I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready to leave behind the myth, mysticism, and miracle that Christmas is. I want to linger a bit longer under the Star and listen more closely to the whispers in Bethlehem’s streets and back alleys. I want to hold onto the innocence of a babe lying in a manger. But the time for lingering has passed already. The Star may continue to shine, but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are on the move.
Embedded somewhere in each of the texts this week is a call to praise. After all the waiting, preparation, anticipation, and activity of Advent and Christmas, I feel like I’ve arrived at the manger a bit breathless, just in time to see the backside of the donkey as Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple. I’m looking around at the remnants of holy birth, and wonder who’s going to hear my praises as the world moves on.
Isaiah’s enthusiasm persists. The prophet is still proclaiming the day when the people of God will sparkle and shine in the hands of God. The day will surely come when righteousness and praise rise up. Surely, this new thing God has done, is doing, and will do again is enough to draw praise from our mouths. And yet… How do we echo Isaiah’s words when politics are what they are and a new year is on the horizon? How do we continue to speak words of hope and praise when so many have already forgotten the babe in the manger? Maybe we can’t move on until we remember for more than a day…
The psalmist may provide an answer, or at least some support for those of searching for a way to keep praising. Psalm 148 is a beautiful hymn of praise. It very simply reminds us that God created the world and all that is and remains faithful. Just because human beings tend to forget God’s power and steadfast love for us, does not mean that God is anything other than the Sovereign over all that is? Is just the fact of God’s presence enough to move us to praise when it seems so few are paying attention?
Well, if we were paying attention and we managed to arrive at the manger, then Paul’s words to the Galatians should lift our hearts, too. Not only is God still present in the world, but that great act of Love made known in Jesus, claims us still. Whether life is easy or difficult, whether politics lean toward liberation or oppression, whether we are broken or whole (or somewhere in between) does not change the fact that we are children of God, heirs of the Promise. The Spirit might just be moving. Feel like praising yet?
Maybe Simeon and Anna can help. Luke tells the story of the infant Jesus’ presentation in the temple. Mary and Joseph did what was required of them; they presented him to God. And in this common ritual Simeon experiences the unexpected. Simeon sees salvation in the child, salvation for Jews and Gentiles. Simeon’s song has been sung for generations. Will we feel that same peace when we leave worship, trusting that the Promise has been fulfilled? Doesn’t it make you wonder what old Anna had to say? According to Luke she spoke to anyone who would listen about the amazing child she saw being presented at the temple. Perhaps imagining what she might have seen in the baby Jesus will move us to sing God’s praises to anyone who will listen.
For the world, Christmas is over. For the church, Christmas continues. We do get to linger a little longer in the candle light and sing the carols of the season. Perhaps there will be time enough now that the major festivities are over, we can take a quiet moment to observe the miraculous inbreaking of Love that continues to transform us. Perhaps in the quiet moments, we can rest in God’s presence and know that Love has not let go of the world. Perhaps we can find a way to sing our praises wherever, however, and whoever we are. Maybe we don’t have to move just yet…
Perhaps you are hearing something different in these texts. Please share your ideas and the pull of the Spirit that we may accompany one another along the way.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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