Everyone has at least one “interesting” member of the family; someone in the family tree that is a truly odd bird: An eccentric, a curmudgeon, a square peg in a family of round holes. Someone who is just a little crazy.
In my family, that person was Aunt Mary Jane. In the days before seatbelts, Aunt Jage, as my cousins and I called her, would take us for rides on “whee roads.” She’d gun the car and we would lift over hills, our stomachs rising, us all laughing, crying “whee!” Looking back, that probably wasn’t the safest way to entertain small children.
Jage was a true eccentric. Her wild creativity peaked at Christmas. When you opened a gift from Aunt Jage, you were in for a surprise – because Aunt Jage made all her gifts.
One year all the men got crocheted neck ties. If you tried tying one, the knot would’ve been the size of a softball. When Dad received his tie, he paused and said, “Jage! You shouldn’t have.”
We all felt that way about Jage’s gifts: “You shouldn’t have.” From bathrobes made out of curtain fabric to stocking caps that were bowling ball-size: inevitably, the words that came to mind were: “You shouldn’t have.”
If I’d been Simeon, that old man in the Temple, that would’ve been my response to God.
God had told Simeon that he wouldn’t pass away until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon probably expected a warrior-king to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel’s political power. Maybe Simeon thought God would show him a soldier-savior with a legion of warriors at his back. I would’ve thought that a glimpse of the Messiah would be glory beaming down from heaven. Heaven come to earth. Earth transformed into God’s vision for us all.
If I’d been Simeon and God told me to get to the Temple to see salvation, I would’ve expected all this. But all I would’ve seen was what Simeon saw: A baby. A baby? And not even a royal baby! Not a child from Jerusalem’s elite. Just a snotty-nosed, smelly, Galilean baby from a hick family who could only afford the cheapest offering you could make – a couple of lousy, old pigeons. Seeing the baby Jesus, I think my response would’ve been: “Thanks, Lord. You shouldn’t have.”
I would’ve missed the gift, but faithful Simeon didn’t. Remembering Scripture, Simeon knew from Isaiah that God’s ways are not our ways; that a shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse; that Isaiah said: “God is about to do a new thing. It springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” By grace, Simeon did perceive it. He perceived it and he received it.
Taking baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon prayed: “O Lord, thank you. Now I can bow out because I can bow down before my Savior.”
I’ve heard people say, “It’d be great to live in Jesus’ day. I’d see the miracles; hear the word; and truly believe.”
But that opportunity is here today. Not to go back in time, but to simply be in this time God has given us with Jesus, who is here today. What if the odd, hard situation you’re in now is really the means and moment through which God’s salvation is coming? What if your darkness is the very thing through which God’s light will come?
God doesn’t cause bad things in order to bless us. But God does work to bring goodness out of difficulty; to take away our death and give us life. Jesus is the improbable miracle that saves; that changes the world by changing us by giving us the victory over the world so that love prevails.
Knowing that, I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Because all things work together for good for them that love the Lord and seek to do his will.
Those promises are true – because Christ lives. He was born, lived, ministered, died, and was raised to make us all a new creation. Christ assumed our human condition. Jesus became one with us so that we may be one with God. You shouldn’t have, God. You shouldn’t have suffered and died for me. You shouldn’t have. But you did. Because you love us all.
That saving truth is ours to live today. Be open to the unexpected ways God comes to save. Participate in those saving ways by sharing them with others: Forgive, bless, pray, share, and love. As you embrace Jesus by making his life your own, hard times will come – as they do to us all – but your days will be with Christ. You will go with him toward God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace. That is the gift, incarnate in Jesus, who comes; who is here, to establish that kingdom and save us all.