"For unto us a child is born" from Isaiah 9:6 and "A little child shall lead them" from Isaiah 11:6--in first Isaiah but as an expectation of the first Christmas. How it is that the Old Testament reaches into the New Testament with the messianic hope. One wonders were these the thoughts that swirled in the mind of Simeon, our aged devout one after the first Christmas? It seems that the first Christmas was not as eventful as its commercialized version has now come to be. The words, "Behold I am doing a new thing can you not perceive it," also from Isaiah 43:19, suggest that what God reveals is not always apparent or readily seen by all eyes. This Christmas was to be a very special Christmas, as Luke shared.
Luke invites us to see what happens when certain eyes see the Lord's gift--not certain as in exclusive--for your eyes only, but certain as in expectant--for knowing eyes only. Prior to this first Christmas Luke shares in the earlier pericope the experience of the shepherds who watched their flocks by night. They too were moved to seek God's new thing--led by a star. Simeon and Anna's encounters, as Luke shares, were the result of certain eyes--eyes that are expectant of what the Lord will do. As the child Jesus was brought for purification rites to the temple, according to the law, Mary and Joseph would hear words birthed by certain eyes that had finally seen what for them was worth the wait. Perhaps this underscored their already shaky understanding of what this meant for them. They had brought into this world God's greatest gift--the Messiah.
This reminds me of what happens at the Hampton Ministers Conference that's been going on since 1914. There is an expectation in that room of clergy of 4,000 - 6,000 people who spend time with the Word of God, who spend time in prayer with God, who spend time knowing God. And at the reading of the text for today, one can hear the sounds of certain souls and certain eyes and certain ears that have heard the affirming Word of God. Mary and Joseph would hear the same from Simeon. The devout and affirming word from Simeon would hold and speak of affirmation of this long-awaited consolation of Israel--Jesus the Messiah. These certain eyes could see what was expected as expected. These certain eyes of Simeon were steeped in the knowledge of the Word of God and the ways of God and the will of God. They were certain eyes. Certain eyes of a pure man in heart that would see God's new doing. Mary and Joseph could see and hear that certain praise that came from those certain eyes about the identity and divinity of their child. Why? Well, Simeon was, as some writers suggest, guided by the Holy Spirit. The text tells us that the Holy Spirit rested on him. He knew the history of Israel; he knew Hebrew scripture. Because of his unwavering faith and knowledge of the Word of God, his eyes were certain of God's doing. It was a sight for certain eyes.
Perhaps for Simeon it was the best time of his life. This was a special time for him. God had revealed to him what he was waiting for. Not unlike most of that world then and ours now, only certainly eyes see Christ during and after Christmas. Have we come to echo the words of Hank Ketchum's perennial one-frame illustration of Dennis the Menace on Christmas Day, where Dennis seated in a pile of opened gifts asks, "Is this all?" Is this all Christmas is--opened gifts for which the children play with the toys on Christmas Day and the boxes in which they come the day after Christmas? No, Simeon helps us to know that this is not all. This moment is what Simeon had waited for, prayed for, and looked for guided by the Holy Spirit. For Simeon this was all he needed. According to him, he could die now. Imagine hearing those certain words of Simeon, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation..." Certain words cued up by certain eyes--certain eyes that had finally seen what God had sent--not unlike the Magi who had seen the baby Jesus and gone home another way. Certain eyes that suggest that God is still speaking, God is still with us, God is still responding to human needs and human cries and the groans of this world. For Simeon, those eyes on that boy Jesus were consolation for Israel, while for Anna Jesus was the redemption of Israel, a sight for consolation for centuries of captivity, exile, and silent tears.
But not all are gifted with certain eyes. Not all are excited about the sight for certain eyes. The Rev. Dr. Raquel St. Clair of the St. James AME Church of Newark, New Jersey, in a message entitled "Wet Feet" suggests that for some "experiences have clouded expectations." History can indeed cloud our expectations, that not much can happen after this, that we cannot see anymore than this. It is not easy for those whose history has been marked with pain to discern healing; it is not easy for those whose history has been one lived in alienation to even imagine participation. It is not easy for one who has only known sadness to realize joy; it is not easy for those used to playing on an unlevel playing field of what it means to be existentially challenged to realize what it means to be free. Certainly, Israel had known captivity, exile, and the herald of prophets that they summarily ignored.
Presently, our times are in need of consolation and redemption. We too are jaded by these uncertain times, times marked by an uncertain economy, times marked by an uncertain mortgage industry, times marked by high gas prices, times marked by foreclosures, times marked by a chronic war in Iraq. How can you know peace when there seems to be no peace? How can one see with certain eyes in such uncertainty?
