a sermon for the first Sunday of Christmas on Luke 2:15-40
preached on January 1, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
I won’t ever forget that day in the temple. It was a strange time back in those days of Caesar Augustus, back when we all got called to our hometowns for the great census and taxation. I didn’t ever move very far from home, so that day I was making my normal trip up to the temple to offer my prayers and sacrifices, joining with the crowds to fulfill our obligations under the law. We all had our different requests and concerns – some people like me just were making our regular trips as we always did, but there were others who wanted a blessing or sought healing from a priest and still others who came because something important was going on in their lives.
I won’t ever forget this one young couple I saw that day, though. They came to the temple with their very, very young baby boy. It was clear that they were not from around here – they seemed to be poor folk visiting Jerusalem from the countryside, probably among those forced to travel because of the census and tax collection. I could tell that they took advantage of their many days of travel and stopped at the temple while they were here in Jerusalem to dedicate their child to God. They way they talked and acted, he must have been their first, so it was especially important that they set him apart for his life ahead.
Now they weren’t the only young couple in the crowd that day – I saw plenty of families seeking to dedicate their children to God. But this family I remember, not because of their simple country clothing, their very young age, or any special features of their son. I remember them because of what happened afterward on that day.
Now after seeing this young family in the courtyard, I went on about my own business and made my offering and prayers. As I was getting ready to head home, though, there was a bit of a commotion in the courtyard, and these folks were at the center of it. An older man had come to talk with them, and they had handed the baby to him. He lifted the tiny child up in his hands and raised his head to the sky. The man’s eyes lit up, as if he had seen something he had been waiting for for his whole life. I walked over toward them, hoping to get a closer look. Then I heard the man break forth into song:
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.
It was an incredible sight. This man and this family had never met before, but there was something special going on. There was something special about that baby that I didn’t know or understand, but I have never forgotten that day.
As incredible as that was, there was still more that happened that day in the temple. After this old man – I think people in the temple knew him as Simeon – after he passed the little boy back to his mother, I saw Anna come up to them too. Like everyone who came to the temple regularly, I knew Anna. She was there every time I was there, and she always greeted me by name. She had told me before about how she had made her home there in the temple after her husband had died, about how important she knew it was to spend time in prayer, about how she was looking for something new – maybe even someone new – to come and make a difference among the people. Anna must have seen what that old man was doing that day and wanted a glimpse of her own.
I watched as she too made her way over to the mother and father and little boy. When she got there, her eyes lit up as I had never seen them before. She too got excited and started telling this little boy’s parents that he was going to be someone important for his people, that he would be a part of the redemption of Jerusalem. She too started singing songs of praise like I had never heard her sing before.
I’ve always wondered what might have been going on that day. Why were Simeon and Anna so struck by this little boy? Did those old folks at the temple know something that the rest of us didn’t? Did they think that God was up to something special in that family? What was going on that made them so excited to see this little babe?
Even though I don’t really understand why they did what they did, I still wonder what it would be like if all this were true. What would it mean if the things they said were true? How would our world change if salvation really had become real that day? What would be different for us? How would I be different?
There was something special about that day. For once, I felt like something was starting to change, that the help we so desperately need was coming into the world, that we were taking a step in the right direction for once. So often, people are just going through the motions and doing what they seem to have always done even though we all want it to be different somehow. None of us seem to have the time or space or way to make a difference in the world. But that day, something was right.
I wish I knew what I could do to have more days like that one. I wish I could be like those faithful people at the temple and could see special things going on in the world.I wish that I could believe that a little baby could make a difference. I wish I could do even some easy things to make things different. I haven’t seen it yet, and a lot of people I know have given up on it all, but I for one am still looking.
That day, something special happened – and maybe something special will happen again sometime. I’d sure like to see it for myself – to see a way out of our current mess, to see the world change for the better, to see our salvation come and be real, here and now, for everyone. I’m not expecting it today or tomorrow, but I know it will come.
Whether it be on a day as memorable as that one or as ordinary as this one, I know that I will see it with my own eyes. So I’m ready for it – I’m looking for it. Are you?