Sunday, December 28, 2008
Filled With Wisdom: Meditation on Luke 2:21-40
“Filled With Wisdom”
December 28, 2008
First Sunday in Christmastide
The Christmas story isn’t over.
As many of you know, we have a Monday afternoon Bible Study. From June to November we read through each and every verse of the book of Genesis, an ambitious, and, in the end, satisfying project. Then, with Advent and Christmas approaching, we decided to read two passages in Luke’s gospel related to the Christmas story. And we discovered something. In a sense, the Christmas story is the whole gospel in miniature: it tells of God’s love for us, a love so overwhelming that Christ leaves the realm of heaven and infinity and chooses to live among us in a finite, earthly body. Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. This is the gospel. This is the good news! This is Christmas.
But the Christmas story isn’t over, despite the fact that the local TV and radio stations have gone back to their regularly scheduled programming. The Christmas story isn’t over, even though, for many of us, our Christmas celebrations are. The Christmas story isn’t over, because, though we have met the mother of Jesus and the father, and the shepherds and the angels, and even the tiny Messiah himself, we have not met two other crucial players.
Baby Jesus is eight days old. His parents, observant Jews of the house and lineage of David, present him for circumcision. For Jewish baby boys, this is the ritual that, literally, makes them Jews—it binds them to the covenant that their fathers and grandfathers and ancestors have joined before them. Then the story skips over the next several weeks… weeks we might imagine are filled with the usual early childhood firsts: meeting the grandparents, first smile, early efforts to hold his head up… to the visit to the Temple forty days later, when the time has come for the purification offering. This was an offering required for a new mother, and here Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph offered of “a pair of turtledoves” (where have we heard that before, two turtledoves?) or “two young pigeons.” The usual offering for purification of a mother is a lamb. The alternative of turtledoves or pigeons is the offering accepted when the parents are too poor to make the usual offering.
But the Christmas story is still not over. It isn’t over because we haven’t met Simeon and Anna. In many ways, Anna and Simeon might remind us of people we could meet in our own church. Simeon is described as being righteous and devout, and looking forward to “the consolation of Israel,” a phrase that indicates the full restoration of God’s people. In other words, when God will make things better, make things right again. For Simeon, that had to do with living under Roman occupation. For us… perhaps each of us would have our own answers to that. Looking forward to the time when the Holy Land is no longer a war zone, perhaps? When all the world finally beats its swords into plowshares… or perhaps green energy alternatives? I once knew a man who, when you wished him a Merry Christmas, would cheerfully reply, “I hope neither of us is around next Christmas!” That’s because he was hoping with all his heart that Christ would return this year, now. He is now a saint in light.
Simeon encounters the baby, and… it’s love at first sight, only moreso. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he sees the baby, he recognizes the baby. And he takes the baby in his arms, and says something remarkable: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for 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” (Luke 2: 29-32). In other words, “Thank you God. I can die now, happy and knowing you have fulfilled your promise.” But Simeon’s words are all the more remarkable because of that last phrase… “a light for revelation to the Gentile, and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon has been longing for God to restore Israel. But in Jesus he sees something larger, more expansive than that. In Jesus, he sees, not just God’s love for “us,” the in crowd. He sees God’s love for “them,” the outsiders. Jesus awakens in Simeon the awareness that God’s love cannot be limited or restricted. It spills out of the expected categories and spaces.
Simeon is like any man you and I might meet in church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he is filled with God’s wisdom. Anna is another one… at least 84 years old, she is a widow and a prophet, who literally lives in the Temple, fasting and praying for “the redemption of Jerusalem,” another way of describing the hope for God to come and make things right. You and I have met many “Annas” in churches throughout the years. They are the prophets—the ones who are willing to stand up and say what no one else will say. Or, they are the ones who seem, literally, to live in the church, they live so fully for the church. Anna comes upon the scene and immediately begins to prophesy, to praise God, and to tell of the child to everyone who will listen. She, like Simeon, sees the child Jesus, recognizes him, and it changes everything for her. It fills her with God’s wisdom.
The Christmas story isn’t over, because there are more characters, still, to be introduced. Characters like you, and me. It is our time, it is our turn to see Jesus, to recognize him. Maybe Jesus is the person who has been coming to the church looking for assistance. Have I seen him? Have I recognized him? Maybe Jesus is the really annoying person you are expected to work alongside. Have you seen him? Have you recognized him? Maybe Jesus is one of the little children at our pre-school, or maybe the clerk at Rite-Aid. To paraphrase a really bad Christmas song, Jesus is all around us. Have we seen him? Have we recognized him? Have we allowed ourselves to be filled with wisdom?
A German theologian who lived nearly 800 years ago had this to say about the Christmas story:
We are all meant to be the mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine child takes place unceasingly but doesn’t take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the creator to give birth to holy breath if I do not also give birth to divine breath in my time and my culture? Then, then, is the fullness of time: when the spirit of God is begotten in us. (Meister Eckhart, "When I Give Birth to Christ")
The Christmas story is not over until we become like Anna, prophets who insist on standing up and saying the things that need to be said and doing the things that need to be done. The Christmas story is not over, until we, ordinary church folk, recognize Jesus in and around us and take him in our arms, rejoicing. The Christmas story is not over, unless and until we ourselves become the mothers of God, giving birth to holy breath in our own time and culture. The Christmas story is not over. Thanks be to God. Amen.