Luke 2: 22-40, page 59
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, 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.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town in Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
I have spent a lot of time looking forward to today. I’ve pictured our first Christmas in Columbia, our first Christmas in our new house, our first Christmas as parents of two in my imagination – and it looks something like this – there’s a fire burning in the fire place, that good smoked sausage is cooking in the kitchen, both my girls are overjoyed sitting under the Christmas Tree, I’m wearing a Christmas sweater, and everyone is listening to me sing a rendition “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” because it’s snowing outside.
Now that’s not exactly how it went earlier this morning.
Our fireplace hasn’t been used in two years so we’re too scared to burn anything in there, I was out voted on the sausage, my girls were both very happy, but not what I would call over-joyed, more over-whellemed, I don’t own a Christmas sweater, and no one would ever listen to me sing anything so why would I think they’d listen to me sing on Christmas morning? Besides, it wasn’t snowing.
I dream up the ideal in my head, especially when it’s a big day I’m looking forward to, but the reality can’t ever measure up.
Weddings are like that – the birth of a child is like that – certainly a baby’s baptism is like that too.
I’m sure Mary grew up looking forward to her wedding day – and I doubt she pictured being pregnant when the big day came.
I bet she also grew up thinking about being a mother – where the baby would be born, what clothes she would dress him in – and I bet a barn and bands of cloth had nothing to do with her imaginary scenario.
And maybe she had come to grips with how different her wedding day was, maybe she had accepted her child’s birth for what it was, so overjoyed to hold that happy and healthy baby boy in her arms regardless of the sounds and smells of livestock around her; but could you blame her if she wanted the day of his presentation at the temple to be different?
On her wedding day she had bent her head in shame, knowing well what everyone was saying, so this day she held her head high.
She had settled for bands of cloth when he was born, and so she splurged on something special to put him in on the day he went to the temple.
Everything up unto this point had been so different from how she imagined it, finally she was doing something the way it was supposed to be done, and gladly bought the appropriate offerings – a pair of turtledove or two young pigeons.
It must have felt so good, to do, what the Gospel of Luke tells us, “was customary under the law,” everything up until this point having been so un-customary.
But then comes Simeon.
“Simeon took him in his arms” and this moment was taken like the others.
His words mean something – and truly they mean everything – but what mother wants to hear on such a special day: “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
This is how it happens though.
An imperfect wedding, an imperfect birth, which nonetheless produces the perfect child – when all of a sudden the doctor brings some harsh word – asthma that will require breathing treatments, speech that will require a therapist, cancer that will require chemo therapy, and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
It’s enough to not go through with it at all. It’s enough to keep the baby home, safe, never to go out again, but the time came and so the child had to be brought up to Jerusalem, it’s there in the law for “every firstborn shall be designated as holy to the Lord.”
That line is enough for me to rethink what holy means completely – as there could be no more holy child than this despite his story so unlike any ideal I’d ever imagine.
If that’s how it was with Jesus, then what if that’s what holy is?
What if holy isn’t perfection.
What if holy isn’t the attainment of every dream and ideal and imagination.
What if holy is just what Jesus was – a human being born into an imperfect marriage, born on a day when nothing went how it was supposed to, and began his life with his mother knowing that one day something was going to happen to her little boy that would pierce her soul.
It’s not the way I would dream it up, but it’s the way it happens.
Today give thanks for Christmas, the Christmas that you have even if it’s not the Christmas that you dreamed of, because holiness isn’t perfection – Christ entered our imperfection and made it all holy.
So Merry Christmas.