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December 28, 2014
Luke 2: 22-40
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
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 turtledoves 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 seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped 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. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
In an adult Sunday School conversation about keeping our Christmas priorities more holy than harried, Shannon spoke of her childhood experience – each Christmas morning, her mother would urge Shannon and her brother to open their gifts quickly and as neatly as possible so they could quickly and as neatly as possible take down the Christmas tree, pack away the decorations, vacuum and dust the living room and return the house to its tidy non-holiday state by mid-afternoon. I thought it was an unbearably sad story, because my childhood experience had been all about happy chaos and abandoned timelines and keeping that needle-shedding tree in the center of the room through my brother’s January 5th birthday.
Now that I’m a pastor with a fancy theological education, I realize it’s also an unbearably sad story because it so short-changes Christmas, so disrupts interaction with this foundation of our faith. Christmas is not so much a day – and certainly not just a morning – as a season. We have entered into Christmastide, a season of gratitude and celebration. The season when we tell again – slowly and happily — the story of the Word become flesh to dwell among us — lingering over the wonder, pondering the mystery, resting in the joy.
On Christmas Eve, we read and sang of Mary and Joseph, of an inn in Bethlehem with a stable and manger out back, of angels and shepherds, of a bright star and the men who followed it, of a birth. Today we read of new players in the tale – Simeon and Anna – as we continue our Christmas season, as we continue to dwell within this story of God’s grace and love.
With the introduction of Simeon and Anna, we see clearly that Luke’s Nativity narrative tells of the birth of the Savior, but also – necessarily – tells of the processes and participants that brought news of this birth to the world. The realization of God’s promises of redemption, consolation and peace; the astounding, unprecedented enfleshment of God among us as one of us – God’s gift of love to all God’s people — must become known to us to have any meaning for us. An obscure, unheralded birth to poor, unimportant peasants in an insignificant village cannot change the world if the world never knows it has happened.
But of course this birth has never been unheralded. Angelic visits and celestial wonders have announced this child’s coming. By the time Jesus is born, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, rough-edged shepherds and sophisticated magi have all seen and heard signs and wonders, have all been invited into the fulfillment of God’s promise, the coming of God’s kingdom.
Now Simeon and Anna. Luke shifts the story from a stable populated by work animals and visited by ragged shepherds to the Jerusalem Temple, populated by priests and prophets and visited by all observant Israelites, including Mary, Joseph and their infant son. At this point, Luke moves us from an obscure backwater to the center of the Jewish universe. This is a crucial move, which invites all of Israel into the fulfillment of God’s promise, the coming of God’s kingdom.
For the birth of the Messiah must not only become public information; it must become public information that is connected to the nation’s long-held expectation of Messiah; to the long-believed prophecies; to the deep hope which has sustained God’s people through exile and occupation.
Mary and Joseph, in obedience to the Law, travel to the Temple to present their child to the Lord and to offer the required sacrifice of purification.
Simeon and Anna encounter the infant Jesus in the Temple. They see him and they know him. Each responds with praise to God, but also with words to the people. Beholding the Savior is not a private blessing, but a joy to be shared.
Simeon, the righteous and devout man who has been waiting and praying for the consolation of Israel, praises God and prophesies of this infant’s impact both in and beyond Israel – Master … 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 so the blessing of this birth moves beyond Israel to all the world – even the Gentiles are invited into the fulfillment of God’s promise, the coming of God’s kingdom. Luke, from the very beginning of his Gospel, presents a universal Savior, one who has come to dwell among all people.
Luke emphasizes this inclusivity by writing of Anna, who is given a name, a backstory, and a long-standing connection to the Temple. This prophet who is, according to the literal translation of the Greek text, “very old in her many days”; Anna, like Simeon has been waiting and praying for this day, also praises God and begins to speak “about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Simeon and Anna know that the birth of this child is indeed news of great joy for the world – news they will do all they can to spread abroad.
The poet writes: I am a hole in a flute / that the Christ’s breath moves through / listen to this music.
Simeon and Anna allowed Christ’s breath to move through them to create music which told the world that God was doing a new thing, that ancient promises and long hopes were being born anew in this tiny babe who had come to be the world’s Savior.
Mary and Joseph allowed Christ’s breath to move through them to create a music of trust and obedience. The shepherds and Wise Men allowed Christ’s breath to create music of reverence and awe.
Christ’s breath continues to move in the world.
Earlier this month, when the gunman holding hostages in a Sydney café was identified as Muslim, there was an amazing response among the Australian public. Knowing that some people might react with fear of and vengeance toward other Muslims, one person tweeted, “If you regularly take the #373 bus between Coogee and Martin Place, and you wear religious attire and don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you” Within four hours, this social media campaign reached 150,000 tweets using the hashtag #i’llridewithyou and providing routes and schedules.
I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.
In his Christmas Day address To the City and to the World, Pope Francis spoke of “children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.” The Pope closed his appeal for an end to violence and oppression by praying that Jesus’ strength would enable us to turn “arms into plowshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.”
I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.
This year, our UPC Alternative Gift Market raised over $10,000 to support organizations working to address a variety of needs both in Austin and around the world. Our UPLift Christmas party offered hospitality, good food and gift cards to almost 100 guests. Our IHN volunteers signed up to support homeless families in early December and have marked their calendars to do it again in January.
There are so many ways to be a hole in a flute the Christ’s breath moves through. There are word-shaped holes and action-shaped holes and prayer-shaped holes; holes, indeed, shaped like each one of us.
We aren’t the flute. We aren’t the breath. But we participate in the music.
Each day we are invited to participate in the music that Christ breathes into the world.
Each day we are invited to listen to the music of Christ in the world.
I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through / listen to this music.
May our lives be filled with the music of Christ.