Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Ordinary Baby

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

By Colleen O’Sullivan

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:22-35)

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice! (Psalm 96:11a)

Two of my close friends just became grandparents for the first time a few weeks ago. The other day I went over to their house for the afternoon to become acquainted with the little fellow. I’d have to say that I haven’t felt that peaceful and contented for a long time. As I held him in my arms, I noticed how sweet he smelled, how soft his skin was, how he opened his eyes and looked at me for a few seconds as if to check and see who it was who had him. He was totally relaxed with a clean, dry diaper, a stomach full of milk and someone to cuddle him. As I gazed upon him, I saw that he has his daddy’s face and his mama’s mouth.

I can picture Mary looking at her little newborn baby, Jesus, examining him in much the same way. She probably counted his fingers and toes, stroked his soft infant hair, checked to see if he had any of her features. Mary probably imagined Jesus growing up helping Joseph with his carpentry work. She also must have recalled the words of the angel Gabriel and been puzzled about how this helpless little baby, who cried when he was hungry or wet or cold, was ever going to fulfill his words, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

She was likely even more perplexed when she and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to be presented in accord with Jewish law. There, they encountered Simeon. In today’s reading, we aren’t given a lot of detail about him, but we are told that he was a devout and faithful man and that because of his righteousness, the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would see the Messiah before he departed this life.

We aren’t told whether he looked at Jesus the way I looked at my friends’ grandchild. We don’t know if he noticed his physical features or thought he was a cute baby. What we are told is that the Holy Spirit gave him a glimpse of the reality beyond all that and that he recognized in this child the Messiah, the long-awaited salvation of Israel. Finally, Simeon can die in peace, knowing that he has seen the promised one. After blessing the little family, Simeon told Mary that “this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” He also told Mary that she would be pierced by a sword.

Although Mary knew from the moment of conception that her son would be no ordinary child, she must have been totally perplexed at these words.

It’s a mystery to us still – how that baby Jesus who came into our world that first Christmas was both as helpless and dependent as any infant in his humanity and, at the same time, God’s Son, wholly divine, our Redeemer and Savior. And, yet, that is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas.

Take a few minutes during this week between Christmas and New Year’s to put yourself in Mary’s place as she stood in the Temple. Picture the setting as she and Joseph presented their son to the Lord. Feel her wonder and amazement at Simeon’s words and maybe that hint of dread when he told her that a sword would pierce her heart. Try to recapture the wonder of God, packaged as a helpless infant, coming to save us.

Correction: In last Wednesday’s Daily Tripod, I referenced a song that my choir sings. In the midst of pre-Christmas madness, I called it “Beloved,” but it is actually “Behold.”