Read this week's text, Luke 2:22-40
This year I added two figurines to our church creche - Simeon and Anna. Our creche is filled simple wood cut outs and a woman in the congregation does wood working so I asked her to cut out another male and another female figure. We've been adding new people to the scene each week and I can't wait to add the two of them this coming Sunday.
I'm tempted to sing to the tune of Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer -
You know Mary and Joseph and Jesus and donkeys,
Angels and Shepherds and sheep and wise men,
but do you recall the oldest members of them all?
Simeon and Anna at the temple
had waited very long for the Messiah...
I'm gonna stop there because I'm mostly revealing how punchy I am as we count down to Christmas Eve services but you get the idea. We have these two fantastic characters that we talk about almost every year. A Grandfather and Grandmother type figure sometimes to us but what were they really like? I've read they represent the poor, the devout, the patient ones, wanting and longing. In the story, they are the first to recognize Jesus without angelic or celestial help.
I'm reminded of the verse from John 20, "Blessed are those who believe and have not seen." Although Simeon and Anna have "seen" the Messiah, they recognize him on their own. In Luke's gospel, the Holy Spirit has not yet come; they don't have the benefit like we do of having the indwelling of God yet. Their recognition comes from waiting and watching. Waiting and watching.
Even after the baby is born, we have yet another message about waiting and watching. Longing for peace, believing it will come. Hoping for salvation, trusting in God's mercy.
I assume there were others at the temple that day. Did Jesus and his family go unnoticed by others who longed for peace? Did this Messiah go unrecognized by others who hoped for salvation? And when we say Come Lord Jesus, are we waiting but not watching? Does Jesus and his proverbial family go unnoticed by us? Does the Messiah come and go without recognition on our watch?
Unlike the other figures in the creche, Simeon and Anna didn't get an angelic announcement nor did they receive celestial navigation. They had their heart and their mind and their faith and their eyes - just like us.
Read this week's text, Luke 1:39-56 here.
My soul magnifies.
What is it that my soul magnifies? And what exactly is my soul? I learned most of what I understand about the soul by Thomas Moore in his book The Care of the Soul. He begins by saying "the great malady of the 20th century... is the loss of soul. When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it apears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning."
As far as defining the soul. Moore says and I agree, souls prefer to imagine rather than define. Our soul is tied to things rather than defined by things. Our souls are tied to good friends, good food, meaningful conversation, honesty, trust, love, joy. And when our souls become untethered, we complain of "emptiness, meaninglessness, vague depression, disillusionment about marriage and family, a loss of values, a yearning for personal fulfillment and a hunger for spirituality." Sound familiar?
As a pastor, I hear complaints of things like this all the time. And we, me included, want to look at each of these feelings individually; we want to fix each of them systematically. And as a pastor, I remind myself all the time to dive for something deeper. Don't go after the presenting complaint. Dive deeper, find the soul, magnify the state of the soul.
Mary says my soul magnifies. My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
This right here is why this woman is so beloved. If we were to magnify my soul, I imagine that we might here is magnifying the problems before us as a society, or my soul might magnify the last unanswered problem I encountered. But is that really my soul - or are they the presenting complaints of the day? How do I dive deeper to find what it is that my soul might magnify?
How on this 4th Sunday of Advent, when there are three shopping days left until Christmas, when we need to go grocery shopping and make up the guest rooms and write sermons and make phone calls and do the laundry, how can we dive deep enough to find our soul? And how can we stay with her along enough to magnify what she might say or do?
Might I suggest a good long silence this Sunday when you are worshiping with your safe community? Might I suggest a longer than usual pause - to find stillness, to find the center of our being, to feel the spacer that is at our core. And linger there. Linger. Linger. Breathe into it, fill it with the gift of life, say hello to your soul. And then, magnify.
I smile just thinking what we might find there.
Read the text from Isaiah 61 here.
There is a lot of mourning going on in our world today. And the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to provide for those who mourn. To bring a garland instead of ashes, to anoint with oil to soothe mourning, to offer praise that lifts the heaviness." The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon the prophet and then Jesus claimed the same Spirit of the Lord to be upon him and we believe we have been given this same Spirit of the Lord, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. She blew through the halls of the waiting disciples at Pentecost. She transformed their communication to strangers. And she continues to sustain us today as the Body of Christ in the world. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us to comfort all who mourn. There is a lot of mourning going on in our world today.
The British journalist killed in Yemen.
The Somali security personnel killed by a car bomb meant for a United Nations convoy
The 36 innocent workers executed in Kenya
The Arab-Jewish school that was set on fire
Hospitals and Funerals and Illness and Divorce and the list goes on. There is a lot of mourning going on in our world. The one thing that remains a constant in comforting those who mourn is listening. Listening to stories. Listening to tears. Listening to silence together. The main ingredient in comfort is presence. Our presence amidst grief, brokenness, hurt, tears, fear, or mistrust is the balm for those who mourn. Our presence is what hosts the Spirit of the Lord. Our presence is what enacts the Body of Christ. Our presence is what God had in mind when sending Jesus into the world. Our presence has become God's presence through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
This week's reading - Isaiah 40:1-11
I've only seen the desert of the western United States. In college, I took a trip to the national parks. I remember my first sight of the Rocky mountains, they just seemed to appear on the road. They seemed so close also - and in between me and the mountains were all of these odd looking dots that I was told were brush. Turns out the mountains were a good eight hours away with miles and miles of desert between us. And on the other side was more brush, more desert.
If we read this text to say that the great Rocky mountains are to be made low, the lowlands lifted up and the path made straight, what would we say then? Would we have an inkling of how something that impossible could ever happen. I'll be honest, the idea is so unrealistic that it seems silly.
And yet the prophet speaks hope to this silly idea. He seems delusional. And John the Baptist in the Mark text doesn't seem any more sane. The task is too big. The cynicism too grand. The bitterness beyond repair.
The more sober among us understand that our mountains are too big. The terrain is too dry. The workers too few. The vision is unrealistic. Justice in not attainable this side of heaven.
And yet the call to justice remains - prepare a way in the desert. Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.
Now? Now is when we must heed this call to prepare a way. Now, in the current political climate? There is no way our government can level the playing field and work together.
Now? The kingdom of God is at hand now? There is no way the kingdom of God is at hand in the middle east right now. There is no way through that. Not now. And probably not ever.
Now? The kingdom of God is hand now? Have you seen the bitterness in our families? Have you seen the level of deep seeded animosity?
And can we really believe that making a way, working on justice will ever really do anything to those who rely on food stamps? The system is too large. The desert too wide to ever make the tumultuous life of poverty smoothed out in any way.
The market is too unstable. Those in power abuse it and those without will remain without it. The systems of our world do not make for a good home for the kingdom of God. If we plant the kingdom of God, I'm not sure it will grow here.
But that's the thing, the kingdom of God has already been planted. If we don't it growing, we can do something about it. It's planted in us, the people of God. It's on us to figure out how to grow life in the desert. It's on us to tend to the seeds and the plants even if they are odd looking brush that goes on for miles. It's on us to pull out the roots that are keeping other roots from growing. It's on us to clear out the rocks and care tenderly for the life that we see.
It's on us to push aside the cynicism and despair, the hopelessness and apathy to make way for the kingdom of God here in the desert.
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