The Knife’s Edge of Love

Luke 2:22-40The First Sunday of Christmas – for December 28, 2014

“When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in a accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to the Jerusalem…” (Luke 2:22)

simeon-with-the-infant-jesus.jpg!Blog“Wait here for a moment,” Joseph said, “I forgot to, need to . . .”

He didn’t finish his sentence. Not to her. With a word or glance, she might stop him by shaming his anger or calming his fears.

Mary nodded, hugging Jesus closer to her chest.

Joseph rearranged the blanket around the infant’s face. His hands—with their map of scars, grit he could never wash out, and the stump where he lost his left little finger while a carpenter’s apprentice—gently stroked Jesus’ smooth cheeks. He also caressed his wife’s face. His wife and their newborn were so beautiful, each a gift that Joseph didn’t deserve. And yet here they were, together. Wasn’t he all that stood between the worst of the world and their dreams for the child? Well, maybe he and God would protect this miracle family, but the Almighty had secretive ways, and terrible silences.

Mary dutifully waited on the temple’s expansive courtyard. Around her, as with most days, construction continued on Herod’s pet projects. The temple, its glistening, sculpted stone reaching toward heaven, had been finished in less than two years a generation ago. But the open areas around the towering edifice were being expanded so merchants, beggars, and pilgrims had more room to bargain with or boast to each other. There were stairways everywhere. How could they all lead to different streets into the city? Jerusalem made Nazareth seem puny.

Joseph entered the temple, eyes again adjusting to the dim inner light, the flickering oil lamps and shards of bright sunlight. As before, the stench of sweat from weary humans, incense from mysterious rituals, and endless burnt offerings irritated his nostrils. To his left, a Levite chanted the Psalms. To his right, a barefoot, beardless man, taller and much younger than Joseph, stood alone. Two fat turtledoves dangled from his hand, the birds fluttering and fussing, unaware of their impending doom. Maybe the barefoot man-child was confused about what to do next, just like Joseph had been a short while before. At another time, Joseph might have assisted him.

But Joseph’s plans urged him forward, and his family waited where there was a constant crowd of pickpockets and whores. Continue reading →

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? Continue reading →