I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was a kid I loved Christmas Eve. I loved the anticipation, the build-up, the excitement, and the unbridled joy of the day. In comparison to Christmas Eve, Christmas morning was a bit of a let down. Our father used to wake us all up with brass bells attached to a string at five o’clock in the morning. All of us kids would stumble into the living room, droggy and sleep deprived, rip open all of our gifts, and then drag ourselves back to bed. It took most of us until noon before we were alert enough to even realize what we had been given. The remainder of the day was spent enjoying everyone’s games and toys, but to be honest with you Christmas Day didn’t hold a candle to Christmas Eve. Now? Now, I love the whole holiday season. More precisely, I love the holiday season within the liturgical church because it reveals Christmas for the beautiful time of year it was always meant to be.
As we enjoy singing Christmas hymns on New Year’s Eve we would be deceiving ourselves if we didn’t admit that we are just a little counter cultural. Personally, I felt like a bah humbug for waiting until the 17th of December to put up our Christmas tree. Our family puts off jumping into the Christmas season until the last minute in order to reap the benefits of the advent season. The rest of our neighbors had their trees up by the Friday after Thanksgiving, and their house lights up that weekend. Granted, we enjoyed their lights, but we let our neighbors cover the cost to the electric company for our enjoyment. On the flip side all of our neighbors had their Christmas trees out on the curb by Tuesday the 26th and their lights off their houses by Wednesday. Here at the church we still have the trees up, the advent wreath and all the decorations on display because its still Christmas. The disconnect between the secular Christmas and the church brings to mind the disconnect between people of Israel and the birth of Jesus found in the gospel of Luke.
The Greek word for sin is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. We think of sin as doing something contrary to God’s law or will, but really it just means to miss achieving God’s will. Now, God’s will for all of creation is for the world to be in right relationship with God. We get so involved in our own wants and will that we miss the mark. Last Sunday as we celebrated Christmas Eve we heard how Israel was sent into chaos because the Emperor wanted a census taken and therefore everyone had to go back to the ancestral homes and be registered. Stop and think about the confusion and chaos that ensued just from that decree? Everyone had to make last minute arrangements, transportation, housing, food, and supplies all had to be organized. People were only thinking about what they needed to do to fulfill the order of the Emperor. It is in the midst of all this upheaval that Jesus is born. It is in the middle of all this confusion that Mary and Joseph find themselves in a paddock giving birth to God’s son and who notices? No one! Finally, God sends angels to shepherds and they take notice. Granted, it would be nearly impossible not to notice a declaration from the angel of the Lord followed by a choir of angels singing Glory to God in the Highest.
And you know what? I can give the people of Israel a pass on not being aware of the birth of the Messiah. There was a lot going on and it did happen in a pretty unexpected way, but what gets me is today’s Gospel reading. Simeon and Anna are two people that hit bulls eye when it comes to being prepared for the arrival of the Messiah. Both Simenon and Anna have spent their entire lives awaiting the arrival of the Lord and both recognize Jesus when they see him. It doesn’t matter that Jesus arrives in the arms of a young poor couple who can only afford two turtledoves for the offering. Neither Simeon nor Anna look at the outward appearance of the family, but rather they are open to God’s revelation. Their response is pure beauty and perfect adoration.
The Song of Simeon, also known as, “Nuc Dimitis” sums up how all of us should behold the birth of Jesus. Simeon, who has spent a lifetime awaiting the birth of the Christ, a life spent in the season of Advent, and upon seeing the child he says, “Master now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and your people Israel.” Just in seeing that the Christ has been born is enough for Simeon to be dismissed in peace. Isn’t that beautiful. Just knowing that God’s plan for the salvation of all people has been set in motion with the birth of Jesus is enough! The rest of the world is waiting for God to act according to their will and their expectations, but here is Simeon and he gets it. Not only does Simeon get the birth of the Messiah, but Simeon gets the whole picture. When he tells Mary that this child is destined for the falling and rising of many and that a sword will pierce her own soul too Simeon is foretelling the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
The truly crazy thing is that we too know the whole big and beautiful picture. We know what Christmas is all about. We know that it isn’t just about Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and presents, family, and food. We know it is about the birth of the savior and the means through which God is bringing about salvation for all. We know it! And yet we tend to miss the mark, but wouldn’t it be great if we could view this whole season like Simeon and feel content in knowing that God’s plan is in place? Plus, we have the benefit of knowing the whole beautiful picture. We know what lies ahead as our liturgical year unfold. We know that the men from the east arrive. We know about Jesus’ baptism, calling of the disciples, teachings, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. We know why Christmas is twelve days and why we are still singing Christmas Carols on New Year’s Eve. We know that our faith brings us the same peace that Simeon experienced upon witnessing the entrance of Jesus in the arms of Mary.
Yes, we all get distracted at this time of year and we miss the mark. However, in the end we know that what St. Paul writes in Galatians is true, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because we are children God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God.” And, it is in that knowledge that we can be dismissed in peace.