Monroe Congregational Church, UCC
December 30, 2001 Rev Maria Hoaglund

It was the day after Christmas and Gary felt sad. There was no more excitement in the air. All of the presents had been opened, Grandma and Grandpa had gone home, the batteries had just been played out on his new racing set, one of the pedals on his Big Wheel got bent when his sister tried to ride it down the basement stairs, the sweater his aunt Nancy sent him from Montana was too small, and there wasn't enough snow on the hill to try out his new sled. But worst of all, next Christmas was a WHOLE YEAR AWAY! It didn't seem fair that Christmas should be over so soon. Why couldn't every day be like Christmas (?), Gary wondered as he stared at the empty place under the tree where all of the presents had been. Somehow, the Christmas tree wasn't the same without presents.

Christmas was Gary's favorite holiday. He had fun on the Fourth of July waving sparklers and watching the fireworks, He liked dressing up on Halloween, he enjoyed eating turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving Day, and he delighted in hunting eggs on Easter, but none of these paired with Christmas. There was something special about Christmas. Gary liked shopping for presents at the mall, he liked visiting Santa and sitting on his lap, he liked singing Christmas carols at church, and playing a shepherd in the Christmas pageant, he liked going to Mr. And Mrs. Whirry's ranch to cut down the Christmas tree, he liked decorating the tree with lights and tinsel, and he especially liked running down the stairs on Christmas morning to see the tree surrounded with presents of all shapes and sizes. It was fun to try to find all the ones with his name on them, and even more fun to try to guess what was in them. But his absolute favorite part of Christmas was when his Mom and Dad came downstairs and his Dad read the story from the Bible, and then they all opened their presents. Gary liked everything about Christmas but he didn't like it when it was over. That night when Gary's Mom tucked him into bed he asked her why every day couldn't be like Christmas? His Mom smiled and then she said, "Do you remember, in the Christmas story, how exciting it was for Mary and Joseph when the baby was born, and when the shepherds came and told them about the angel and the singing of the heavenly host? How do you think THEY felt the next day when all of the excitement was over?"

Gary thought about it for a while and then he said, "I think they must have felt a little sad, but they had the baby Jesus and they knew he was going to grow up to be the savior. I think that must have made them very glad."

Suddenly Gary didn't feel so sad that Christmas was over. He remembered all the wonderful things that had happened on Christmas Day. "It was enough," he thought, "to last him for a long, long time, AT LEAST until next Christmas." Then he smiled at his Mom and wished her one last Merry Christmas.

I share this story called "The Day after Christmas," by John Sumwalt this morning, because perhaps some of you, too, are feeling a little bit sad that Christmas feels like it's all over already! Indeed, according to our CULTURE, Christmas begins on the day after Thanksgiving and is all finished by Christmas Day! Today, five days after Christmas, it's time to get on with Super Bowl and Valentine's Day! (pause) However, we come together this morning to celebrate an remember the fact that in our Christian celebration of Christmas, Christmas is only just beginning! Christ's birth is the end of the EXPECTING, but it is the very beginning of the awesome task of parenting and providing and nurturing that wonderful and sometimes even terrifying Child into the One he is to become! Phillip Brooks in his Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem" concludes with the words: "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." Every birth is an occasion for hope AND fear, when we stop to ponder it.

When I think back on the time when Heather was born into Peter's and my life, the cliché that we kept hearing was: "Your life will never be the same." But you know, the cliché is true: Our lives never have been the same since Heather became a reality in our lives. We now have someone who comes first in our lives. We cannot simply do what we FEEL like doing when we are together. We need to make sure that Heather's needs are met before we focus on our own needs. Heather, like any child, demands dedication and care, in other words, responsibility! Now that Heather's older, things have changed from when she was an infant, but still, her needs come first. And if her needs have NOT been met, she's sure to let one of us know about that, too! She is, in more ways than one, and like it or not, "the center" of our lives. And she has turned Peter's and my life upsidedown, in many ways...

Surely Mary and Joseph were beginning to feel the impact of the birth of their first child by the time they were heading into Jerusalem, probably eight or nine days into baby Jesus' life.