Several years ago on a series called 30 Minutes, CBS aired a school that had known five losing seasons of their football team. Well, it was this sixth season that they won their first game, and there was everything but celebration going on and when interviewed by a reporter who said, "Well, aren't you glad, aren't you happy by what has happened?" They said, "Well, how are we supposed to feel?" Such would be the words of those who are unaccustomed to celebration, who have only known uncertainty, such that they are certain of uncertainty.
The passage is not that we look through a glass dimly but that light can become rare when we have only known darkness. Yet we see that sight is possible for certain eyes. Certain eyes have what Jaco Hamman in his book Becoming a Pastor calls the capacity to believe God's yes in the midst of the world's no.
But is this all? What shall we say of this messianic moment? What does this text offer to teach us today? After all of the celebration of Christmas as we have come to know it, is this a reminder of how Christmas should be known? Have we lost the desire to believe and look for that which we believe? Well, certain eyes have a clarity of God's vision. Certain eyes know what God is doing in the midst of what the world is doing. Secondly, certain eyes have a certainty of God's promise. Certain eyes know that whatever God has promised God will deliver. It takes faith to know a blessing when you see a blessing from God. It is a joy of celebrating God's goodness in the midst of life's grittiness. It is incredible that Simeon and Anna's respective histories did not hinder their faith in the things of God--they continued to look for God's promise. In other words, our problems of the past can prohibit our seeing possibility in the present, but not for Simeon and Anna. This text tells us that seeing is possible in the midst of darkness. Disappoint-ments can be disappointing, but discoveries can cause us to see afresh that God is still speaking. Past wounds can blur the lenses through which we look. Yet Luke is deliberate in mentioning to us that Simeon's and Anna's devout faith, guidance by the Holy Spirit, allow us a bit of seasoning for this season.
The boy Jesus was a powerful and expected sight for certain eyes born of devout and unwavering faith. It has been said that Harriet Tubman was known to wait in train stations without the aid of train schedules or knowing when the train was coming. When asked why she would do that, she simply said because she knew the train was coming. In an age where people want to know, in an age of GPS, in an age of PDA's and all information load, this may sound strange, but what does it mean to wait without a schedule but to be certain that the train is coming? Could it be that Tubman knew that the station was the place to be when waiting for coming trains? Might it have been that Tubman recognized that the tracks had already been laid outside the station for traveling beyond where her stationed eyes could see?
Likewise, Simeon and Anna were stationed in the very place, the temple, where certain eyes were able to see and recognize the boy Jesus for who he was and is--the Messiah! We know that not all would or could not see Jesus as the Messiah. Experience had clouded their expectation, but this text calls us to expect to experience and to express what the Lord has shown us in the midst of all else. The world would not recognize him as the Messiah, certainly not a man on a donkey from an off-the-beaten-path like Nazareth. What a word!!! What a sight to see consolation and redemption in a baby that was yet gurgling. How it must have been for Joseph and Mary to see and hear what they heard! The text says that they were amazed!
How about you? Do you hear what they heard? Do you see what they saw? History records that Handel was so impacted by what they saw in the Word that he penned the Messiah and The Hallelujah Chorus. The seasonal spiritual "Sweet Little Jesus Boy"-- "...and they didn't know who you was...." But Simeon and Anna knew. They give us an aftertaste of affirmation. They answer Dennis' question, "Is this all?" Of all of the things that promise to be all, Jesus is all of God's Word made flesh among us. All we will ever need of God's eternal and steadfast love.
Thank you, God, for giving us your All. Your All that the world would later see. We would learn later that a leper would see All in Jesus coming and saying, "You can heal me if you choose to." A Syro-Phoenician woman would not leave the table without having some of this All. Nicodemus would sneak in for a night class for this All. A bleeding woman would crawl to touch the hem of this All. Crowds would be fed by this All. Peter would walk on water towards this All. A dying thief would realize it and be welcomed to paradise by this All. Water would turn to wine by this All. Millions of men and women would accept calls to the ministry by this All, and slaves would sing, "Nobody knows the trouble I see," but this All. Teresa of Calcutta would be known as a saint of the gutter because of this All. And when evil thought that it had done all that it could do by putting this All away, All would get up again and say, "All power is in my hand." Saying, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men and women unto me."
Thank you, God, for giving us your All, the Word made flesh in your Son Jesus. Lord, grant that we might have certain eyes in the midst of our present uncertainty. We thank you. We bless your name and we praise you for the giving gift of Jesus. Amen.