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Salvation Dawns

Luke 2:22-32
Lauren J. McFeaters
December 29, 2019
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Salvation dawns at the darnest times.

Thirty-five years ago I was standing in the in the Laughlin Funeral Home on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I was trying to look grown up; trying to look, at 23 years old, that I was handling my grief; trying to be calm by talking in hushed tones with family and friends; trying not to faint at the considerable scent of roses.

The most overwhelming presence at the funeral home was my dad who was laid out in a casket, surrounded by flowers and dressed in the gray suit and red tie I had delivered to the funeral home the day before.

It was surreal; only three months before we had celebrated Advent and Christmas. He had been sick with cancer of the pancreas for only a number of weeks and here we were at the family funeral home. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

And it was exactly at that instant; that very moment that my friend Melanie walked through the door. Melanie Brown. My dear, dear friend who I knew was traveling during a break from medical school, had turned around from her trip, driven to Pittsburgh, and walked straight into that funeral home, arms outstretched, tears on her cheeks; wrapping me in her compassion.

And the darndest thing happened. I was wrapped, through her arms, in God’s salvation. As she threw her arms around me I was rescued, saved, recovered.

Have you felt it too?  In a time of great need to be drawn in by a friend. It’s an experience of the holy. “Surely God is my salvation.”

I have got to believe that this is, in part, how God saves us. God comes. God incarnates. God steps out and stands with us in awkward places at awful times. God answers our song of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in ways so utterly unexpected.[i]

 Salvation dawns at the darnest times.

At the center of our lesson from Luke stands Simeon and Anna:  faithful, constant, trustworthy; their advent preparation was decades long. So when Mary and Joseph bring their tiny infant to the temple, can’t you see them giving them a double take? I find it hard to believe Simeon and Anna were expecting salvation to come in the form of two parents and an infant.

Do you see the elderly faithful cradling a baby in their arms? They are giddy and chortling; rummy eyes spill over with tears; achy bones creak out a blissful beat. The Messiah is here, and they can’t stand still.[ii]

It’s not as if Simeon and Anna were waiting passively to see God’s salvation. It’s not as if the Temple was a darkened theater, and they waited casually for the movie to begin.

 

Their waiting for God is a preparation for an honored guest and there is much to be done:  every sweep of the broom, every pressing of the dough, every stirring of the pot; every setting of the table is in anticipation of the God’s salvation.[iii]

Arms outstretched, cheeks warm, Simeon and Anna take turns holding that baby; burying their noses in the crook of Jesus neck; taking in the aroma of life; the scent of hope. Who knew salvation would smell like a baby.

In ways we can hardly understand we have persons of all ages entrusted to our arms. When we stand with a child, a youth, and adult to the font, we are holding salvation’s promises from the One who holds us. Whether we are parents or not, grandparents or not, aunts, uncles, cousins or not, each time someone comes to this font we make promises, all of us, to hold this child, to raise this youth, to guide this adult – in the love of God and with the stories of Jesus. Our prayer is that they grow strong; that they live in wisdom; that they will serve God all their days. [iv]

It’s Christmas and God puts Jesus in our arms.

Arms outstretched we lift him close and inhale the sweet, sweet scent of salvation. We kiss him with carols. We cradle him with prayers. We hold him with trembles.

 Salvation dawns at the darnest times.

Ninety-one years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached an Advent sermon. It was still years before his arrest and death at the hands of Nazi soldiers, but in the Advent of 1928 he preached this:

“It is very remarkable, that we face the thought, that God is coming so calmly at Christmas. Whereas previous peoples trembled at the day of God, we have become so accustomed to the idea of God’s coming so peacefully that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.

We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.

The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all, frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness: God comes into the very midst of evil and death, war and malevolence, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.” [v]

Beverly Gaventa puts it this way; at Advent something is afoot in God’s world. There is a terrible, hopeful newness about life: terrible because it promises to overthrow all our old, comfortable, sinful ways; and hopeful for the very same reason. [vi]

Simeon and Anna knew this; that the coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news and so they worked and worshipped in the temple; performing acts of justice and prayer.

And while they waited they defied the darkness by serving God. In their waiting they are surprised to find salvation in the form of two parents and a baby. [vii]

Salvation dawns at the darnest times and like Simeon and Anna we are often surprised by our Saving Lord.

As we wait by the bedside of a friend who is ill, we suddenly hear with new ears, “Christ was born for this.”

As we try to keep calm at news of, yet another wave of tragedy and violence, we unexpectedly hear with new ears, “Christ was born to save.”

As we try with all our might to keep our children out of harm’s way and healthy in mind and spirit we surprisingly hear “Christ is born today.”

As we are subsumed by grief and sorrow, heartache and sadness, our Lord comes to us with arms outstretched, tears on his cheeks; wrapping us in his compassion.

Our hearts say in response, “Surely you are my salvation. Surely you are – my salvation.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

ENDNOTES

[i]  My thanks to Scott Black Johnson and his sermon that reminded me of this moment from April 1985. “Save Us” (Mark 11). Day 1, Atlanta, Georgia:  The Alliance for Christian Media, April 5, 2009.

[ii]  John Stendahl. “Holding Promise” (Luke 2:22-40). The Christian Century, December 4, 2002, 17. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation, 2002.

[iii]  Thomas G. Long, Something Is About to Happen: Sermons for Advent and Christmas. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 1996, 48.

[iv] John Stendahl. 17.

[v]  Dietrich Bonheoffer, Geffrey B. Kelly, F. Burton Nelson. A Testament to Freedom:  The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer. New York:  Harper Collins, 1995, 185-186. Thanks to the Rev. Christy Waltersdorff for this reference.

[vi]  Beverly Gaventa, B.C. Cousar, J.C. McCann, and J. D. Newsome. Texts for Preaching:  A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year C. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, 10.

[vii]  Thomas G. Long, 51.