We have been given a great gift, a gift from the heart of God, a gift of God’s love, a gift of God’s light, a gift of God’s very self, walking around with us in our lives. And the question arises: What will we do with this gift?
We have all likely received gifts lately. And it is highly likely that, if not this year then sometime in your life, you have received a present that, while you were smiling broadly and saying, “thank you,” deep inside you were thinking, “What have I ever done to make anyone think I would ever want one of those things?”
My daddy had one sister and she was somewhat eccentric, bless her heart. Aunt Mildred said things everybody thought but kept to themselves because they were too well socialized to say such things out loud, and she did things that people might have done had they not been afraid of looking silly or inappropriate. And, the older I get the more I understand that she was often right.
For example, Aunt Mildred recognized the fact that one can make grievous errors in gift buying. She knew that, inevitably, she would buy someone something they did not want—therefore, she kindly facilitated the returning of unappreciated or unwanted gifts. In every carefully wrapped Christmas present you would find the receipt and a handwritten note telling you where and when she bought it—quite often including the time of day and the name of the salesperson who assisted her. Now, that’s what I call thoughtful!
I have to confess that many times I took a “less than stylish” shirt or pair of slacks back to the Jackson Brother’s Department Store on Main Street in Mount Airy to get my money back so that I could cross the street to the book store and buy some long-desired volumes.
The message in our Gospel lesson for today is a simple one—God has given us a great gift. Mary and Joseph take their baby to the temple to be purified, blessed and dedicated. The old prophet Simeon has been waiting for the promised Messiah for many, many years. There is a distinct possibility that a week-old baby from out in the countryside was not exactly what he had in mind. The picture in his mind could have been a warrior/king in the tradition of King David or a fiery prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah. But it is unlikely he was looking for the insignificant offspring of obscure parents.
And yet, he recognized the gift for what it was and praised God for it:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
Then, the prophet Anna spotted the baby Jesus:
… to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:37-38).
We have been given a great gift, a gift from the heart of God, a gift of God’s love, a gift of God’s light, a gift of God’s very self, walking around with us in our lives. And the question arises: What will we do with this gift? Will we politely smile, and say “thank you,” and then put it aside and think of it no more—unless we find ourselves in a situation where we must remember what we were given and make quick protestations of happiness—like a child at a family reunion who runs into the aunt who gave him those hideous socks for Christmas. “Uh, yes I remember your gift, of course I do, certainly. Uh, uh, uh … socks, lovely orange and purple socks with unicorns on them, of course, thank you, thank you again, so much.”
What will we do with the gift of the Christ? Will we, like Simeon and Anna, put aside our preconceived notions, our personal wants and desires, our individual likes and dislikes long enough to take a good look at what we have been given and recognize it as what we truly need?
Like the Aunt Mildreds of this world, God truly loves us and wants what is best for us. Unlike Aunt Mildred, God makes no mistakes in gift-giving and has no need to include a return policy.
We are invited this day to open our eyes to the wonder of the Christ-child in our midst, joining with Simeon and Anna, Isaiah and all the prophets, the Psalmist and all the poets and singers of all times and all places, lifting our voices in prayer and song, giving abundant and heart-felt thanks and praise to the Lord God Almighty, who has loved us enough to come and be one of us.
Amen and amen.