Monday, December 30, 2013

Present :: Luke 2:22-37

Peripheral people fascinate me. Those who stand just on the edge of moment – who play a small part in wonder – who witness or ask or point. And because they show up, we see and know in new ways. Peripheral people are not the center; they are supporting, sometimes minor, characters. They help us with transitions, with gaps, with course corrections, with just enough light at just the right moment. And then, duty done, they are gone.

Maybe its because I am increasingly partial to old people who still show up for work – but among my favorite peripheral people are Simeon and Anna. They appear in a few scant verses in Luke’s introduction to the story of Jesus. Then, part played, they are gone, their whole life focused into one single moment, one flash of revelatory lightning.

He shuffled towards them, an old man all but dancing with excitement, sandals softly slapping the ancient temple stone floor, rheumy eyes, black as charcoal but alive with the fire burning inside, riveted on the boy. Decades of waiting might have dulled the vision of other watchers, but not his. His was sharpened by hope, by expectancy. Every day since hearing the voice closer to him than his own breath whisper promise of life until Life, he had been alert to wonder. And this day, drawn to temple by that same voice, he finds himself watching as wonder is carried towards him ­– a six week old baby boy.

Eyes sharpened by the Spirit, he sees past their disqualifying poverty, and rejoices in promise kept, in duty done, in journey now ended with one prophetic rush of celebration… and warning. Promise comes – but with pain.

Then comes Anna, her voice no less important for its brevity,  no less needed for its gender. Every day and, often, as night turned to day, she was found here. Single hearted, focused hope; 84 years of looking forward collapse into this one moment of looking present. Here… now… Hope. 6 weeks old.

This is the One. Their duet soars through the ages. Hope has been born! We have seen Him.

Amazing to think what might happen one day when you show up, day after day, and mind your own business. And Who might be missed if you don’t.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Taking Christ Out of Christmas

 I think I understand the concern some folks have about substituting generic holiday greetings for Christmas greetings or replacing Christ in Christmas with an X. The latter is now more often understood as the unknown of algebra than the ancient Christian symbol using the Greek letter with which the name “Christ” begins. And the former symbolizes the apparent move to complete the secularization – for purposes of ostensibly non-offensive marketing – of a primarily religious holiday. Frankly, though, I am not sure that responding to a clerk’s, “Happy Holidays” with a snarling, snapping, “Merry Christmas!!” is the best way to redeem the season. That aside, is it possible to think about this whole thing another way?

Maybe the big problem with Christmas is not so much in the words we speak or the symbols we use as it is in way we isolate and enshrine it. The story of the Incarnation – the Word made flesh and dwelling among us – the coming of God to be with us and for us – can often get lost in the holiday-zation of a holy-day. No less for Christians than for others. The point of holy days is not the creation of a shrine in time, which we regularly visit with appropriate seasonal wonder, but the redeeming of all time. Perhaps we make the manger and its cast of characters the centerpiece – and miss the point.

It is appealing, in many ways, to simply leave Jesus safe in the manger where we might come and visit – or where we might even come and adore and bow down and worship – but which we may then leave to go about our business. No fear – we’ll be back for another sentimental visit next year. Of course none of us does that. At least not on purpose. But I wonder if we do that accidently. We become more enthralled in the wrappings than awed by the wonder of Christmas. And we forget to take Christ out of Christmas to be Immanuel – to be God with us – to be Word made flesh and tenting in our back yard.

So, a suggestion. Enjoy the Day – the Holy Day – for all its worth. Sing, laugh, eat, drink, enter into the wonder made real in family and friends. Give and receive gifts. Wear festive clothing. Welcome the stranger.

But then, the next day, take Christ out of Christmas to walk you in your ordinary, everyday, walking around life. Invite Him to be, truly, God with You.