SCRIPTURE – Luke 2:22-40
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Our One-Day-Old Birthday
Dec. 26, 2010
One day old. That’s how old Jesus would be today. Stop and think about that a second. One day old. We’re so used to talking about age in years that it takes a minute for “one day old” to sink in. When is the last time you were around someone who’s life on earth could be measured in hours?
That’s what I remember thinking when my daughter Sydney was born. Holding that pudgy little body in my hands, I thought, “This girl hasn’t even been in the world for a whole day yet.” That baby that was just kicking me through her mommy’s belly is now cradled in my arms, completely dependent upon her mom and me for absolutely everything she needed to survive.
And then the realization hit me: the only thing more helpless than a one-day-old is a one-day-old’s parents! From what little I can remember about that time, Leigh and I were both exhausted. After an extremely difficult labor all we both wanted to do was sleep. Our joy was mixed with fatigue and doused with a heavy helping of anxiety. We had no idea what to do with this round ball of flesh and bones that now belonged to us. Sure, we’d read books and taken classes and talked to other parents. But that’s all fine because it’s still theoretical. It’s a whole new ballgame when the baby arrives. We went from being a couple one day to parents the next. And we didn’t have a good track record. By the time Sydney came along, we had already killed three fish. If she knew her odds, she may have hopped the first stroller out of town. I can remember thinking more than once as I looked at her in her hospital bed, “God, why do you trust us to care for this child? What do we know?”
We learned, for the most part, through trial and error. For instance, although diaper cream and toothpaste come in similar containers, they taste very different. It’s amazing how forgiving infants can be. I think God gave them little brains so that they wouldn’t remember all the ways their parents inadvertently torture them. But we got better at this parenting thing. One day turned into two, then into a week, then a month, now 12 years and another daughter. I had the same feeling with Molly as I did with Sydney when she was born. I wanted the whole world to stop and look at our beautiful, perfect baby. But it didn’t. The visitors trailed off, the food and flowers faded, we went home, the world kept spinning. But our lives, all four of them, would never, ever be the same.
When you think about it, that’s not much different than the implications of Jesus’ birth. We wait with anticipation for his birth, it takes place amidst much fanfare and celebration, but then a day or two after, the decorations come down, the visitors go home, the tree is discarded or put away, the holiday cheer put back in storage, December turns to January, the world keeps spinning.
So take a deep breath and let out a big sigh. We survived another Christmas! We survived the holiday rush and the standing in line and the mall traffic and the visits to Santa and the decorating and the cooking and the family visits. It’s a joyous time, but there’s always a bit of relief in our voice when we can look at Christmas in our rearview mirror. Christmas has been turned into a one-time event in the year, to be approached, viewed, and passed, like a roadsign on a highway. On this side of Dec. 25, we speak of it in the past tense. I think the question of tense is crucial to the place of Christmas in our lives. Do we remember Christmas in the past tense, or do we celebrate it and live it the present? Do view the holiday looking back over our shoulders, or with our eyes forward?
To see this holy day as an event to be observed is to miss the greatest present we receive at Christmas. Because I believe for our faith to be a living faith, a lively faith, Christ’s birth must be a present happening. Christmas is not paying homage to a framed birth announcement hanging on the wall. It’s not something we pack and unpack and put into storage. Christ is not 2000 years and one day old today, but only one day old, once again. And he brings with him the same newness and innocence and purity and hope and promise that he brought in Bethlehem. And he brings it, just as he did back then, for us.
It comes at a good time this year. Because we’ve been waiting, too. Maybe we’ve been waiting several weeks, or nine months, or our whole lives. Maybe we’ve been waiting for comfort after the death of a loved one. Or maybe we’ve been waiting for companionship to take away our loneliness. Or maybe we’ve been waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. Or maybe we’ve been waiting for a sense of purpose for our lives. But we’ve all been waiting for something, haven’t we? We’ve been waiting for this birth, this rebirth. No one can tell you when your fullness of time has come, no one can tell you when it’s time for Jesus’ birth in you, but maybe it’s now. Maybe today, the day after the birth of our Savior, the day we celebrate our own new life, maybe this is our fullness of time, maybe now our wait is over, maybe the miraculous past event that we remembered yesterday is still going on for us, in us. Christmas is a present tense celebration.
It’s a rebirth, not only of Jesus, but of us, of our faith. It’s a renewal of the grandest kind, the kind of event that can take even the strongest most weather-worn faith and surprise it. For example, we ministers can become a bit calloused to yearly celebrations. I’ve seen and been part of a lot of Christmas Eve services, but our services on Friday moved me to tears in their beauty and simplicity. In the flickering lights of all the candles, in the soul-stirring music, in the familiar words of the Christmas story, something was reborn in me. The Christmas miracle is not just a show of evidence to the unbeliever, it’s a reminder to everyone, believers and non-believers, that our faith is born anew, in just as dramatic and life-changing a way as it was in Bethlehem.
It’s like being a new parent all over again. We have this thing now, this brand new, kicking, crying, hungry thing, a thing called faith. And we have to figure out how to feed it, and care for it, and soothe it. We have to find ways to help it grow, and to heal it when it gets hurt, and to celebrate when it shines and point it down the right path. One thing I do know: With this birth of faith, we will never, ever be the same.
But isn’t it exciting? I mean here is our faith, only one day old. We have the rest of time stretched out before us like an endless possibility. We may ask, “God, why do you trust us to have faith in you? Look at our track record!” Yet once again, God has sent his only son to us, so that we may fully know God’s love and mercy for us, and so that we may be adopted as God’s children and heirs to the kingdom. God knows our track record, and yet we still are blessed with a new start, with one-day-old faith, on this day after Christmas.
Simeon knew about this new start. Luke tells us that Simeon had waited his whole life for the Messiah, and when he finally meets him, when his fullness of time had come, he sings a glorious song of praise, as he prepared for his new life. Anna was no different. Even at 84 years old, Anna’s life was changed by the coming of Jesus, and she began telling everyone about this miraculous event.
This new start is not just for the young. It’s for everyone willing to live a present-tense Christmas. Regardless of our age, whether it be eight or 84, it is never too late and we are never too old to be adopted by God. Christmas may be the most magical time for children, but Paul says in Galatians that because of Christmas, we are all children, we are all capable of being filled with excitement by the magic and promise of Christmas day. It doesn’t matter today how old we are in years. We can all be one day old in faith.
So as you put away the decorations and the wrapping paper, don’t put your Christmas spirit into storage with them. Remember the joy of this season, carry it in your heart, take it out and put it on display for everyone to see. Christmas may be over in our homes, but it’s only over in our hearts if we let it be. From this day forward, live your life as if every day is a Christmas gift from God. There’s a saying that goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Thanks be to God.