Each week, we look at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This Sunday, the first after Christmas, we will look at Luke 2:22-40.
The days after Christmas are always kind of depressing. Everything—the music, the anticipation, the wonder—just stops. It is like Christmas is this beautiful songbird and the last week of December is the window into which that bird slams and dies (or the bird is at least brain-damaged and keeps flying into that window over and over again). Like I said, late December can be kind of a bummer.
We do that in church sometimes too. We have all of this buildup to the coming of the newborn king and then we age that baby 30 years overnight. Some will age him right up to the cross as if this is some super dark version of the Tom Hanks movie Big. There is little in-between. We don't linger long enough with that baby. We can't wait to get him up on that cross. It's jarring.
I understand that the meat of the gospels is in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but for years the church has held that Christmas starts on December 25 and goes on for nearly two weeks. I know that we've been inundated with "Christmas" since early November, but that is just a shadow of the true celebration. The real party celebrating the newborn Jesus is just starting. Besides, the Wedding at Cana gives biblical precedent for Christians cranking up the festivies when everyone else typically calls it a day. So let's keep Jesus a baby a little while longer.
The gospel reading for this Sunday bears that out. In this passage, Jesus is not suddenly a grown man. He is a newborn: eight days old. The song of the angels is still ringing in Mary and Joseph's ears. The sight of the shepherds worshipping their newborns looms in their memories. And if those sights and sounds are fading, the proclamations of Simeon and Anna in the temple bring them all rushing back.
The righteous man and the prophet have been waiting for years to see this child. The anticipation that we practice during Advent finally comes to fruition for these two. We see that God is faithful even when salvation seems to take a forever and a day. The two tell Mary and Joseph about the great works that this child will perform: he will be salvation, a light to those around the world, he will be redemption. Yet Anna and Simeon will never live to see the fulfillment of these prophecies. By the time Jesus begins to minister in Galilee, they will be long gone: memories of the past. Yet it is enough for these two lovers of God to see the dawn. They are content to just be with the baby Jesus.
Perhaps that's why the church doesn't let us rush Jesus into adulthood after Christmas. We get more of a sense that God's story is being told over time. Jesus was sent here as a baby. He grew up naturally. He was a baby, then a child, then an adolescent, and then a man. God entered into our world and, to a degree, submitted to the time that binds us. So often we want to bend time to our whims. We want to rush to the future or go back to the wonderful memories of the past. We cannot do that. Time moves just how time moves. Thus we have to be patient. Simeon and Anna waited and only saw part of the story. The same is true for us.
God's goodness is coming. In the baby Jesus we see that goodness is already here. Yet that goodness is still coming. It's funny and awe-inspiring that the infinite God works within the confines of these creatures that God loves. God waits. We wait. Luke 2:40 concludes this passage with, "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." God incarnate grew, became strong, and was filled with wisdom. We do the same. We cannot rush to the end. We are here in the now and cannot make the hands of time sprint to the end.
So let us linger with Simeon, Anna, and the newborn Jesus. Let us not rush past Christmas. Let us meditate and reflect on what it means that God would become one of us. Let us rejoice that love has come down to the earth. Let us marvel at what great things God is going to do. And while we are still in this season of Christmas, let that be enough.