January 4, 2009
Second Sunday After Christmas
Eyes to See
Happy New Year! Whether you have been ready for the occasion of the turning of the calendar to a new year, or whether you will still be writing 2008 for the next three months, one thing is for sure, 2009 is here. That being said, I do need to remind you of something important this morning. In fact, I’m going to have you tell it to your neighbor. Turn to your neighbor and repeat after me: Neighbor! Oh Neighbor! Christmas is a season! You have proclaimed it and it is true- Christmas is a season.
I know you already knew this, because Dee told you last week; so breathe deeply, enjoy the beauty of our decorations here at church- and don’t feel guilty if yours are still up at home. In fact if your decorations are still up and someone questions you about it- tell them this: I am celebrating a season, not just a day. Christmas, as the famed song suggests, lasts twelve days. The twelfth day of Christmas is actually tomorrow January 5th. On January 6 Christians celebrate Epiphany, the coming of revelation, the celebration of the wise men finally finding the baby Jesus. But that is for next Sunday. For this Sunday, it is still the Christmas season, so let me wish you all one more time a very Merry Christmas.
If we look carefully at the story of a couple of wise prophets, Simeon and Anna, and if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, there may still be a few gifts, a few blessings of the Christmas season waiting for us. Open the eyes of our hearts, Oh God, and allow us to see you.
All children belong to God. This was just as true for Jesus as it is for each one of us. Acknowledging that children are blessings from God is part of the reason we do baby dedication and blessings at our church. According to the custom of their religion, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to God. In our current day, we think of a couple who has recently had a child being given gifts, but as was their tradition, Mary and Joseph came to the temple with an offering, a sacrifice, a gift to honor God for the blessing that had come into their lives. Being of humble means, they brought two birds as their gift, being unable to afford a lamb, the ideal sacrifice.
Mary and Joseph, even though they must have been weary from all the travel of Jesus’ early days, made sure to go to the temple to return thanks to God for this child they had been blessed with. Joseph and Mary were blessed. One author I read this week said, “We live in a society where it is hard to understand the blessings in poverty. Mary and Joseph, like many poor parents in our midst today, were trying to be faithful, but the journey was not easy. In the context of the capitalism of our generation, it is hard to accept the idea of being blessed but not prosperous.” Mary and Joseph were not prosperous, but they were blessed. If you try to think about the blessings in your life- do you go straight to the material things? Your salary? The size of your home? The cool toys you got for Christmas? Those are the ways you are prosperous- but what about the ways you are blessed? Are you blessed with good health? With friends and family that love you? Are you blessed with children in your life even if they are not your own? How are you blessed? We are all blessed by God.
One of the great perks of being a minister is getting to be involved in the big days in people’s lives. I have been blessed to be a part of weddings, and funerals, and baby dedications, and graduations. While I was home in Kansas City this past week, I got to help bless the baby girl of one of my dear friends. Sophia is the second daughter of Matt and Lacy, and I was able to officiate at her big sister’s baby blessing two years ago. We stood there in the living room of my friend’s house with a circle of family and friends and together we acknowledged that this child, as much as we like to think of her as “ours” belongs, as all children do, to God. Big sister Ava watched the scene carefully. At the end I took her in my arms and told her look around at all the people gathered. I told her that two years ago they had all made promises to love her and be kind to her and teach her about God. She assured me that they were doing a good job. All children belong to God. The baby Jesus belonged to God as well, and his parents who were filled with blessing, brought him to the temple to return thanks to God.
When the holy family got to the temple two important people were there to see Jesus. Simeon and Anna were two temple regulars. They were both prophets who allowed themselves to be guided by God’s Holy Spirit. Upon Jesus’ arrival in the temple- they found what they had been waiting for. As soon as Simeon sees the infant Jesus- he takes him in his arms and makes a proclamation about him: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Simeon knows exactly who this child is, because he has been waiting so long. He has been waiting for consolation for the people of God, and that consolation has arrived. His life’s waiting has been fulfilled.
Remember how we waited through Advent? That was hard for us to do- to truly pay attention and wait. It was hard for us to wait for something we knew was coming- for the Word to become flesh in a manger in Bethlehem? We had four weeks of waiting. Simeon had a lifetime. He was an old man, and he had been waiting a long time.
Rev. Ozzie Smith tells the story of another person who waited. He says, “The boy Jesus was a powerful and expected sight for certain eyes born of devout and unwavering faith. It has been said that Harriet Tubman was known to wait in train stations without the aid of train schedules or knowing when the train was coming. When asked why she would do that, she simply said because she knew the train was coming. In an age where people want to know, in an age of GPS, in an age of PDA’s and all information load, this may sound strange, but what does it mean to wait without a schedule but to be certain the train is coming?”
Simeon waited with certainty. He knew the Christ was coming and as soon as he saw him, his life’s waiting was fulfilled. He was a happy man, he could die in peace. In the same manner, an old woman named Anna recognized the Christ as well. She spent her days in and around the temple, praying and fasting. When she saw the child, she too was overjoyed. She had been waiting as well, for the redemption of the people of God, and she recognized that this child would be the one to bring it. Simeon and Anna both waited for a lifetime, with certainty that the child would come. And this child who brings consolation and redemption, has finally arrived.
We know that his journey will not be without trials. Simeon even foreshadows his painful path when he tells the child’s parents, “"This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." Did you notice the order of his words? This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many. Falling and then rising, not the other way around. Jesus will proclaim many words that make this prophecy true. He will tell us that to gain our lives, we have to loose them. He will tell the rich man that to gain eternal life he must sell everything he owns and give it to the poor. He will give over his very life to be crucified before the ultimate act of rising: resurrection. Jesus’ life is about falling and then rising.
Simeon and Anna had a lifetime of waiting. They waited with focused eyes- tuned by the Holy Spirit. Can the same be said of us? Can we look at the infant Jesus and know who he is and all that he will become? Do we recognize glimpses of Christ’s love when we see them in our own lives? Can we acknowledge that what we have waited for has come and rejoice in that great joy? The waiting is over; it is time to focus on the life and ministry of Jesus and to recognize his presence among us.
There is something else that this story teaches us about community. In the church, in Christian community- we need all ages of people. We need tiny babies to remind us of the hope and promise that comes with each new birth. We need children who remind us how we are to enter the kingdom of God. We need children who ask authentic questions and learn so much with each passing day. We need teenagers who question everything and assert their independence and become individuals right before our eyes. We need young adults who are just starting life on their own. We need middle aged people, both married and single who have life experience and expertise to bring to us. And we need older adults- who have a life time of faith to bring to our community. We need all ages of people in this community that we call “the body of Christ.”
We need the infant Jesus. We need his parents who bring him for blessing and present him in the temple with their humble sacrifice. And we need Simeon and Anna, the elders of our tribe, who see with focused eyes, who are attuned to the Holy Spirit. We need all those who can point out the gifts of God among us, we need all these ages and talents to make up the church.
Fortunately for us, if we look around we can see all these ages represented this morning. Young, old and in between are here with us today in this very sanctuary.
Let’s close this morning by telling our neighbor something again. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor! Oh Neighbor! The church needs you!” Amen and Amen.