Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Beginning is not the Ending

1 Samuel 2:18-21
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:21;25-35

Rarely, if ever, do we look upon a child and see or even think "demise" or "ending".  Rather when we look upon a child, we see so many positive things all of which can be summarized in "promise" or "potential".  A child's life is always the beginning of something wonderful, something incredible, even - and in spite of - the certain heart aches and heart breaks that will surely come!  So it always saddens me whenever I hear of young married couples who make a conscious choice never to have children because, they reason, "the world is so foul" they cannot bear the thought of bringing an innocent child into such an evil place.  They fail to understand or appreciate that by their very nature, in the purity of their innocence, and in the hope and potential inherent to their very being, children always - ALWAYS - make the world a better place!

This is the perspective we would do well to remember and embrace especially when reflecting on the birth of Messiah Jesus and what that means for us.  If we were to seriously consider the Might and Power of our Holy God and Father, knowing He could come to us however He chooses, we could not help but to think there is no better portrayal of Divine Promise than in the infant birth of the Blessed Child.  And even though there is a certain perspective of theology that suggests we are "worthless" apart from our Lord and that we "deserve" Hell as some might suggest, we are reminded in Messiah's birth that our Holy Father clearly does not share that sentiment.  By entrusting to humanity His most beloved infant Son protected only by two devout and righteous parents, our Holy God proves to us that we are not "worthless" but rather "priceless" to Him!

We are beyond the Incarnation, however, and the Scripture story we encounter now is the Presentation.  Jesus is taken to the Temple after He has been circumcised into the Covenant of Abraham and after Mary has completed the days of her purification.  An appropriate sacrifice is made for Mary, and Jesus is given over to the Lord as the first-born male child to open the womb; each according to what is written in the Law of Moses.  A detail Luke leaves out, however, is the act of redemption performed by the father.  If the father intends to take the child home, a sacrifice is required in order to "redeem" the child.  Jesus is not left to serve in the Temple as Samuel was; He was presumably taken home by His parents.

Of course we can try to read into a prophetic future by Luke's sharing these details, but I think maybe we don't do ourselves any real good by trying to read into Luke's early account of Jesus' life by trying to back into the story.  It is perhaps a fair attempt given the prophetic nature of Simeon's discourse and blessing, but we miss a great deal by trying to insert into any given text something that clearly is not there.  Instead we should explore Luke's account as it is written rather than as we think it should read.  Let us see the beginning of Jesus' life just as Mary and Joseph would have seen it: a beginning filled with promise and unforeseen potential. 

And we can learn how to begin by giving more attention and credit to the faith and patience and gratitude of Simeon who, according to Luke, didn't celebrate the notion that sinners and evil-doers and enemies of Israel are gonna get it.  Rather Simeon celebrated in the infant Jesus the "Consolation of Israel", the "light to the Gentiles", and "the salvation of all the peoples".  It may also be no small, insignificant detail that Simeon "took Jesus up in his arms"; that is, Simeon literally and figuratively embraced the promise of the New Covenant which was upon "all the peoples".  It has been suggested that Simeon's embrace of the Child was a necessary step for a Temple priest, but the text says Simeon was led "by the Spirit into the Temple".  Simeon is not presented as a priest; rather he is given to us in the story as a "just and devout man"; a "man in Jerusalem". 

It is not necessary for us to make Simeon out to be something he perhaps never was.  It better serves our purposes to allow Simeon to serve as the "ideal" of the faithful, the higher calling that still belongs to us even today as we have witnessed through faith and Scripture the birth of Messiah and trusting in the Holy God to see to the rest while we wait patiently and expectantly - just as Simeon obviously did.  Exactly what we can anticipate from this moment remains to be seen - and the same can be said of Simeon, I think - but it is enough for the moment that we have witnessed the fruition of the Divine Promise; that Messiah would come and bring with Him a New Age, the messianic age, the time of Messiah.  It began at His birth, and its end is far from over!  This means 2000 years after His birth and even in the repeat - and sometimes redundant -cycle of the Church calendar, we can still look forward to potential unforeseen because the messianic age is still upon us.

Even Joseph and Mary "marveled" at the things spoken of by Simeon.  We continue assuming Jesus' parents were always consciously aware of exactly who Jesus truly is and what He means to "all the peoples", but I have often wondered if the grind of daily living and the potential of a new child would not have been as much a distraction to Mary and Joseph as it is to us.  Do we dare be honest enough to admit that the Lord and His will for our lives is not always foremost on our minds or in our hearts?  Do we dare to be honest enough to admit we do not often consider our lives to be part of a spiritual "journey"?  Do we dare to be honest enough to admit that we are happy just to make it through another day with our sanity intact, our jobs and pensions secure, and our loved ones safe?

To suggest  Joseph and Mary did all these things of the Law strictly because they were always aware of Jesus' special status - OR - even that they only did these things because the Law required it is, I think, a bit presumptuous and gives no attention or credit to the evident faith Mary and Joseph had both previously displayed.  Especially in this particular context, we might remember what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says when we are reminded that "faith is the substance of things hoped for" (11:1).  Can it be enough in this moment that Mary and Joseph were simply grateful to the Lord for their child and for all every new child means to any mother and father? 

Faith has little to do with what we have already witnessed and even less to do with what we can readily see with our eyes.  So we look upon these major characters in Luke's story as those who are always looking forward not strictly through 'Jesus the Son of God" per se but rather in accordance with all He truly represents and all that is before us in Him and through Him. Even in the ashes of Newtown or in mourning the death of a loved one, Jesus beckons us forward out of these ashes and into a future yet unforeseen and unforeseeable; and yet a "future of peace and ... hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Let us begin our future today with all the anticipation and "marvel" shared by Mary and Joseph.  Let us begin our future together today with the knowledge and satisfaction and gratitude and patience of Simeon; knowing there will be challenges, knowing there will be heartaches, knowing there will be suffering - BUT - knowing our Lord is leading the way as faithfully as He calls us to follow Him.  Let us work together in FAITH and in HOPE and in LOVE - knowing that in all the potential that is evident in the life of a child, the best is yet to come for those who endure this incredible Journey - and perhaps even more so for those who begin the Journey anew in the Body of Christ.

It's not over at Christmas - not by a long shot!  It has only just begun ... so let us begin.

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

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