December 28, 2014
“Tell Me What You See” (click here for the audio version)
One of my favorite movies of all times is “Cool Runnings.” I love this movie for all kinds of reasons, but mostly I love it because it’s a story about challenging expectations and seeing beyond first impressions and assumptions. Cool Runnings is the story about 4 runners from Jamaica who form a bobsled team to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. So these 4 Jamaican athletes have to get over their assumptions and stereotypes about each other, about their coach, about their country, and about bobsledding in order to become a team. As a team, then, they challenge the assumptions and stereotypes of just about everyone else when they show up in Calgary wanting to compete in the Winter Olympics.
In one scene, the character named “Yul Brenner,” the big, bald, burly Jamaican sprinter who just wants off the island, is talking to “Junior,” the son of a rich Jamaican lawyer who doesn’t have the courage to tell his dad he doesn’t want to be a lawyer himself, but instead wants to be an athlete. Brenner takes Junior into the bathroom and makes him look in the mirror and says to him, “tell me what you see.” It’s a moment of transformation for Junior, as for the first time in his life he is encouraged to see himself as strong, independent and capable of pursuing his own dreams for his future.
When Simeon saw Mary and Joseph walk into the temple, it was a moment of transformation for him. To most people, Mary and Joseph were just another couple bringing an offering to the temple to do what was required by the law. But Simeon saw something different. Luke tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout, and that he had been waiting for the consolation of Israel. The ‘consolation of Israel’ has to do with the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Last Sunday, and I think on Christmas Eve as well at some services, we heard the reading from Isaiah that starts out, “Comfort, O Comfort, my people.’ Comfort and consolation are two ways to talk about salvation. ‘Simeon was eagerly anticipating the restoration of Israel,’ is the way one translation says it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever eagerly anticipated restoration of anything. Maybe you’ve taken on a remodeling project in your house. I don’t know much about remodeling, but I know that at some point, someone has a picture of what the house could look like. They see something that isn’t there yet. And because they see what could one day be the reality, they’re willing to wait and do the work that’s necessary to get to that reality.
We’ve just been through 4 weeks of Advent, which we call a season of anticipation and preparation…our annual season of remodeling, you could say. But Simeon had been in a season of Advent his whole life. For years he had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah…for the revelation that salvation has come to Israel…for the spiritual restoration of his people. For years he had been praying what we pray every week in the Lord’s prayer: may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. For years he had been hoping that he would get to see what it looked like when God was actually in and among God’s people in a tangible way. In his Spirit he felt confident that he would see the Messiah before he died, but he was tired…tired of waiting…tired of hoping. And so, while he faithfully kept watching and waiting, there was a part of him that also cried out, “how long, o Lord…how much longer will we be waiting?”
Then, one day, he felt an urge to go to the Temple. Maybe he would have gone anyway, maybe he was open to an excuse to sleep in that day. But something told him to go to the temple…go be with people who are also seeking God’s presence in their lives…keep praying and looking for God to bring salvation, consolation, comfort, restoration, to Israel. So he went to the temple, not sure what would make this day any different than all the other days he went. When he saw a young couple walk into the courtyard, perhaps carrying a crate with pigeons, that same nudge in his spirit pushed him to go talk to them. As he got closer to the couple and asked about the child they carried, I can imagine in his spirit a scene much like the one in Cool Runnings. “What do you see?” a voice says. Simeon looks at the baby, “I see a helpless baby,” he responds. “Look again…” the voice urges. So Simeon looks again with the eyes of his heart…eyes eagerly anticipating the coming of the Messiah. And that’s when he sees it. This isn’t just a baby…this is the Messiah he’s been waiting for…the Messiah his people had been waiting for. In that moment he sees what others missed. And so the voice says, “tell them what you see,” and he describes this baby in a way even Mary isn’t sure she understands.
One commentator says it this way: “No doubt many others see the parents and their child, but to them he was just another baby coming to be blessed by the temple priests. In contrast, Simeon…sees more than meets the eye. His active waiting has given him a deeper vision; his practice of prayerful expectation enables him to recognize the Messiah in his midst. He sees a child clothed in garments of salvation and divinity in a little baby.”
