December 22nd, 2013

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Mary’s long commitment

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Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
After the long journey to Bethlehem, after the delivery of the baby in a place meant to house animals, after the shepherds had come and gone and Jesus was circumcised, Mary and Joseph with Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple.  It was required by the law of Moses to bring a newborn child to the priest for purification. Mary and Joseph, poor and unknown as they were, expected no special attention at the temple.  They may have been surprised therefore by Simeon, an old man, known to be full of the Holy Spirit, who approached them to bless Jesus.
‘…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
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(Rembrandt, Simeon with the Christ Child)

Simeon’s blessing is confirming and affirming. Simeon’s quest is ended and he is at peace. This trio hunched close in over Jesus, surrounded by the bustling activity of the Temple court look surprisingly ordinary, just an old man blessing his grandson or some such thing. But as Mary receives the baby back into her arms and they turn to leave, Simeon pulls her aside.

Was it kindness that moved Simeon to try to open her eyes a little wider to the reality that was raising the Messiah?  Was it compassion that guided him as he looked on her smooth youthful face knowing that it would come to be lined with grief and sorrow?  His words shift from the tone of rejoicing that mark his blessing, to something like giving fatherly advice,‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, (and a sword will pierce your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.’   Overall, it’s a complicated blessing.

It brings to mind something that happened to us as we returned home from Asia.  We had just packed up our lives after receiving Caleb’s diagnosis of Autism to try to figure out how to manage this unexpected reality.  En route home we were invited into the home of a family we had never met, living in Malaysia.  They had an adult son with Autism and had heard of our son’s diagnosis.  When I think of Simeon, my thoughts stray to this couple.  I imagine Simeon with their eyes.  Eyes that conveyed so much more than the words they spoke.  Eyes kind and compassionate, but unflinchingly honest., filled with hope and strength, but also the truth of reality. It was a complicated blessing.

This is where I am as I ponder Mary this year.  How did she receive Simeon’s unexpected blessing?  She had already declared ‘let it be to me according to your word’ to the angel.  Did that commitment steady her even when her imagination scattered a hundred horrific outcomes for her thoughts to chase?  Was she tempted to pull away, to protect herself from the sorrow that was coming?  Perhaps, we don’t know for sure.  What we do know is that Mary twelve years later was still pondering things she didn’t understand in her heart.  And thirty three years later she was at the foot of the cross where Jesus was crucified.  Could this be the reason why Mary is so inspiring?

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(Nicolas Tournier, Descent from the Cross)

I realize now that the gift given to us by the family in Malaysia wasn’t what they did or did not say, but it was the testimony of their long commitment.  Simeon’s words are also embedded in the mosaic of a faithful life which said, ‘I have lived my whole life believing a promise which I have seen come to pass; it was entirely satisfying.’  Mary lived her life in the same way, not always with understanding, but with the faithfulness to the long commitment.

Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen

This youtube link is a visual representation of Bach’s ‘little’ fugue in G minor.  It helps illustrate the complex reality of a life lived in faithfulness.