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"Seeing Salvation"

Maddi Baugous, Pastoral Intern

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Psalm 148

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all the angels; praise God, all God’s host!
Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for God commanded and they were created.
God established them forever and ever; God fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling God’s command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
God has raised up a horn for God’s people, praise for all God’s faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:25-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “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.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped 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 Jerusalem.

MESSAGE – “Seeing Salvation”

Prayer Gracious and loving God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing to you O God. Amen.

Today, we journey forward in Luke’s retelling of the Christmas story, after the shepherds have visited and Mary and Joseph slept with the cattle and livestock in a stable.  They are making their way to start their new life as a family. They have a brand-new baby, and are most likely tired, worn down and just overall exhausted. However, during this time, after a woman gives birth, she must go to the temple to make a sacrifice. This was a common purification practice. As well, Mary and Joseph would offer a sacrifice to God to give thanks for the first-born son.  This practice was started as a way to remember the Passover in which God saved the sons of the Hebrew people, not killing them. This was simply the tradition of the time. And so, Mary and Joseph go to the temple to perform the purification ritual and to make the sacrifice to God.

As they perform their customary rituals, they are suddenly stopped by a man who was guided there by the Spirit: Simeon. And what Simeon does is far from expected. Imagine for a moment. You’ve just had a baby. You’re tired, you’re trying to get through this as fast as you can to continue your day. They might just be running through the motions to get out of there. Then out of nowhere a man grabs your baby and lifts him up saying, “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 you people Israel.”

Someone grabs your baby, literally takes him out of your arms, and is praising this child. They are new parents, they have so many other things to think about, but here they are. There is a man who is telling them just how wonderful their son will be. Affirming to them, yes this truly is the Messiah.

My initial reaction would be first “Please give me my baby back!” And I might cause a scene in the temple. But then I would also turn to confusion for a bit. “How could this man know our baby is the Messiah?” “How could Simeon, see this child and know he would bring salvation and grace?” Or simply, “whaaaaaaat?”

Mary and Joseph were both visited by angels and were told all the amazing acts Jesus would do in his life.  But I think more than anything seeing Simeon’s awe, seeing just how truly he believed in this, it affirmed to them how special their Son Jesus truly was. For Mary and Joseph were both visited by angels and were told their son would do amazing things. They know he is destined to be the Messiah. Yet, here is this stranger who is telling them the same thing. Who is simply looking at the child and says “Yes, this is the Messiah.” This is the one who will bring good news to all people. For he was so amazed. And after Simeon, is in awe of the child, basically saying he can die at peace because he has seen the Messiah: Anna a prophetess and widow enters and affirms the same thing. While her song is not recorded like Simeons, I imagine it too is full of praises, wonder and awe. For both Simeon and Anna, in this baby they are witnessing what salvation looks like. They are seeing their salvation, their saving grace in this child.

And remember, Jesus hasn’t done any miracles yet. He hasn’t walked on water or healed the sick. He hasn’t raised someone from the dead, or even raised himself up. The most he’s probably done at this point is pooped, cried, and eaten some food. Yet both Anna and Simeon are full of amazement and allow themselves to be overtaken by the sense of wonder and awe. They see there is saving power in this child who is bundled up. Who just before was in a feeding trough for animals. They know this child will bring about salvation: removing harm, saving all from the loss and pain. They know he is the true God.

 I think for many of us, this Christmas season felt different. No, I know it felt different. Not gathering all together in the sanctuary to sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve was hard. For myself not going to a Christmas market and drinking mulled wine, while looking at all the gift ideas. Not going to my aunt and uncle’s on Christmas day and playing cards with all our family. It was strange, and I’ll admit the “Christmas magic” was not how I was feeling this year. And so, while this year was strange, I was remembering my past Christmas holding onto some of the wonder.

Last Christmas I was serving at a small church located in the middle of Chicago. This church was located right off the L, as all who live in Chicago call it, or just the subway. For me it was convenient because I could take the train into work from Evanston.  One of the big ministries of our church was our feeding ministry. Every Tuesday we would host a meal for the homeless population. It was known as Dignity Diner. Our sanctuary had no pews, only chairs which we would stack, so on Tuesday evenings we’d move out all the chairs, roll in big round tables and set them up. Then as our guests would arrive, they would take a seat, many of them always sitting at the same table with their friends. And volunteers would bring out a meal, starting with a salad, then the main course, followed by dessert.

