January 1, 2012 Gospel: Luke 2:22-40 Psalm 148
1st Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3 2nd Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
This has been an interesting year for me, pregnant most of the year and now a new mother. I’ve really enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories. The book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” has a little advice to parents who receive too much advice, to either just ignore it, or if someone is being especially obnoxious, and repeatedly tearing you down, you might need to say something. I have received very little advice, a few sideways looks about being a vegetarian, but what else is new? Instead I got to hear about a part of people’s lives that most people hadn’t told me about before. Through the years I’ve heard many of your faith stories, stories about growing up, about work and family and illness and loss and marriage and divorce. This year I’ve really enjoyed hearing pregnancy stories and birth stories and parenthood stories, which make up a big part of people’s lives. I discover this as I’m acquiring stories of my own and have very little else I care to talk about than boast about my happy, genius infant. It has really been a privilege to hear these stories and now to share the raising of my son with you as I bring him to church and activities and pass him around so that you too may eventually be part of his memories.
At this point we don’t have too many expectations of our baby. We hope he tracks objects around the room and spend much of our time with him trying to evoke a smile or a coo. We certainly have hopes for him. In not too much time he will be able to grab on to things, toys and hair and glasses. We look forward to him scooting and crawling and pulling himself up and eventually walking. Of course along the way he’ll fall a few times, there will be bruises and scrapes and tears from his injuries. We can picture him putting on his own socks, feeding himself, using the toilet, using sentences, going to school, riding a bike. We anticipate he will get his heart broken one day. He’ll do a lot of embarrassing things. He will get sick. He will get frustrated. Who knows what he’ll be when he grows up or what kind of professions will exist in 20-30 years or what kind of world we’ll live in.
Jesus, too, gets a trip to church. So take these stories and these expectations and insert baby Jesus. Insert Messiah. Simeon and Anna have been waiting their whole lives for this. Simeon can now scratch it off his bucket list. Anna never left the temple and as a result she didn’t miss the arrival of the Messiah there. Her devotion had been of one who was invisible, but here he was visible, in her presence. I’ve seen some people excited to see a baby, but this was more, this was seeing God.
I often think when I look at Sterling that I am seeing a miracle, the way that all the things I ate were reorganized by his DNA to make his little blood vessels that feed all his cells, the way my body makes all he will eat for six months—the perfect food for his needs, the way he develops a little more each day, now able to get his fist in his mouth on a regular basis, now able to vocalize pleasant sounds, now able to realize that when he hears our voices we are nearby and he isn’t alone, when all those things were impossible last week or even a day or two ago.
How much more of a miracle did this Messiah seem? Was his every move considered evidence of his wisdom, his holiness, his godliness? Did his parents look deep into his eyes to see God there—to see if they had heard right at his birth?
The miracle of Jesus is that miracles we might have ordinarily missed are brought more to our attention. Miracles happen every day right in front of us, reasons to be thankful and joyful. An old man lives to see his dream realized. An old woman devotes herself to God. A child is adopted into a new family. A slave is freed. People share a vision of hope. A sick person receives a transplant. A family who loses a loved one, knows that loss was not in vain but that someone was given new life because of a gift of an organ. Cancer is in remission for three people in our congregation. Grandchildren are born. Some find jobs. Some find purpose and hope. Some help each other. Some learn to care for others and to give of themselves.
There is a darker tone to Simeon’s prophecy, too. Jesus would do a lot of great things but he was destined for the falling of many nations, too. He will be opposed and a sword will pierce the soul. This is one way to know that Simeon isn’t just flattering them. He is telling a deep and scary truth. The Messiah has a lot of good things going for him, but no life is without controversy and trouble. That’s part of what it means to be human.
Sterling had a little cold last week. I was surprised how calm I felt—I guess I thought I might panic. He never had a fever or more than just a sniffle and cough or I might have been more upset. I told him that this was the first of many colds he’d have. There would be plenty more illnesses and most worse than this one. Our struggles shape us as much or more than our successes. We need the challenges so that we stretch ourselves, so that we learn to strive, so that we learn to appreciate when things go well.
Even God has challenges and struggles and God will take all these and make something good out of them. Certainly Jesus had difficulties, illnesses, scrapes, and embarrassing moments. I’m sure he learned from them that they aren’t the end of the world, to pick himself up, dust himself off, and keep going. So when the Pharisees started questioning him, when the disciples were particularly trying, when his mother didn’t understand him, when the centurions mocked him and told him if he was the son of God to get down off the cross, he didn’t falter and lose hope. Instead, sure of who he was and centered in God’s love, he endured and didn’t lash back in anger. He did what he needed to do, even submitting to torture and death to show us the way through to eternal life. Showing us that life’s difficulties don’t mean we’re alone, but instead, we’re in good company—God has been there after all. Our friends and relatives and even enemies have all been there—in times of suffering. We’ve all been there.
Simeon and Anna show a level of enthusiasm for this child that God has for all of us. In my new mom’s group there is one mother who has adopted a little baby girl. She and her husband waited a year and a half for this child. They had a few hours notice that this would happen. There are many proud mothers at this group. Can you guess who wears the biggest smile? It is that adoptive mother, of course. God had one of God’s own, Jesus Christ, and had big expectations for him, but prepared him well for his task. And God has also adopted the rest of us and is just as proud, with many hopes and expectations, calling us by name, wanting the best for us, raising us in God’s “forever family,” and loving us as if we were God’s own, because we are.
We get a lot of messages from the people around us about our value. Some people treat us with disdain as if we are less than. They thrive on tearing other people down. Others encourage us. Most of us have both kinds of people in our own biological family. Those encouraging, loving ones are the voice of God in our lives, the voice of adoption, the realistic voice, the positive voice of Simeon and Anna. I encourage you to find the Simeons and Annas in your life and to be the Simeons and Annas in the lives of those around you.