Sunday, December 28, 2014

Old People at Christmas

There is something quite wonderful about experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a child. But Luke thought it important that we, likewise, experience Christmas through the eyes of old people, too. And so he tells the story of two old people ­– battered, refined, shaped by years of disappointment – who kept showing up and growing up, until one day all they had been promised took the form of an eight day old baby boy.

Simeon was waiting. You don’t get old and useful without, at the same time, getting good at waiting. God had given him a promise – and then, he had to live with it. The nature of faith is the nature of knowing more than you can see. Simeon, trained by years of doing the right thing, shaped by decades of devotion, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, was someone God thought trustworthy enough to carry the promise. I imagine that there were some difficult days when devotion was all that kept him going. But, when Mary and Joseph did bring Jesus to Temple, Simeon was on task – trained to faithfulness through disappointment.  How else could it have been?

He wasn’t just waiting around – he was waiting with expectancy, with an undefined openness to what God might be up to, leaving the timing of things in God’s hands. Each day closer to death was a day closer to promise kept – so Simeon kept living every day, showing up in his own life, not letting disappointment sideline him in bitterness. So, when the time came – he was ready. Old people keep hope alive through difficult days – reminding of the character of the Promiser, living in the reality of the not yet.

But old people are nothing if not realists – especially when the lights of Christmas can overwhelm with fantasy. He made it clear to Mary that this boy was going to break her heart. That many in Israel, rather than welcoming Him, would reject Him. There is bad news in the good news – old people tell it like it is. Maybe she could hear it from Simeon because in his eyes she saw something of the pain that waiting had shaped in him.

Just then, Anna hobbles onto the scene – and immediately starts laughing and dancing like the little girl faith had shaped in her heart. A conservative calculation puts her waiting at right around sixty years. Sixty!! Sixty years formed by worship, fasting, and prayer enabled her usefulness in her eighty-fourth year! If we could have asked her, I think she might have said that she had nothing better to do. Really. Then the school girl’s worship gives way to the grandma’s authoritative witness to anyone who would listen – “this is the One!!”

Anna and Simeon didn’t get old and useful overnight. They didn’t get old and useful by accident. They didn’t get old and useful by simply passing the years. They grew into people whom God could trust with His great story by showing up every day in their own lives, by being devoted in worship, prayer, fasting, generosity of heart – by being filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is the gift of old people at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Seeing the deep bleak darkness
     of our chosen night
     destructive power driven
          by fear
     each terrified thrashing
          tightening the shackles
          of despair

     and so
          almost from the beginning

Until now
     we are
     tangled in self-destruction
     fallen short
          of the glory
               of the wonder
                    of us.

          would be relief.

Whatever would be
     enough to cut the
     cords which
     bind us?

Whatever would be
     enough to drive out
     the fear which
     drives us?

Whatever would be…

 “In the fullness of time
     God sent forth His

     is love born

What might God know
     about love
     that I have
     yet to learn?

Sunday, December 21, 2014


His story can easily get missed in the wonder of angel’s song and silent nights, but it is a story worth telling. He shows up, almost exclusively, in parts of the first two chapters of Matthew – who characteristically suggests more than he states. The first hint of the unusual comes when, at the end of the genealogy leading to Jesus, Matthew breaks form and lists Joseph as, “the husband of Mary.” In the patriarchal culture of first century Palestine, it is worth noting. He will forever be identified as connected to Mary – a connection which, as the story proceeds, he appears comfortable with. He has nothing to prove. Perhaps God can only trust those with nothing to prove.

He is, we are told, a righteous man – a man marked over time by right actions. He can be counted on to do the right thing without thinking about it. So it is not surprising when he hears that his promised bride is expecting a baby by the Holy Spirit, that he seeks to remove himself from a situation for which he feels less than qualified – and to do so in a way that would not shame Mary. It is possible that he is setting her aside because he didn’t believe her story – but it seems at least as likely that he is setting himself aside because he did. It is the angel who clarifies our understanding of Joseph’s heart – he is afraid. Not angry. Not disappointed. Not heartbroken. Afraid.

That fear – that awe – is the appropriate foundation for the first explicit reference in the New Testament to what is really going on in the birth of Jesus – so named because Joseph named him with the revelatory understanding that He, Jesus, would save his people from their sins! From their sins!  This was not on anyone’s radar screen. They were looking for a deliverer – a savior – but from Roman oppression! Joseph’s awe-filled righteousness enabled him to be the first man God trusted with the news of a salvation going deeper than political deliverance.

In what becomes a statement characteristic of Joseph, he “did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” Three times this is said of him. This obedience both arises from and helps frame his righteousness. His obedience leads him to set aside whatever agenda or plan he might have had for his life – everything else took a distant second to the care for his wife and the baby. He, a nobody from the backwoods of northern Israel, ended up in Egypt – because he was obedient – and returned for the same reason.

What kind of man is it whom God can trust?  A righteous man. A man who lives in awe of God. A self-controlled man. An obedient man. A selfless man. A courageous man. A faith-full man. A man like Joseph.

Perhaps it was from watching Joseph in his loving care for Mary that Jesus learned how to treat His Bride.