Since last Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday, rather than cancel this tradition we had a luncheon in which ham and potatoes and all the fixings were on the menu. I came down to help because I was tasked with passing out all the gift cards we had received. We’d gotten Dunkin, McDonalds, and Target gift cards donated and we were to share them with all our guests. There must have been over 70 people packed into this sanctuary to receive these gifts. It was wild. I was running around making sure everyone had food, and gift cards. I imagine for anyone who has worked in the service industry it was like that, times 10. As I was frantically running around trying to get everything, there was a guest who lost his Ventra card, which is his unlimited bus and L pass. It was the way for him to get around. We’d found it; however, he’d already left, and we couldn’t get it back to him. I felt so bad because I knew how important these passes were. I knew. I put the card in our office and hoped I’d see him again soon; however, I didn’t know when it would get returned. And so, I left it. The meal continued, and we fed everyone. Afterwards we then cleaned up all the food and made the sanctuary ready for Christmas Eve festivities.

I came back for Christmas Eve service, ready to now engage in celebration. I’ll admit, I could not tell you what was preached, or how I participated in the service. Or what was read. All I remember was communion. We shared communion and as I got up to serve, I saw the man who’d lost his bus pass, he was sitting in our sanctuary enjoying the Christmas Eve service singing along to the hymns. I saw him, and immediately after the service I ran back to the office and got his pass. I just knew I needed to get it back to him. What amazed me though, was his response to me. He started crying and he pulled me in for a hug and kept wishing me a Merry Christmas and was so thankful. I told him, it was no big deal, it was just a transit pass. But the look on his face showed that it was so much more. This pass was his saving grace. It was his salvation. He was in awe of it. For him, this allowed for him to get around town, but also if he needed a warm place, he could ride the train for a few hours. It could take him to a friend’s house. This pass was salvation.

Much like Simeon and Anna, he saw awe and wonder in the small things. There was amazement in a newborn child. There was amazement in a bus pass. Even though this year has been challenging and full of loss, there have also been so many signs of hope and excitement. In the past few weeks, seeing nurses and doctors getting COVID-19 vaccines, knowing there were people who’ve worked for the last 9 months to create a cure. It is awe inspiring. Witnessing the first woman of color being elected as vice president, is a big victory and for myself gives hope for more women in leadership to be taken seriously. From even the small moments of awe, of connecting with old friends or the generosity shown throughout this year, it is something to truly be thankful for. I know even on this Christmas Eve; in the frigid cold I was grateful for all who came out to the church and received communion. No, we didn’t dip any bread in the cup, but all were still welcomed at the table to receive the reminder of love and grace. And to hear the bells playing in the background, as families laughed with one another was awe inspiring. And for those who may not have been able to come out, simply seeing the comments and creative ways people chose to watch the service. From families each with individual candles lit from their couches to the comments of singing along to the familiar Christmas hymns. It was inspiring.

There have been studies done on the effects of feeling in awe and they found when we feel this, we are more likely to be generous and help other people. So clearly there is something to this feeling of awe. It makes us more generous and loving, and so as Christmas approaches faster than we might have wanted, are we allowing ourselves to truly feel overwhelmed by greatness? Are we allowing for our hearts to be filled with such great love? Are we allowing ourselves to pause in the busyness and just allow for ourselves to be amazed by the world? To be amazed by someone we love and to give someone a chance, whom we might have turned away on another day? To be able to see the vastness and wonderfulness of God? Are we ready to be amazed?

May we know this baby came to bring good news to the poor, the oppressed, to tear down the old ways of the world, to bring about something new. To claim all people are welcomed in the family of God. To show there is hope in something new.

And so, even in these times, even when we are physically separated, even with dividing opinions, how are we seeing everyone with eyes like Simeon, saying “You are going to do amazing things.” And so, the question for you my friends, as we start the new year, as we continue searching for answers to the larger pandemic: where do you see salvation? Where do you find your saving grace? And where is the awe and amazement? Maybe to look to your neighbors. Maybe to look at your friends. Maybe it comes in the kindness and generosity of others. Maybe it comes in the form of a bus pass. But know this saving grace is one which comes from the love of God which was so great, God sent Jesus to be our example and guide. To be a baby born in a manger, who would inspire all, and who would bring about good news to the world. May you find awe this day and every day. Amen.