Christmas 1 – December 31, 2017

Rev. Lyle McKenzie      Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40

– It’s a beautiful and compelling scene, unique to Luke’s Gospel

– combining Jewish rituals of purification for a new mother and redemption of a newborn in dedication to God, Mary and Joseph keep the law, presenting themselves, their child and two pigeons as offerings, the offerings of a poor family…

– but these ordinary practises become extraordinary as Simeon and Anna meet the child and proclaim and praise God for who this child will be for the salvation of God’s people and the world.

Rembrandt painted this scene twice in his lifetime…

– once early when he was 25, a beautiful picture…

– Mary, Joseph, Simeon holding the infant Jesus in the centre…

– others are gathered close around focused on the child, one figure leaning in behind Simeon may be Anna…

– the expanse of the temple with columns and stairs behind the couple include many others, many of them observing the scene

– one imposing figure, a priest stands in front and just off centre of the others, his back to the viewer, with a hand outstretched in ritual blessing…

– the light is on the child, Simeon, Mary whose hands are held against her body, Joseph who holds two pigeons, and on the immediate bystanders…

– the source of light is in fact the infant Jesus, who looks up toward the priest as does Simeon, in wonder, as others look at the child…

– It’s a beautiful picture of the infant Jesus revealed as the salvation, the light of revelation for all peoples

The second time Rembrandt painted this scene was at the end of his life, claimed to have been found unfinished in his workshop the day after her died… was this scene of particular importance to the artist?

– this picture is much more focused, only Simeon and the child, one other background figure that is likely Anna…added later?

– once again the light is on the infant Jesus, and Simeon’s aged head and face, his eyes half open, mouth open, his hands not cradling the child but nearly clasped in prayer beneath the child

– It too is a beautiful picture… more about the impact of this child on the aged Simeon, on what he holds as he says, “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace… Simeon and Rembrandt too…

How do we see, and see ourselves in this story/scene?

– I have mentioned before and say again in honour of my maternal Grandmother, I see her in Anna… this was one of the readings we chose for her funeral, at this time of year… a long time widow, devoted and trusting in salvation in Jesus…

– Anna is my Grandmother and my Grandmother was Anna…

– Many elders come to mind, saints past and present and among us, who hold this same longing to see God’s salvation for our world, and trust it to be so in Jesus… and live in that hope and promise and pray for it to be realized everyday… and some have died trusting in that same promise… witnesses for us

– the list for each of us and together could be long… like the naming and candle lighting on All Saints day… Simeons and Annas for us and others… witnesses to the salvation they have seen in Jesus, to live and depart in peace…

– Who do you see as Simeon and Anna for you?

There was a republished article by Nellie McClung in the Times Colonist just before Christmas, titled, “Why we cannot let ourselves give in to the dark side.”

– (The Starwars “dark side” connection is a little interesting, let alone our own times of dark sides…)

– First published on Jan 17, 1942, the wartime article begins by describing the grey, cold, dark days of January, but then offers a closer observation of the subtle beauty in birds and trees and all the natural world to be found at the same time…

– She describes an old well made into a rock garden that has sunken again and requires more filling… “…we thought we had satisfied the hunger once and for all, but evidently there is some internal discontent crying out again for more filling.”

– “We look around this pleasant neighbourhood now with a new conception of its beauty – now that a threat lies over it. We are, according to tabulation, in the front line here in Victoria, with a possibility of only 15 minutes’ warning in the event of a raid. But there are no safe places anymore; everyone is in this war. …It is strange to have to fight for this all over again. …We certainly thought we had established a firm foundation for society,

but the well has caved in again; something wrong far down.

…Last week, I made a plea for the individual Japanese, that they should be treated fairly; and I know these sentiments will be challenged, for this is a time of excitement, when prejudices run riot.

…Let us, the free people, do all in our power to keep open the gates of mercy, no matter what comes. A great purpose and design for humanity is being worked out in the world now before our eyes and we must not blot our part of the pattern.”

The relevance of her words in our own time is extraordinary, Anna and Simeon-like in their plea and hope for our world. Speaking the truth of divisions and death that are held in this time, as Simeon tells Mary and Joseph, are held in their child Jesus, to divide and be opposed, and that will pierce their own souls too.

– And so we cling to this hope, witness to this light, praising God and speaking about the child to all who are looking for redemption, like Anna and Simeon, and Nellie before us.

I spoke through the three worship times of Advent 4, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of a connecting theme of “ordinary people” – Mary and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, John and all who witness and rejoice in God’s Word made flesh; and “the extraordinary unfolding of God’s plan to mend the universe, mysterious and impossible as it is, made possible by their openness and willingness to follow their hearts and seek God’s desire in Jesus, the one who is grace and truth, born in the flesh, here, now, always.”

– It seems only fitting that Simeon and Anna be added to that list of ordinary people who follow their hearts and see God’s desire in the child of salvation and revelation, light and life for all, that they hold in their hands.

– And so also many, many more names, sinners and saints of God, ordinary folks like you and me and our neighbours, through whom God makes the extraordinary possible, and that holding the Christ child, the salvation and revelation, the light and life of the world, is in our hands, is in our hearts too.

It is a beautiful and compelling scene, and by God’s extraordinary grace we are all in the picture, all having a part in the witness and praise, the hope and joy to be seen. Amen