Christmas 1 B: Christmas Courage

Luke 2:22-40

Dear Partner in Preaching,

It’s amazing how quickly Christmas passes, isn’t it? After all the preparations – both in church and at home – after four weeks of Advent, after carols and service projects, special music and Christmas Eve services…. After all this, it’s suddenly done. The presents are opened, the wrapping paper put in the recycling bin, needles are falling from the tree, and it’s 364 more days until next year’s celebration.

Of course, Christmas isn’t done. The church knew that there was no way you could really celebrate, let alone comprehend, the Incarnation in a day, so it recognized twelve days of Christmas. The larger culture has all but forgotten that (assuming, I suppose, that the “twelve days of Christmas” began on Dec. 13 rather than end on Jan. 5). The day after Christmas is still somewhat connected to Christmas, though mostly as the day to exchange unwanted gifts for something more desirable. Otherwise, it’s on to planning for New Year’s celebrations, making resolutions, looking ahead to the playoffs, and all the other things with which we fill winter.

I start with this brief reflection on the clash between the church’s sense of Christmas-time and the culture’s, not to encourage sermons that proclaim, let alone scold, that we must keep Christmas for twelve days, but rather because I think most of us need to keep Christmas a little longer to face all that the New Year will bring. And keeping Christmas beyond the 25th, let alone into the New Year, is no easy task. Toward that end, this Sunday’s story of Simeon and Anna might be just the passage we need.

Notice, first, what an odd song Simeon sings to the new parents, Mary and Joseph. It is a song about his death. He has been waiting to see the sign of God’s redemption and, having beheld God’s commitment to Israel and the world made manifest in this child, now asks to depart; that is, to die. Beautiful, but also a tad disturbing, I imagine, to young parents. And the peculiarity of Simeon’s song doesn’t end there. After praising God for the light Jesus will shed on all nations, Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, but also tells them that their son will inaugurate the rise and fall of many and be a sign that will be opposed. If that is not enough, Simeon concludes by telling Mary that a sword will pierce her heart also.

Glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, gladness and opposition. All these and more will be contained in this child…and indeed in each of our own lives, also. And that’s just why we need Christmas to last longer than 24 or 48 hours, why we need it not simply to persist into the new year, but to keep us strong throughout the year. Because this life is wonderful…and difficult. And God came in Jesus to be with us and for us through all of it: the ups and down, hopes and fears, successes and disappointments, accomplishments to savor and mistakes to regret; all of it. God is with us and for us…not just some of the time, but all of the time, even when we don’t act as we want, live into the identity God has given us, or make it to church on a regular basis.

Which brings me back to Simeon’s plea: “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace.” Yes, Simeon is talking about dying, but it is dying in peace. That is, with the confidence that God is with him, that God is keeping God’s promises, that God loves for and will care for this world, that whatever he may see or feel or experience, yet in the end the world will be shaped by God’s “yes” that stands in in contrast and opposition to all the various and sundry voices shouting “no” across the land. Simeon departs in peace. Which aptly names my deep prayer for myself, for my family and community, for you and your people, for our nation and for the world. That we can enter into the new year with a measure of courage that comes from confidence that God continues to keep God’s promises, that God is indeed walking with us, that God will in time bring all things – including the work we do and love we offer – to a good end, and therefore experience peace.

I think of this as “Christmas courage” because it is rooted in the promise that in Jesus God became one of us and so is, indeed, Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is the courage that allows us to anticipate opposition without fearing or, perhaps worse, hating those who oppose us. It is the courage that allows us to acknowledge when our hearts are pierced in a way that doesn’t harden our hearts but opens them to others who have also been pierced. It is a courage that grants the peace of which Simeon sings and leads us to the thanksgiving that his Temple companion Anna offers. It is the courage that allows us to continue to love and sacrifice and dare because it believes that no gifts given in love are ever lost or without meaning.

Christmas courage, dear Partner, is perhaps what we are invited to offer our folks this Sunday, courage that comes from knowing God is with us – every single day of our lives – grants us peace and confidence to face the new year, and leads us to thanksgiving for all God has done…and is still doing…to us, with us, and through us.

Blessings on your proclamation, Dear Partner. I am grateful for the courage you show in offering a word of grace and peace to people who need it more than they sometimes know. Thank you, and blessed Christmas to you and yours.

In Christ,