So, on this first Sunday of Christmas, with the festivities behind you…what do you see? When you see the baby in the manger, do you see a child ‘clothed in garments of salvation and divinity”? Has your active waiting given you a deeper vision? Do you see the fullness of God in the world?
There’s a big difference between living in the anticipation and waiting and living in the fulfillment. And the truth is that as Christians we live in both. But imagine for a minute that you were part of a family that had outgrown the space you lived in. Your house was too small for your family. You ran into each other all the time, no one had space for anything, arguments broke out all the time because everyone felt so constricted in the small space. You desperately need salvation…restoration. So you get ready to expand the house. Your family works together to draft plans about adding on extra rooms, pushing the back fence out to create more backyard space for the kids, expanding the garage to create storage, the works. And this expansion takes a long time. In the meantime, you have to keep living in your small space, but it’s manageable because you know it’s not forever. Whenever your youngest child complains about not having enough space for his toys, or when your teenager complains about not having enough space in the bathroom, you say, “don’t worry, it won’t be like this forever. One day soon we’ll all have what we need.” When the work of expanding your house is complete, would anything change about how you lived? Of course it would! You wouldn’t keep functioning as though your house was too small…it’s been expanded! It’s been restored! Everyone has enough space! There is plenty of room for the kids to play! Salvation has come! You would live differently, right? Once the thing that you’ve been waiting for happens, everything changes.
That is the difference between us and Simeon. Simeon lived in prayerful anticipation that salvation would come to Israel and that the prophecies about the Messiah would one day be fulfilled. We can confidently proclaim what Simeon could only say in hopeful expectation: Christ is born! God is here! Salvation HAS come!
Simeon looked at his world and saw the need for a Messiah. He looked at the baby Mary and Joseph brought to the temple and saw God’s salvation for Israel…and for all humanity. His response to seeing Jesus is not just to claim God’s salvation for Israel, but in that baby he sees “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” This baby born in Bethlehem is the consolation of Israel, and good news for ALL CREATION, as the angels proclaimed.
But do we live as though the thing we’ve been waiting for has been accomplished? We don’t need to wait for salvation…we HAVE salvation. We don’t need to wait for hope…we HAVE hope. We don’t need to wait for God to take on human form…God HAS taken on human form! We don’t need to wait to be called ‘children of God’…we HAVE been called children of God! How does that change what we see when we look at the world around us? Do we see a world still hoping that God will come, or do we see a world celebrating that indeed God HAS come!
Wouldn’t it be great if that’s how we lived? Wouldn’t it be great if people in our lives looked at us–how we treat ourselves, how we treat each other, how we use our money, how we use our time, our attitudes–and said what Simeon says when he sees Jesus: “my eyes have seen your salvation.” Salvation means more than a ticket to heaven. Salvation in a biblical sense also means hope, restoration, comfort, consolation. And that has happened! Unfortunately, a lot of times when we look at the church, and when we look at the world, we don’t see people who believe salvation has come. We have been re-created in Christ, salvation has come in and through Christ, we have everything we need to be free. But instead so often we live as though we’re still in that house that is too small…arguing over space and resources, getting in each other’s way in pursuit of our own interests, protecting what little is ours instead of sharing freely. But the message of Christmas is that restoration has come! In the birth of a baby born in an obscure village in the Middle East, to an unwed teenager, raised by a man who was not the baby’s father, and visited by people who lived more comfortably under the stars than in buildings, restoration has come! Restoration has come in this baby who lived differently because he wasn’t waiting for God to come to earth…he WAS God on earth. Restoration has come in the gift of the Holy Spirit given to each of us, so that we now get to be the very presence of God in the world.
The waiting is over…salvation has come…to me and to you. You are free to live as a child of God, not as a slave to sin. You are free to love, to care about others, to work for justice, to walk humbly with God. You are free to sing “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord!” I think a lot of Christians live like we’re still waiting for Jesus to be born. But Jesus HAS been born! We don’t have to wait anymore. So, when you look in the mirror, or when you look at the baby in the manger, or when you look at the cross…
Tell me what you see…