Text: Luke 2: 22-40
We keep coming around to yet another year. But notice we don’t celebrate ‘Happy Another Year’ … it’s a New year, we call it … even though, God-willing, tomorrow will dawn, and continuity will be more striking than the newness -- for some of us that is. And equally for some of us, this year will begin in ways that are a far cry from where we were this time last year, or even last week. It’s not the turning of calendar page that brings the newness, but life! -- the beauty and the trouble, both … and much of it quite beyond our control.
And so we might raise a glass tonight and wish each other all the best … and life will happen nonetheless. AND amidst everything that befalls us, there is this thing called our own human agency -- our God-given capacity to be in life with some measure of freedom to live into these days in ways that enable us to be receptive and responsive to Grace … that mysterious strength that God lends us for the sake of life, the goodness of life. In other words, it’s not just a crapshoot that this year could hold life-giving newness for ourselves or that we could be part of that newness in others.
Perhaps today is a day to simply behold the promise of something new … not to forecast what it will be, but to open our hearts and our arms to the mere news of it.
Over the last few days I’ve been sitting with the story we have this morning from Luke’s gospel, wondering what is the Spirit’s invitation to us as we hear this story in particular as we stand at the threshold of a new year? And then I recalled this picture that you have of Rembrandt’s rendition of the story.
In shades of brown and soft yellow there are the four adult figures. Mary and Joseph are kneeling. We’re positioned behind Joseph, so we don’t see his face like we do Mary’s. She’s looking at the child, who is gathered up in Simeon arms -- Simeon who is down on one knee close by in front of her, speaking tenderly to her … of important things … his face intent on hers, one hand in motion as he speaks; the other arm and large hand cradling the baby on his thigh and against his side. Even though her eyes are on the child, you get the sense Mary’s listening intently to what Simeon is saying to her.
Her eyes invite you to wonder what all she’s seeing in this little being before her, given what she’s hearing.
The baby is in full light … the same light that envelops Simeon … the same light that illuminates the great temple pillar and wall that form the backdrop … as though the light is streaming in through an opening we can’t see.
Standing behind Mary and Simeon, facing us, facing Joseph, is Anna … her hands raised as though presiding over the whole scene.
Sitting with this picture, coming into this New year, here’s what has come to me …
I can’t help but be drawn to notice the baby in the very center, in full light … this new life … this gift of God brought into focus. And even though it’s Mary’s baby, here he is in the arms of an old man. I can’t help but notice there’s new life in the arms of an old person.
As for Mary, there’s this opportunity to see and appreciate the child out there, apart from her. Not only to see him, but to hear about him. This is not just any old man who is holding her child, but a man of Spirit who recognizes the promise of this child and his God-giveness. Not only does she hear about him, but she takes what this Wise One is saying into her heart. And yet even with all of that, this new life that is held out before her is full of mystery … the shape of his life, his growing, his becoming -- it all lies ahead … it has yet to unfold. And the shape of her life with him, because of him … it too has yet to unfold. To say nothing of the life of the world.
The old man speaks to her both of the blessing and the cost that this new life will bring to her. And then, before giving the child back into her arms, the old man blesses her. Maybe that’s what we’re seeing in Anna too … a gesture of blessing … blessing the baby, blessing the parents, blessing their lives and all their days ahead.
So maybe this is the Spirit’s invitation to us today … to come, as Mary and Joseph came, into this sacred space this morning, bearing with us whatever is the new life that God is bringing forth in us … whatever is the God-given longing stirring in us … whatever may be the call, a dream perhaps, that has been quietly forming in each of us.
We might not know exactly what it is that God is already shaping in us that is for us to release into the world this year … so much has yet to unfold. Or, it may be something that we have carried for some time … a hope, a dream, an inspiration … and now is the time --this year-- to tend it … to stop doubting it or holding back, but to act on it,
to let it come!
Whatever it is, we begin today by bringing it, this piece of our life that has yet to come into it’s own -- whatever we know of it or have glimpsed of it. What might that be for you?
Imagine yourself entrusting it into the arms of a wise one who sees more clearly, more deeply into what we bring than we do ourselves … and you allow yourself to see it for a moment, before you, apart from you … to see it is for real.
Imagine taking to heart the affirmation we hear about it … God-given, filled with promise. Imagine taking into your heart what you hear. As you listen, there may also be intimations about the blessing and the cost.
And then imagine, before taking this new life, this stirring, this call … before taking it back to yourself, imagine receiving a blessing … let it spill over you and seep into you, into your body, into your mind, into your spirit. Imagine yourself blessed -- strengthened, accompanied -- as you carry this God-given thing forward … as it blossoms forth in and through you.
While it’s not there in Rembrandt’s painting, Luke describes the next move … … Mary and Joseph returned to Galilee, with Jesus, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.”
So taking this new life home with them, it was for them to raise him, to care for him, to protect him and to nurture him. It was for them to give him room to grow; support him in his becoming.
And so it is for us … to go on our way, taking with us the stirring, the dream, whatever is the new life that God bringing forth in us. We may need to learn its name … to let something of it’s mystery be revealed to us.
It is for us to care for it, to protect and nurture it … to give it our attention and our energy. It is for us to give it room to grow … to do everything in our power
to help it blossom forth in all it’s God-given fullness.
May the favour of God be upon each and all of us.
Happy NEW year!