United Church of Jaffrey
To hear this sermon as preached in the parking lot of UCJ please press play below
One of my sons turned 17 years old last week. He’s old enough to drive. Almost old enough to vote. Next year, he’ll be a senior in high school! His brother, who is about a year younger, is close behind…
Neither of them have outgrown me, but they are awfully big. More to the point, each of them is entirely his own person…
complete with passions, idiosyncrasies, curiosities, and, of course, attitudes…
As you know, my daughter Isabel is even farther along. At 26, she’s a lovely and impressive young woman, filled with passion, compassion, and outright smarts…
How did this happen?
I feel like I was holding a baby in my arms, and then I went into the other room to get something, and some time passed, and now boom the baby is practically an adult…
I know I’m not the only parent who feels this way. When you measure time against the growing of children, it seems like time simply evaporates.
Other things can take a long time —
Driving a familiar stretch of Rte 124 takes longer than you want…especially when you are running behind schedule…
Doing twenty push-ups — that takes forever.
Trying to get back to sleep when you’ve woken up in the middle of the night…
But raising children is weird. The voracious little critters simply gobble up time. You blink, and 15 years has vanished.
Let’s turn our attention to the gospel lesson, shall we?
This morning’s passage, that comes to us from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, is a favorite of mine. I’ve preached about this passage at least three times in my brief career in the ministry.
When Advent season comes around, I look forward to this passage, and will choose it even if, like today, the lectionary doesn’t even give it to me.
I’m drawn to this story.
I’m drawn to the way this story takes something ordinary, and turns it into something remarkable.
A story can do this.
A story can take something that we might easily overlook, and transform it into something that we see clearly.
A story can take a basket that is practically empty, and fill it with meaning.
The “ordinary thing” that I refer to in this story, is the moment when Simeon takes the young Jesus in his arms.
This act of holding a baby is a pretty normal thing for a person to do. When we care for an infant child, that is what we do — we hold them.
Every human that has survived beyond infancy, has survived because someone cared enough to pick them up. Someone — cared enough to support that ridiculously huge head so that it didn’t flop over and get injured.
If an infant is wailing and screaming, it’s not the world’s funnest thing to hold an infant in your arms, but if an infant is calm and sleepy, or googily and playful, or even serene and philosophical — holding him or her really is almost the greatest thing ever.
But the point that I’m not doing a very good job making, here, is that the actual act of someone holding a baby is not something that causes the world to stop.
It’s pretty normal.
It happens all the time.
But if we start from the moment that the old man, Simeon, takes the baby Jesus in his arms, and we move backwards in the story, we see that, for Simeon, this is anything but a normal moment.
According to the story Simeon is an old man, a righteous man, and he has been told, by God, that he will not die until he gets to see the messiah.
So this old man has been waiting.
He has been waiting for the moment that will give his whole life meaning.
Simeon has been waiting…
Simeon has been waiting for the moment that he knows, will change everything forever
Simeon knows that God has orchestrated a series of events in which he and the messiah will meet — and that this meeting will free him. His job, at that moment, will be to prophesy about Christ’s messianic promise. Once he has done this, his life will be complete.
He will be allowed to die.
So this is a monumental moment.
But, just in case the immensity of the moment is lost on us, Simeon also informs us (while, mind you, he has the Christ child in his arms) that this moment is not only the culmination of his life — it is also a turning point in the history of the nation of Israel, and, indeed, the whole world.
“Master, (Simeon says, addressing God,)
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.”
My son…the one who just turned 17…
has had a pretty rough time it during this last year.
Before everything changed, last March, he’d just spent a delicious 9 months or so in a school that was really perfect for him.
An intensely creative guy, a very talented musician, and a bit of a social oddball, this school was made in heaven for him…
and just when he was really coming into his own, the pandemic hit and the school closed.
These days he spends most of his time in his room, obsessively working on his music.
And since we are all together in the same house much of the time, we all lose patience with each other…
But every once in a while, he will wander up to me and absent-mindedly poke me and smile.
Maybe I will be sitting somewhere, and he will come over and lean his forearm on the top of my head.
Occasionally he will try something more ambitious like putting an ice cube down the back of my shirt.
These are not exactly the acts of deep and abiding filial respect that I imagine getting from my son, but they are little acts of love, and I will take them.
They remind me of those moments… weren’t they just yesterday… when I would hold him in the crook of my elbow, and he would gently lean his head into my shoulder.
These little acts of love mean a lot to me.
They may not, by themselves, change this history of the world…
but enough of them, put together, would make evil unacceptable.
You cannot hold an infant in your arms, and plan a murder.
You cannot hold an infant in your arms, and order an execution, or a bombing campaign.
You cannot hold an infant in your arms, and experience hatred.
You can’t do these things because holding an infant in your arms transforms you.
It slows down your heartbeat
It turns you into a creature of love and compassion.
In the realm of human experience, Simeon’s act — a normal one that people do everyday — is nevertheless, an act of great significance.
It is a religious act, because it teaches love.
it is incompatible with hatred.
On the Sunday that we light the Advent candle of love, Simeon shows us why love is at the core of religion.
Because love abides in the small, the normal, the everyday…, and yet can, at any moment, and at any time, become monumental…
And this… this is how love saves the world.