Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent Day 25

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
  ‘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.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘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.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
- Luke 2:22-38

While not usually part of the Christmas story, it seems fitting that we include two people who also recognized the child as the promised one of Israel. The kings, which we often conflate into the Christmas story have their own tale at Epiphany, but since Luke places this trip to the Jerusalem temple between 8-40 days after the birth, it seems to make Simeon and Anna important to the story.

Simeon had been visited by the Holy Spirit who had gifted him with a revelation that he would live to see the Messiah. It was this guidance that made him recognize the little family that appeared in the temple that day. His prayer which we now call the Nunc Dimittis was prayed for the first time but has been carried on by the church, usually at the evening service which also includes Mary’s Magnificat. Anna also joined in praising God for sending this redeemer. It must have been a bit of a stunner for Mary and Joseph who looked just like everybody else, no haloes or flights of angels overhead to announce that this was the miracle child. Still, it was true, as Simeon and Anna could attest.

We are so used to important people being announced by limousines, red carpets, lots of bling, flashing cameras, and/or microphones thrust in front of them to catch every possible word they might utter. What is amazing about the story of Anna and Simeon is that they recognized the importance of a small child being carried by a modest, unassuming couple who could have been anybody at all. Of course, Simeon had been on alert since the Spirit told him about the messiah and Anna happened along at a very opportune time. How many times, though, have we overlooked someone or something important simply because they didn’t fit our image or presupposition of what they would look or be like? Israel was waiting for a miracle in the form of a warrior king who would vanquish the Romans and return the country to the greatness of King David. Instead, they overlooked a very small child who would not fulfill those expectations but would change the world.

On Christmas Eve we go to church and hear the story of the birth of this miracle child. We recognize him in the manger but how about in the people around us? How about the people we pass on the street? Or the homeless person panhandling on the corner? The story of Jesus doesn’t end at the cradle. We need to be like Simeon and Anna, alert and watchful for the presence of the miracles around us, whether people or events. The Christmas season lasts twelve days, but that awareness and alertness can and should go on all year. The most unlikely person can be someone very important, if we but recognize it.

Advent is over, but we should continue to keep the lamps lit. We cannot let our wakefulness and expectation relax or our prayers for wisdom and guidance slacken. The king among us, and he might not look like a movie star or a great religious leader. Look for him always; he is there and visible to those who truly use the wisdom of the Spirit and the heart’s recognition.

Have a blessed and joyful Christmas.

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