Marveling at Christ in our Ordinary Lives

Luke 2:22-40

Today we encounter a bit of a twist in the Epiphany season.  For ordinarily we would call today the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.  And ordinarily the colors you see—on the altar and my stole—would be green.  But today they’re white.  And while today is indeed the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, it is also February 2.

On February 2, according to our church calendar, a feast occurs.  If this feast happens to land on a Sunday—as it does this year—then it is to take precedence over the ordinary Sunday Eucharist.  So, today’s feast is called the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; or as our music director likes to call it, the feast of Simeon’s Funeral (Simeon’s words make up a very well-known musical setting called the nunc dimittis).

Point is, today we encounter a contrast.  On the one hand, we have been hearing about Jesus’s epiphany to the world.  The Son of God has come.  He has grown into a man; he was baptized; he then fasted in the wilderness for forty days; and now he has begun his ministry to a needy world.

But on the other hand we encounter this feast today, when we celebrate his presentation in the temple.  Here he’s not a man but an infant.  Here he is not yet known to the world around him but a seemingly ordinary child with ordinary parents fulfilling their ordinary obligations.

Today we encounter a noted feast day in contrast to an ordinary Sunday; today we encounter a seemingly ordinary baby in contrast to the revealed Savior of the World.

Let’s explore this contrast further.

Joseph and Mary had experienced some remarkable events in the past year or so, right?  An angel appears to Mary to inform her that she shall bear a child—despite the fact that she’s a virgin; despite the fact that she’s not yet married to Joseph.

At the news of Mary’s pregnancy, we read in Matthew, Joseph has in mind to dismiss her quietly.  But an angel appears to him too, telling him not to dismiss Mary but to marry her and raise the child as his own, and to name him Jesus.  Which he does.

We are very familiar with all of these events from the Christmas story we recite and rehearse again and again every year.  But these remarkable events take place only here and there, on one day or another.

What about the rest of the time?  What about the forty weeks of pregnancy, when the baby grows in the womb and the mother experiences all the joys and trials that go along with it—the weird cravings, the increasing immobility, the morning sickness?  What about the six months when Mary is away at her relative Elizabeth’s house, helping her through her own pregnancy, with her daily routine of household chores?  What about Joseph who no doubt gets up day after day to complete his daily carpenter’s grind, or to sweat out another week fretting over whether ends will meet?

There were a few remarkable days, sure.  But what about all those ordinary days when Joseph and Mary lived their ordinary lives filled with ordinary, even mundane, tasks?

This ordinariness is the context of today’s Gospel passage.  When Joseph and Mary present their baby Jesus at the temple, they are merely fulfilling routine Jewish obligations.  There’s nothing at all remarkable in this.

Yet while doing so—while they are going through their routine Jewish obligations—they encounter something very remarkable indeed in two rather ordinary people named Simeon and Anna.

Oh, yes!  I called Simeon and Anna “rather ordinary.”  Yeah, I know that our choir sings different settings of Simeon’s words every Evensong.  But I’m going from the text.  And what the text says isn’t much.  Simeon is called righteous and devout.  We also hear that the Holy Spirit rested on him.  Anna is called a prophet, so we can infer that the Holy Spirit was with her too.  But aside from this they were simply ordinary worshipers at the temple, much as the people around you are ordinary churchgoers.

Just think about it for a moment.  Think about those here at St. Luke’s you know to be faithful Christians.  You see them here Sunday after Sunday, and you know them to be faithful in prayer, in service, in leadership, in hospitality, in teaching, in whatever.  Has anyone come to mind?  In some sense these persons—whoever they are—are remarkable, certainly.  But more importantly they are ordinary, someone you might shake a hand with or enjoy a meal with or simply say hi to.

That’s how Joseph and Mary saw Simeon and Anna.  And Simeon took the baby Jesus and held him in his arms and praised God—much as a St. Luke’s churchgoer might take your baby into his arms and praise God!  And Anna, an old widow, saw the baby Jesus and said good things about him—much as an elderly widow might rejoice in your baby right here at St. Luke’s!

And you know how Joseph and Mary responded to these rather ordinary events and people?  They were amazed!  Joseph and Mary marveled at Christ in their ordinary lives.

Here’s our lesson; here’s what the contrast that we encounter today teaches us: we need to marvel at Christ in our ordinary lives.

You have marveled at Christ in the past, at your baptism.  You are marveling at Christ now, just as Simeon and Anna once did, in worship.  You will marvel at him in a few minutes in the bread and wine.  And you will marvel at him again next week.

But what about after church today?  What about tomorrow at school or work?  Or what about when you feel anger’s heat rising up in your own soul?  What about when personal tragedy strikes?  Or when grief eats you from the inside out?  Will you marvel at him then?  Is it even possible?

You may know the Christian hymn It Is Well with my Soul: When peace like a river attendeth my way, / When sorrows like sea billows roll; / Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford wrote these words on a ship while he was crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The truly remarkable thing is that he wrote them following a tragedy.  Detained by business, he had sent his wife and four daughters to England ahead of him.  On their voyage, another ship struck theirs, which then sank.  All four daughters perished.  Spafford soon followed, to meet his wife and console her in England; and, near as he could figure to where the tragedy had occurred, that’s where he wrote these words.

It is well, it is well with my soul.  Marveling at Christ in difficult times is possible.  But it requires a mindset on your part of surrender, of yielding to God, of trusting that not my will be done but Thine.

Fortunately for us most of life is not remarkable.  We like the good remarkable events, sure.  But how many of us want to live a life of one remarkable tragedy after another?  No.  Fortunately for us our lives are rather ordinary.  And if we learn to marvel at God even in the hard times, it actually becomes rather easy to marvel at Christ in the ordinary times.

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