Preached on 31 December 2017 at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle, Washington
First Sunday after Christmas, Year B
The crèche draws us and we approach, timidly, tenderly. This is what we’ve been waiting for, hoping for, longing for, all through Advent, all through our lives even. And what do we find?
A wee, tiny, newborn baby. A sign of hope.
A lifetime of possibilities.
Can you remember holding a newborn baby? Or maybe just watching a new mother or father with their tiny baby? Can you remember how it felt? So tiny, so fragile, so holy. I remember when I was a new mother and people would say, looking at my daughter, “you forget how small they are at first.” And I wondered how you could forget, but I found that within months, I, too, had forgotten.
That is the baby Jesus in our story today. He is only eight days old when he is circumcised and just shy of six weeks old when he is presented at the Temple.
I wonder if Mary remembers the words that the angel, Gabriel, spoke to her all those months ago as she labors and gives birth or as she nurses Jesus and cares for him in those first few weeks. If not, I bet they come rushing back when Simeon begins to speak in the Temple that day. And then when Anna begins to prophesy.
“Now, Master,” Simeon says, “you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised
for my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have made ready in the sight of the nations;
A light of revelation for the gentiles
And glory for your people Israel.”
All that he sees in her wee, tiny child.
And then, speaking directly to her, Simeon blesses Mary and tells her the destiny of this child;
He is destined for the fall and rise of many, destined to be a sign that is opposed, so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.
He speaks of Mary’s destiny, too – a sword will pierce her soul. This is not to be a life of ease; all sweetness and light.
This week, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry about this story which is such poetry in itself. These lines by Yeats stood out. Perhaps they express what Mary may feel as Simeon and then Anna speak.
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.
What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop,
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up? [i]
The crèche draws us.
Do we find this flesh, this fallen star,
this love that makes our hearts’ blood stop
and bids our hair stand up?
Do we find the light of God, in Christ the child?
A light that can only be received, never taken.
A light by which we are both liberated and bound.
Liberated to love freely, to live fully, and like Simeon, to be at peace, knowing God is present, God is faithful, God is a God of hope and promise.
And bound to one another, to all humanity;
bound to God in light and love.
With blessing comes responsibility; we are blessed for the purpose of being a blessing to others. We receive the light to pass the light on to others.
When I was baptized, I received this candle as a reminder of that. As the priest lit it from the Paschal Candle, he said, “Receive the light of Christ and may all who know you always find it burning brightly within you.”
The crèche draws us to this light of Christ.
In the 12th century, Guerric of Igny wrote,
Behold then, the candle alight in Simeon’s hands. You must light your own candles by enkindling them at his, those lamps which the Lord commanded you to bear in your hands. So come to him and be enlightened that you do not so much bear lamps as become them, shining within yourself and radiating light to your neighbors. May there be a lamp in your heart, in your hand and in your mouth: let the lamp in your heart shine for yourself, the lamp in your hand and mouth shine for your neighbors. The lamp in your heart is a reverence for God inspired by faith; the lamp in your hand is the example of a good life; and the lamp in your mouth are the words of consolation you speak.[ii]
The crèche draws us and reveals to us the holy in the vulnerable, in the poor, in those on the margins whom the world may reject. The poor are not a cause for Jesus; the poor are who he is.
The crèche draws us and calls us to live Christmas beyond Christmas; to do the work of Christmas:
To find the lost and heal the broken; To feed the hungry and release the prisoner; To rebuild the nations and bring peace among the people; To make music in the heart.
You see, the crèche draws us, but we can’t stay there. Like the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, and even Mary and Joseph, we go back; back to the world, back to our lives.
But we can still sing the alleluias!
[i] “The Mother of God” by W. B. Yeats. From http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/christmas1bpresentation.html.
[ii] Guerric of Igny, quoted from Celebrating the Seasons (Morehouse) From http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/christmas1bpresentation.html