First Sunday of Christmas
December 31, 2017
Listen to the gospel reading and sermon here:
22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, [Joseph and Mary] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then 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 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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.
39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. – Luke 2:22-40
How much is enough?
I’m asking that question as we close out another calendar year. How are you feeling about how this year has gone? Have you done everything you set out to do this year? Did you accomplish all you hoped you would have? Did you have the impact in your family, your community, the nation that you hoped to? Did you create change in the ways you wanted? Have you done enough for 2017? If not, you have just over 13 hours left if you want to cram something in.
I am more and more aware that we live in a world that demands more than enough. There is always more to do, more to accomplish. There are always more people to help, more ideas to pursue, more places to explore, more relationships to build. Always another next thing to pursue, a next trip to take, a next stage of life to enter. Perhaps you have already been thinking about what it is you will pursue in the coming year – resolutions for more rest, more exercise, more books, saving more money, spending more time with family. But have you decided when you will know it’s enough? When will we have done enough to call it a success? Not to mention when does any of it become too much of a healthy thing such that it becomes an unhealthy obsession? In this mindset do we ever really have enough? Do we know “enough” when we see it?
In today’s gospel reading, Simeon greets the month-old baby Jesus in the temple and he says, “Now this has been enough: My eyes have seen your salvation, O God, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” Simeon is a man who has spent his days in the temple, a man who has known within him the promise of the Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death. This of course is a great honor.
But if I were him, I would have wanted to stick around long enough for the Messiah to do more than squirm and cry and nurse and fill up dirty diapers. I would have wanted to stick around at least long enough for the Messiah to talk, at least long enough for him to begin his ministry, at least long enough to see the resurrection. Maybe long enough to see the church that began to emerge, and long enough to see the ways that church spread to the ends of the earth. And then, well, one would be very, very old.
But for Simeon, this is enough to see the beginning of what is to come. To see the embodiment of God’s promise to save all peoples, to see God’s love wearing human flesh, to see God in this month-old baby boy. If a little melodramatically, he sings that he is free now to depart from this life in peace having seen this. It seems to me to be at the same time both the loftiest and the most ordinary life goal I can imagine. To see the one, to see Jesus, to see the center of God’s salvation small enough and concrete enough you can hold it in your hands surely would be a life highlight. And at the same time, what he has waited his whole life for comes to him as a newborn infant, one of many that he must have seen carried into the temple over his years, God comes in something altogether ordinary.
Now, obviously all of us in the 21st-century have missed out on seeing Jesus in the way that Simeon did. And yet, we celebrate this Christmas season not just the infant Jesus on whom hangs God’s salvation, but also we celebrate that God comes to us. We, too, have the opportunity to see God’s salvation made flesh before us.
It helps if like Simeon we find a way to focus our attention on the present moment. I imagine him, if perhaps with some historical inaccuracy, taking time with every family that comes by the temple with a child, delighting in every new life before him. I imagine him wholly present to the moment, aware on some level that he is waiting for something and yet alive to what God is doing in every moment. I think to bring forth the kind of song he does requires the kind of life that sees God revealed in many ways all the time.
And yet, God continues to come to us whether we slow down and notice or not. Sometimes we are too busy on the treadmill, or the grindstone, or whatever metaphor you want to use, too busy to notice God’s salvation coming to us. But that hasn’t yet stopped God from visiting.
Which is perhaps why for centuries since Simeon first sang his song, the church has sung it in two very prominent places. The first is after the Eucharist. It is one of the songs that might be sung as communion concludes and we move toward the sending part of our liturgy. Having received the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood, we sing: “Now, Lord, you let your servant depart in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” Now, Lord, we too have seen and held the incarnation of Christ in our hands, we have taken it into our bodies. We have received what we are and become what we have received, the body of Christ. And it is enough. To see and hold salvation, salvation still growing, not yet fulfilled. Now we can go in peace, knowing we are enough.
And the other place the church sings Simeon’s song, is in the last prayer office before bed at night. For communities that pray the hours, they have sung of the promises of God in the morning with the song of Zechariah. In the evening, they have sung of the transformation of the world through Jesus in the song of Mary. And in the dark evening, just before lying down for the night, they sing, “Now Lord you let your servant depart in peace. Your word has been fulfilled.” At the end of every day we sing that we have seen in that day the presence of God. What has happened that day has been enough for now, because God was there in ways we could touch and hold. We have been enough for the day because God has been there with salvation. We rest every night, knowing God’s having come to us.
It is hard some days, because we don’t always see it. It is hard some days because the salvation we need is sometimes seen only in a form that has not yet grown to fullness. But Simeon leads us in singing, not just on big occasions, not just at Christmas, but every week, every day of God’s coming to us with salvation and hope that grows among us. And that is enough. Enough for us today, for tomorrow, for the coming new year. Enough for our lives now and forever.
-Pastor Steven Wilco