This is today’s sermon on Luke 2:22-40
Just as Frodo Baggins, the Hobbit, was setting about the business of stepping outside his front door, the text chime on my phone dinged. “We’re headed to the hospital,” my brother-in-law had written. I closed my book and threw it into my purse, miraculously found my keys in record time and bolted out the door.
I found great parking at Northside Hospital’s Women’s Center. In the waiting room I tried, quite unsuccessfully, to focus on Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring, but I was too excited about the first-time meeting I’d be having with my niece soon. My youngest sister joined me several minutes later and we waited, impatiently, for some news. Finally, we were called back for the last few minutes of labor and to meet the newest and cutest member of our family.
If we thought getting a brother was exciting when our sister got married, we didn’t even have words to describe the sheer joy of becoming aunts. Our sister was amazing and brave and more beautiful than ever, and our new baby niece was perfect.
Around 4 AM, I had to tear myself away from the celebrations to rest up for church the next day. After church, I headed back to the hospital for lunch with my family. My whole family. Little did this tiny person know that she, by her very existence had brought overwhelming joy into our lives. We gathered in my sister’s hospital room for Chipotle and chit chat.
And then, before leaving so the new parents could have some rest, my minister dad and I tag-teamed a service of blessing for this brand new little person. We anointed her little forehead with a homemade balm of good quality olive oil, shea butter, and essential oils of rose, grapefruit and bergamot; prayerfully melted and stirred together.
She had been prayed for, even seemingly loved and hoped into existence. A beautiful way to start the new year, with this gift to our family which reminded us that God was with all of us in the uncertain times before her arrival, and in the glowing joy afterward, and in all the spaces in between.
The in between‘s of life can be scary. They are those times when it feels like we are in limbo. The limbo can be a state of homeostasis where everything is just static and stays the same and nothing happens good or bad. Perhaps in your life this kind of in between looks like a rut, or a spiritual dry spell.
For others, a steady, homeostatic in between may be a time of anticipation, or of prayer – waiting and hoping for something to happen that will change our lives forever.
And for others, still, the in between‘s of life can be a tumultuous time of hurt, loss, sorrow and uncertainty. A difficult diagnosis, perhaps, or another loss in the series of progressive losses that we call aging.
Losing independence, a home or the keys to the car; losing a loved one, a job (and oftentimes therefore, a sense of purpose) thrusts us into a time between seasons of joy, in which hope is hazy, and meaning is scarce.
It is in one of these “in between” places in life, where the story of Jesus’ birth meets the reality of the hope he embodies, in a temple, tended by two of the most devoted prophets. Here, the meaning and magnitude of Christ’s arrival on the earth unfolds for us. We watch with joy as two people very well along in years see the promises of God fulfilled.
Simeon sits in a cool and crisp, rare moment of quiet when he is stirred in his soul – something magnificent awaits – and he heads to the temple. His midday olive bread and farmer’s cheese snack will have to wait, as he saunters toward the temple where, as a boy, he learned the histories of his people, the works of God in and through them in mighty ways, and of the suffering they did and continued to face, even into his early adolescence and adulthood and on into his later life.
Every wrinkle on his face tells a story of loss and hurt, of despair at the oppression he and his family have endured over the years. Each grooved line marking a journey of time, creasing the corners of his eyes and the sides of his mouth tell a story of hope – a hope that has clung for years, to a promise. A promise from God for the liberation and restoration of Israel.
He enters the temple, the sacred space where he has spent most of his life learning, studying and hoping and there, with wide- eyed parents, is the baby Christ. Messiah, on whom Simeon’s hopes have rested all these years, sleeps in his mother’s arms, a whisper’s distance from Simeon.
Simeon extends his arms to receive the child who has come to be consecrated in keeping with his family’s Jewish traditions of faith, and he blesses the child with a prayer that blends exultant praise and bold prophecy. This child is hope and liberation, but at great cost to his followers, family, and even his own mother. It is a holy moment when the presence of God fills the air, giving meaning and purpose to that very moment, the moments of waiting before it, and all the spaces in between.
Another person in the temple that day, Anna the prophetess, had also devoted her life to prayer and fasting in the in between spaces in her life – 84 years a widow after seven years of marriage to her husband. On this day of Jesus’ consecration in the temple, she gets to see the hope to which she has clung become tangible – a flesh and blood representation of God’s presence among the people of Israel, and of God’s surprising and continued work in their lives.
These are two people who have spent their lives believing in, hoping on, looking toward a promise that is now, in their last days, fulfilled in their sight. They get to hold and touch and anoint and bless the baby Messiah through whom God’s love for the whole world will be revealed.
A life of looking toward the promise culminates in an opportunity for two people to, even in their final days, see the living God at work in the world, fulfilling promises, answering prayers and giving meaning to all of the hallmark moments of life and all the moments in between.
We are people of the promise, too. In the season of Christmas, we remember anew the promises of God to Israel of liberation and restoration; and we discover afresh the magnitude of the promise that extends to all. This promise, rooted in God’s love is hope and light to the world, and we, like Simeon and Anna get to be a part of helping the people around us find meaning and purpose in the promises of God through Christ.
Promises that all are welcome in the kingdom of God, promises that everyone at any age and any stage of life has a part to play in God’s redeeming work on earth, promises that each person is valued and treasured because we are all beloved and created by God.
People of the promise are prophets who engage the story of Christ with a watchful eye, keeping a lookout for those in between spaces in the world where Christ’s light, through us might shine a clarifying glow to help those in the despair of darkness find purpose and meaning. And oftentimes in doing this, we find purpose and meaning in our darkest hours as well.
People of the promise are servants who use their various gifts to become the presence of the incarnate Christ, to the world around us in the things we do and say and in the way we live our lives from day to day.
People of the promise are loving friends to all, who choose to see the world through Jesus’ eyes and to embody hope, peace, joy and love revealed through Christ to everyone – even and especially those who have been marginalized by society. And we do this, after all, in keeping with the character of our example and guide, Jesus, who was himself born and raised at the margins, constantly identifying with and validating those whom the societal powers of his day had cast aside as worthless. As people of the promise, we validate the inherent worth of all of God’s people, when we love them with the love of Christ.
You and I are people of the promise. We look for it and toward it each Lord’s Day when we gather together, we receive it with open hearts and we carry it with us into the world with open arms. The promises of hope, peace, joy and love follow us all the days of our lives and radiate from us in our words and in our actions, into the darkest places of in between limbo, where a fresh and loving word from God is just what is needed.
Unspeakable joy, the blessing of carrying the promise into a world that so desperately needs it.
Thanks be to God for promises hoped for, promises fulfilled, and all the spaces in between where we get to watch and look for God at work, always looking toward the promise. Amen.