Let us pray:
Holy One, in you we live, in you we move, and in you we have our being. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord, our rock and redeemer. Amen.
In the days since Christmas morning, it sort of feels like we’re in some kind of aftermath. All of the presents have been torn open, and the wrapping paper has been thrown away. Many have already taken down their Christmas trees and stowed away all of the decorations. Stores have stopped playing Christmas music, and I walked into one this week that was already selling candy for Valentine’s Day.
Yet while it seems as though our homes and our communities may be done with the Christmas celebrations, the liturgical calendar keeps us in Christmas for a few extra days. In the same way that Advent made us wait for the birth of the Christ child, this extended Christmas season makes us sit with the Christ child for just a little while longer, ensuring that he doesn’t get thrown out as quickly as the decorations were.
Other than Epiphany, the first Sunday after Christmas Day is the only chance in our liturgical year that we get to hear about Jesus between his birth and his baptism. Last year, we heard about the holy family fleeing to Egypt because of what we now call the slaughter of the innocents, and next year we will hear about 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple. Today’s story that Rebecca just read takes place approximately 40 days after Jesus’ birth, as Mary and Joseph take him to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented and consecrated to the Lord. If I may, I want to relay to you one of the best retellings of this story, from Frederick Buechner:
Jesus was still in diapers when his parents brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22), as the custom was, and offer a sacrifice, and that’s when old Simeon spotted him. Years before, he’d been told he wouldn’t die till he’d seen the Messiah with his own two eyes, and time was running out. When the moment finally came, one look through his cataract lenses was all it took. He asked if it would be all right to hold the baby in his arms, and they told him to go ahead but be careful not to drop him.
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” he said (Luke 2:29), the baby playing with the fringes of his beard. The parents were pleased as punch, and so he blessed them too for good measure. Then something about the mother stopped him, and his expression changed.
What he saw in her face was a long way off, but it was there so plainly he couldn’t pretend. “A sword will pierce through your soul,” he said (Luke 2:35).
He would rather have bitten off his tongue than said it, but in that holy place he felt he had no choice. Then he handed her back the baby and departed in something less than the perfect peace he’d dreamed of all the long years of his waiting.
In Luke’s gospel, this is the fourth instance of faithfulness that we read up to this point in the book. Mary sings the beautiful Magnificat, Zechariah’s first words after months of muteness are a prayer, and the shepherds rush to Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus in the manger. Simeon’s instance is perhaps the most remarkable, however, as the previous three accounts were preceded by a visit from an angel. Simeon merely looks at the face of the baby Jesus and sees the salvation of the world.
Admittedly, a newborn baby seems to be an unlikely body to bring about that kind of redemption. But as his eyes fell upon Jesus, Simeon’s faith compelled him to believe that this child was somehow the one for whom he had been waiting all of his life. He had what one pastor calls “expectant eyes,” eyes that were sharply looking for that new thing that God was doing in his midst. More significantly, these expectant eyes were looking even into those places that seemed to be the last place that redemption could be found.
The theologian Lauren Winner tells a remarkable story about this text. In 1860, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, there was a tense deadlock over who would be the Republican nominee for the office of the President of the United States. It was between a man named Salmon P. Chase and a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. As the delegates were voting for the third time, the delegation from Ohio switched their votes to Lincoln, securing him the nomination and making way for his eventual presidency. At this announcement, Winner notes, “one man started crying and another old man started quoting Scripture, at the top of his lungs: ‘Now Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for these eyes of mine…’”
Let’s be real: Lincoln was not the perfect president, and it is dangerous to cast American history with such a redemptive lens. There is quite a bit of our past that we still need to deal with and make whatever reparations that we need to make. But at the nomination of the man who would eventually enact the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby freeing approximately 4 million slaves, this old man in Chicago recalled the words of another old man from long, long ago.
Perhaps this anonymous man had a similar experience that Simeon had, an experience of seeing a glimpse of salvation in the most unlikely of individuals and could not help but proclaim it to whomever was listening.
Please don’t get bogged down by this, as it’s an imperfect illustration. But I think that it can tell us something about this Christmas season.
For this is the season that we celebrate a God who takes on flesh and is born of a young mother. It’s about a God who is embodied in a helpless, poor baby, completely dependent on that mother. It’s the story of a God who takes on the flesh of a refugee, his family fleeing to Egypt for his life. It’s the hope and the faith that God is working in our world to make things new, to set everything right. It’s often not the picture that we have of salvation, and it’s not how we would prefer to see salvation for all of the world. But this is the story that we celebrate today.
And so this morning, let us join in Simeon’s song of praise, proclaiming that we have seen God’s salvation in this small baby, prepared in the presence of all peoples. It is Christmas, after all. But let us also keep our own eyes expectant and our vision sharp. For as God was incarnated in Jesus so many years ago, so too is God embodied in each and every one of us. As Jesus was the salvation of the world, so too does God desire to use us for the salvation of this world. For Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day so many years ago, but Christ is also being born in each and everyone of us right here and right now. And in this, we are saved.
May God grant us the eyes and the faith to see redemption in the most unlikely places and bodies. And may we find the vision to see God’s redeeming work, the new thing that is happening in our midst, and may we have the faith to proclaim it and live into it.
Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009), 367.
 Lauren Winner, “Simeon’s Faithful Proclamation,” The Hardest Question, December 26, 2011, http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/yearb/christmas1gospel-2/
 The Rev. Dr. Ozzie E. Smith, Jr.,, “A Sight for Certain Eyes,” Day1, December 28, 2008, http://day1.org/1125-sight_for_certain_eyes.