in a manger.
In closing I share with you the familiar words of a poem by Howard Thurman It’s my post-credit scene and it’s entitled “The Work of Christmas”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
THE END…or is it only the beginning?
Copyright ©2017 David Eck