Here we are, at the cusp of another year. I remember last year we were talking about how awful 2016 was, as it saw the death of many beloved celebrities, many political disasters, and of course more mass shootings that for some reason didn’t bring up conversations around gun control. And if you remember from last year we talked about how 2017 is a new upcoming year, something we could look forward to, put our hope in, and would for sure be better than 2016 because it was so bad. In case you forgot how generally bad 2016 was, here is an amateur made “trailer” for the non-existent 2016 movie.
I found this really funny because it is true, 2016 was a tough year. It wasn’t easy to see all our beloved celebrities pass away, that they can no longer offer their talents and gifts to the world. It wasn’t easy to hear about shooting after shooting, and have politician after politician make excuses for not talking about what can be done about it. It wasn’t easy watching the political disasters happening both in the States and in the United Kingdom, and we wondered in anxiety of how it would affect the rest of us and the global market.
So we joked about how we couldn’t wait for 2016 to be over, how 2017 couldn’t come soon enough, and how we just wished we could strike 2016 from the record and maybe just start over. There was a lot of pressure on 2017 to uplift everyone’s spirits, to remind everyone that life isn’t so bad, and to keep that hope alive.
Well, how did that work out for everyone? Of course, everyone’s year was different, that although we all shared the same exact 365 days we lived them differently, we spent our time in different places, and the multitude of events over the year affected us differently. But for me, there were a few events that will forever paint 2017 for me, and they aren’t exactly things I would look fondly upon.
I mean, 2017 also brought death, also had mass shootings, and wasn’t so great for the global political environment that somehow is bleeding into Canada now too. We had some serious wildfires in BC, and the weather around the world the past winter seemed to have gone crazy. There were threats of war, terrorism, and violence all over the globe, and really, 2017 didn’t shape up to be much better than 2016.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a total Debbie Downer (sorry Debbie), but such is life. I mean, we all have our good times and bad times, our good days and bad days, our good entire years and bad entire years. But it just seems like when we have our bad, they are really really bad and when we have our good, meh they’re ok but way too short. Throughout life, it is like the bad keeps taking precedent and it is all we think about. At least, it seems like it in my life and in the life of my kids, who complain about being bored within 30 seconds of stopping their video game that they’ve been playing for a couple hours.
Maybe it is because the bad stuff hurts more, so it leaves a more of a lasting impression. Maybe it’s because the bad stuff just seems to drag on for much longer, so takes up more real estate in our memories. Or maybe it’s just because we don’t like the bad very much that our ears perk up and we pay attention more closely, like a deer staring into headlights.
It is like those times when you finish a project or presentation or just gave a sermon, and like 20 people walk by and say, “good job” and we completely ignore them, and someone comes up and says “that sucked, man” and we focus on that comment only. I remember a friend of mine a few years ago gave birth to her second child, and someone said to her something like “now your life is over” or something similar to that which only parents know to be the absolute truth about kids, and she just lost it and went on this huge rant on Facebook on the insensitivity of parents and how dare they say such things and so on and so forth, completely forgetting about the pages and pages of congratulations and good wishes and offers to baby sit and wine delivery from her friends.
We seem to focus on the bad, and completely forget the good.
I wonder if Mary focussed on the bad in today’s gospel story. I know, this story isn’t as popular as the other Christmas stories we get, especially since year after year I quite intentionally skip this reading in favour of the Epiphany texts. But baby Jesus is brought to the temple for a dedication, as is Jewish custom, and this guy Simeon goes on this huge song and dance about seeing this Jesus, whom Simeon knows to be the Messiah.
That is all great and all, but did you catch that little bit where Simeon references Mary, the mother of Jesus? In a small portion there, while he is singing and stuff, he looks over to Jesus’ parents, blesses them, and then quips, “oh by the way, a sword will pierce you, right in the soul.” Boom. Just like that, right out of nowhere.
W-what, bro? What do you mean with that? Why do you go on and on about the greatness of this kid and then go and burst that bubble like no one’s business? At least, that would have been on my mind, had this guy said that to me and my wife. I mean, we just had a kid, man, we don’t need any talk about no swords piercing no souls. I mean, that sounds like some insensitive thing to say in attempts to be funny or just a goofy, poorly-thought-out thing to tweet out to the world.
But I think Simeon was onto something. As insensitive as his comment seems, he wasn’t wrong. Maybe his timing could have used some help, but what he said was completely on point for Mary and for us, a metaphorical sword will pierce her soul, and ours too. As any parent will tell you, that happens when you have kids. Actually scratch that, not just any parent, but any person capable of cognitive thought would tell you, that is what happens when you live life. You have your ups and you most certainly have your downs, that while this kid Jesus is indeed the saviour of the world, the bringer of our salvation, the light for revelation to all people, the one to usher God’s glory, that doesn’t mean life will just be peaches. There will be times when you miss this kid Jesus. Or times when you might even lose track of him for a few days *cough cough*. Or maybe you might even deny your relationship with him in front of others. And he will eventually die, right in front you, because the evil of the world will seem to overcome all the good that we hold on to and believe in. Talk about soul-piercing swords. Mary is in for a doozy.
But all that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. That doesn’t change the fact that this kid is our Saviour. That doesn’t change the fact that this son of Mary, this infant child still smelling fresh from the womb, this squishy ball of flesh with drool on his chin and poop in his diaper, this miracle baby born is the very Word of God, revealing to us God’s glory and light, sitting with us through our bad times, rejoicing with us through our good times, being with us throughout all the ups and downs of life, reminding us that we will never be removed from the love of God and our community.
This is why Simeon even says that he is being dismissed in peace. This isn’t saying that he is being fired and he’s cool with it, but he’s saying that he’s going to die, his life purpose has been served, he is about to leave the world, but he is at peace with it. Because he sees that while life has its ups and downs, God remains faithful to God’s promises and provides for us all that we need, that whatever we face, we can face with the entire body of Christ and have that peace.
Yes, 2017 wasn’t an overtly great year either, and there is a chance that 2018 won’t be any better. But we can hold fast to the sure and certain hope that God will not leave us, and that while we may focus more on the bad, that we can have that peace that surpasses understanding, trusting that we are held by the faith of Christ, that reveals to us the light and salvation of God, knowing that we are welcomed and included in the wide community of the body of Christ, connected to all the saints, forever blessed and loved by God. This is reason to sing, for God gives us grace, peace, and love, enabling us to face and endure all that life throws at us.
Bring it on, downers. Bring it on, 2018. Bring it on, life. For we are children of God, held by God’s gracious arms, loved by God’s powerful Spirit, saved by God’s most precious Son. That is enough to fill the holes left by our fears and worries with the confidence and faith of Christ and for us to be at peace.
In the remainder of this Christmas season and into the other seasons of the church year, may we continually see God incarnate in our world, revealing to us God’s salvation, shining God’s light upon us, and displaying for all God’s glory. Thanks be to God. Amen.