Simeon’s Whisper

Luke 2:22-40 – 1st Sunday of Christmas – for January 1, 2012

“And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.” (Luke 2:33)

How will you spend Christmas?

Of course, my question is a two-edged sword.

Christmas. Spending.

Christmas time brings out some of our worst questions. If someone gives you a gift of a certain “value,” then shouldn’t you give him or her a gift of equal worth? If you make up a Christmas list, do you have it as easy as Santa’s “naughty” and “nice?” Or do you have to pro-rate family and friends, creating a graduated scale of who-gets-what based on who you:

Like the most . . . Want to impress the most . . . Have guilt about . . . Feel warm & fuzzy or cold & sandpapery about . . .

Choose. Quick! The shopping days zoom by more quickly than Rudolph and the other hoofed wonders on a clear night.

My ceramic Joseph & Mary look this way at the manger...and maybe it's close to how they looked before Simeon mentioned that "sword."

Oh, the many variations of obligation. Don’t some stores need us to shop because this time of the year represents such a high percentage of their annual profit? I remember, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, that a not-so-subtle message from our political leadership was to . . . shop! Scurrying to the nearest mall after a horrific attack on our country will show them we’re a people of courage. Really? And shop-shop-shopping during every Christmas pre and post sale reassures store owners how much we care about their year-end bottom line. Right, sure.

The sword cuts both ways.

In Luke, eight days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph head for the temple to fulfill their Jewish obligations for a newborn. There a fellow named Simeon—who is never described by any official temple title, but as simply “righteous and devout”—takes the baby Jesus into his arms and says,

This child is destined for the falling and 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. (Luke 2:34-35)

Wasn’t that happy news for Joseph and Mary! Thanks Simeon. What a gift! And yet, with all the impossibility of knowing any actual-factual details about the time and events of Jesus’ birth, Simeon’s whispered temple words are a worthy gift for us to remember. Whoever Simeon was, whether a real memory or an invention of Luke, I’m forever challenged by his role in this sacred story.

How will you spend Christmas?

Every year, from my Fresno home to wherever you are, this child is plopped into our arms. We sing the carols, read the scriptures of old, stagger from store-to-store or website-to-website with a glazed look on our eyes, stumble into homes of uncles or cousins in our annual awkward (or awesome) family pilgrimage . . . and, amazingly, every single moment is an opportunity of how we will spend Christmas.

This story told about Jesus as an infant, even with all the ways we’ve rearranged it, demands an answer. Again, the child is in your arms. Again, you are before another . . . maybe a stranger, maybe your lover. How will you and I spend Christmas so that our soul is pierced, wounded, opened, and revealed?

Every day, in so many different ways, we enter the temple, breathless and carrying that gurgling infant in our souls. Call the temple Macy’s or your classroom or Uncle Bob’s house or the stretch of ground between you and your neighbor’s property, but there you are . . . how will you spend that time?

I can pose the question, but each of us will have our own answer.

Simeon, in my imagination, still whispers; his metaphoric sword opens our soul, with the joy and pain of life.

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  1. I have reached the perfect state of Christmas celebration. I do nothing special for it. I’m not saying I’m Scrooge. I enjoy others’ enjoying Christmas, but since I no longer have anyone who depends on me to make their Christmas merry, it has lost all of its charm. The point of Christmas was spreading cheer. I have no place to spread it. The backlash to that is that it annoys me when people want to spread cheer to me, because I know they have an over abundance, and the increment they might get from me would hardly budge their cheer meter.

    1. Now why did I bother to leave such a downer reply. Well,…Larry… I take you to be a student of the human condition, so I thought I would leave you an new specimen for your collection, which you can pin somewhere to the right of Ebenezer Scrooge and to the left of George Bailey.

      1. Hey Bruce. So you’re pals with Ebenezer and George?! Hey, both started poorly, but were part of cheery endings, right? Since in the past you’ve expressed your preference for Advent and Lent, for the “journey” more than the destination, I understand your seasonal downer-ness. But I can still boldly and happily wish you a Merry Christmas… your words bring joy to my life.

    2. My comment is for Bruce Marold. The point of Christmas is Jesus. There is no Christmas without Jesus. The “Joy” of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. That Joy is spread everytime we speak to someone or meet their eyes ….. and not just in December, but every month, every day, every hour that we still have the breath that God gave us. The reason for Christmas lives inside me 24/7. I pray it does for you too.

  2. There are always people who need others to spread joy. I have seen men and women in nursing homes with tears streaming down their faces and yet wearing beaming smiles. Pass it forward in the grocery store when the person ahead of you is counting out pennies to pay the bill – or removing small “happy type” items meant for the kids, but which had to be foregone in order to pay for the necessities. Adopt a needy family for Christmas. Help out at Toys for Tots or similar organizations and see the kids faces as they receive and hoped for but not really believed in gift.

    1. Excellent comments, Beth. Thanks! I so prefer to avoid giving gifts and figuring out how to give myself. Often I fail, but I’d rather fail at doing something for others rather than shop till I drop on Simeon’s sword!! Have a Merry Christmas!

  3. I’m kind of with Bruce on this one; this year Christmas has been something to ‘get through’, but it also annoys me that very many people don’t know what they are celebrating. Or maybe they do; but it’s not Christmas. A derogatory remark aimed at a street preacher in town the other day, made by a man struggling with bags of Christmas shopping, made that quite clear. As do the attitudes of my non-Christian friends, for whom I pray, invite to church (in vain) and send Christian cards to in the hope that the message might get through. But no, Christmas is about food, drink, pressies and TV, not necessarily in that order. That’s the Christmas I don’t participate in. Bah humbug to the lot of it.

    1. Sigh. I suspect, for years now, we in or near the church complain about Christmas. And rightly so. It comes too early. Its consumed by consumerism. Many of its high profile participants are reindeer-come-lately. I, for one, will keep whining and complaining…but also recalling the story’s startling truths. Thanks for your comments, Ruth!

  4. Yes, I agree with Valerie 100%. One does not need a special day to celebrate Jesus when he is on my mind 365 days a year.

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