What a delightful pageant we saw from our young disciples today! It helps to get their perspective on this season. It’s Advent, a time when we look forward in anticipation to the birth of salvation. Advent does not focus on Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, or Cyber Monday—although these are important commercial harbingers of the coming of Christmas. Rather, these days of Advent call us to await the birth of the Christ—and they are days when slowing down and refocusing our lives might be advantageous.
But these are also days where too often there can be added pressure, financial strain, and sometimes utter exhaustion. Or they can be days filled with lonely hours for people who feel cut off from friends and loved ones. In liturgical jargon, these are not what the church calls “ordinary time.” It is up to us, therefore, to use these days well so that Christmas will be a celebration of God’s good news—and certainly not an “ordinary time”!
During Advent, we light four candles—adding one each week—as in the Northern Hemisphere the daylight gets shorter each day until the Winter Solstice. The candles bring light to dispel the darkness, and we increase the amount of light each week to reflect our growing anticipation—our yearning for a reminder of God’s infinite love.
Today’s Scripture is one that fills me with joy. I can’t explain why I am so moved by it, but it touches me deeply when, at its core, it sums up what following Jesus means. Simeon, an upright and devout man, seeks God’s comforting. He is drawn to the Temple where Mary and Joseph are presenting Jesus to be consecrated to the Lord, and while holding the baby, Simeon blesses God and says,
Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.
At St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Oconomowoc yesterday, and again in our sanctuary today, there were reenactments of the Christmas story. These are lovely, touching reminders of God’s love made manifest in that Bethlehem stable 2,000 years ago. But we are not called to see Jesus in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger. Rather, we are now called to see Jesus in our midst—not as a new-born child but as our neighbors and co-workers and cashiers at Pick ‘n Save and the homeless, the addicted teenager at Kettle Moraine High School, the forgotten mother languishing at Three Pillars. How we treat others shows how we welcome the Christ child—not figuratively, but literally.
Google and Facebook are my go-to sources for inspiration—after, of course, the Bible and spiritual readings. One recent sign on Facebook said: “The most important spiritual growth doesn’t happen when you’re meditating or on a yoga mat. It happens in the midst of conflict—when you’re frustrated, angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing—and then you suddenly realize you have a choice to do it differently . . . .” Advent can be such a time of change and growth, if we’ll let it be—if, perhaps, we’ll stop when agitated or confused and ask, “What’s the loving thing to do?” Guess it’s the WWJD question—”What would Jesus do?”
That reminded me of a quotation from our former president, Jimmy Carter. It explains why, at the age of 95, he is still building houses for the poor and teaching Sunday school at his church—and it offers a challenge for us, too. President Carter said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. . . . My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
While we’re bustling around, trying to make Christmas “perfect” for those we love, we might be well to remember what Jesus told us in Matt 25:40, i.e., “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” How we treat one another will define how well we are preparing for Christmas.
We can be the light in other people’s lives—Christ’s light—the light of acceptance, tolerance, and love. It is only in this way that we can echo Simeon’s words upon seeing the Christ: “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised . . . .”
When we take the time to look for the Christ, we will find Him. We will find Him in each other—in the body of Christ. As Christmas approaches, perhaps Jesus would send us a letter such as this one, and perhaps we would treasure it during this time of joy.
“A Christmas Letter from Jesus”
When you look for me at Christmas, you won’t need a special star.
I’m no longer just in Bethlehem, I’m right here where you are.
You may not be aware of me amid the celebrations.
You’ll have to look beyond the stores and all the decorations.
But if you take a moment from your list of things to do,
To close your eyes and say a prayer, I’m waiting here for you.
You’re the one I want to be with. You’re the reason that I came!
And you’ll find me in the stillness
Where I’m whispering your name.
In the name of the one whom we await with anticipation, longing, and joy, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR DECEMBER 8, 2019 LUKE 2:25-32
Today’s Scripture relates what happened shortly after the birth of Jesus, when he was presented by Mary and Joseph in the Temple.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
“Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the
nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.