Once the brand-new Holy Family is in the Temple of Jerusalem, however, we hear more good news! We encounter two of the most elderly and pious, upright people

of God in the area. Simeon and Anna are two elderly characters who were living out their lives in Jerusalem amont those known as "the Quiet in the Land." Unlike those who expected the promised Messiah to come through a powerful and even violent warrior figure like David, restoring Israel's political and economic power, the Quiet of the Land believed in a life of continual prayer and quiet watchfulness as the way to prepare for the coming of the expected Savior. It's interesting, too, that neither of them seem to be physically very far away from the Temple. In fact, of Anna, we read that "she never (even) LEFT the temple, worshipping night and day with fastings and prayers." And in the case of Simeon, he came into the temple "INSPIRED (or moved) by the Holy Spirit," when it was time for him to see this infant who was also the Lord's Messiah, who he had been promised he would be allowed to see before his death.

Simeon and Anna were both quietly but very ACTIVELY waiting, for Israel to be saved. Each new day that came provided another day of anticipation. When Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple with their newly born Jesus, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to go into the Temple, and he immediately recognized the infant as God's anointed one. Simeon's song of joy declared that this child is the light to ALL THE NATIONS of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke. And Simeon is filled with a deep sense of peace and joy. He knows that somehow, thru. the presence of this sacred child, the people are already being restored to a right relationship with their God. Simeon also knows that now that he has seen this special Holy Child, he can now depart from the world in peace, knowing that God's word has been fulfilled. And he speaks those well-known words, "Now Sovereign, you are allowing your slave to depart in peace according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all the people, a light to the peoples, and glory to your people, Israel."

One writer has an interesting "take" on these words of wholeness spoken by Simeon. He writes:

Last summer, Bev and I camped for a week near the village of Plains in WA state on the campus of the Grunewald Guild, of which the noted artist, Richard Caemmerer is the artist-in-residence.

His tradition is Lutheran, and so each evening we used the Compline service as our vespers, which included Simeon's ancient song, "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word ..."

I didn't like it the first couple of evenings. After all, that is Simeon saying he is ready to die. His life is complete.

Well mine isn't. I have a whole string of things I still want to do, and I go to bed w/ my head buzzing w/ all the stuff I'm going to do tomorrow. Or else, I lie there worrying about somebody, my children, my friends, my wife, myself - there's no shortage of folks to worry about. Or I worry about my work or the world situation - there's no shortage of issues to worry about.

But one night at Grunewald, I found myself lying there in bed w/ Simeon's song singing in my head. I let the song do its work, and I drifted off quickly into a quiet sleep and woke up the next morning refreshed.
So now, another Christmas is done. Simeon and Anna remind us that God's gift has arrived. We can relax ... We don't need to spend our nights feeding acid into our stomachs and pumping up our blood pressure. God's gift has arrived! Christ is here among us!

The future of the world is not in (our) hands. It is in God's hands, and God has done what is needed. God has sent the Christ to be with us.
So Lord, now let "these" servants let go. Christmas has come, and (our) eyes have seen thy salvation..."

(We) have seen it. Now the hard part is, especially Perhaps in the evenings, to believe it! Simeon's old song makes a pretty good lullaby.

Finally, a striking aspect of this story of Simeon and Anna is their greatly advanced years and their delighted and open welcome of a small, vulnerable infant as the one thru. Whom the fulfillment of God's promises will take place. Is not this positive attitude toward the young to be encouraged in this congregation, too, if the wholeness of God's redemption is to be experienced by us, today? When the elderly among us do not feel threatened by the sometimes chaotic and wild energy and enthusiasm of the young, but rather dedicate themselves to becoming their loving advocates and friends and mentors, then we, too, will be able to joyously sing with Simeon, "With our own eyes have we seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of ALL peoples."

The child who is to save the world has been born. We have no need to worry about the future of the world. However, at the same time, we have been given the responsibility to care for and nurture the Christ Child in our hearts and the Christ Child in EVERY heart, young and old, for that matter! With Simeon and Anna as our guides, let us walk into this next phase of Christmas being both comforted as well as challenged: A devout and spiritual old man and a devout and spiritual elderly woman who had been waiting for this day for a very long time, saw poor Mary and Joseph with their little baby, (who was to be the Savior of the world!) walking into the temple of Jerusalem, no doubt feeling rather out of place and forlorn. And they fussed over the baby Jesus! They gave thanks to God for him, the blessed him, and they began to tell the world about him!

As we come to the end of another year, and as we savor the promise and hope of Christmas during AT LEAST the next 8 days of Christmastide, the image which might linger with us is an old man and an old woman - holding a very precious baby. May this quiet and peaceful, satisfying image remind us as we look with hope to a brand new year, that God's spiritual miracles can and do CONTINUE to happen in quiet and simple ways. And these same miracles require our careful attention, belief, and response-ability (!) , every single day of our lives!!! Amen.