“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22)
It’s the first Sunday after Christmas – that not-quite-so-special time when the magic of the Yuletide season starts to fade and when everything starts to return to normal. With the notable exception of New Year’s Eve, our festivities are over. The presents have been opened, the pudding has been eaten, the angels have gone back into heaven and Santa has evacuated the shopping centre. It’s the time of crumpled paper, of overstuffed rubbish bins, and of post-Christmas sales. It’s time to wash up, clean up, and (at least for a couple of days) to sober up.
The post-Christmas fridge is a powerful symbol of this time of year. It still has plenty of food left in it but we are already thinking less about feasting than we are about dieting, and we’re wondering what we’ll do with all those left-overs. If last Sunday was the week of great expectation, this is the week of the great resumption. We still hymn the arrival of the master, but we’re now also thinking about the arrival of the great Mastercard bill. It’s time to get back to work, which may be why our Gospel reading this week depicts Jesus and His family getting back into the routine of life.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child. He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:21-24)
Jesus was circumcised, Mary was purified, and the baby was presented at the Temple. In other words, ‘Jesus was done’. That’s how most parents who have asked me to baptise their children have put it. ‘We’d like to get him done’, they say, blithely unaware of just how uninspiring that sounds as a proposal for a baptism. Of course, in Jesus’ case the process was more elaborate. The baby had to be circumcised, the mother purified and then the child presented. There was a lot more doing involved in getting a child done in those days! Even so, Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews and so they did what other Jews did. They integrated themselves back into the routine of their community, and there is something wonderfully domestic about the temple scene, where the Holy family are met at the door by a couple of old folk – Simeon and Anna.
It’s typical of the way God works, according to Luke’s Gospel, that Jesus is welcomed into the temple not by the High Priest, nor by any member of the clergy, but by a man and a woman whose only spiritual qualifications were that they were old. Simeon was no retired cleric. He was just ‘good old Simeon’ who had been a pillar of the temple community for as long as anybody could remember. Anna seems to have been older still. Luke says “She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow for eighty-four years. (2:36-37). Depending on where you put the comma, this could mean that she was 84 in total or that she had been 84 years a widow, which would put her well into her 100’s!
Of course, It’s easy to get mixed up about your age as you get older. I was told of a clerk who was reviewing a passport application that asked “age of mother (if living)” and “age of father (if living)”, to which the applicant had responded with the ages of 111 and 115 respectively! The clerk said “are you sure your parents are that old?” to which the applicant said “well, they would be, if living.”
Of course, as familiar as this elderly couple appear, their prophetic utterances are far from ordinary. They see in the baby Jesus someone very special – the future Messiah who would bring an end to the Roman occupation of Israel. Whether anyone else in the temple took them seriously is hard to know. Quite likely, Mary and Joseph were the only ones who remembered what was said that day.
Let me close with some words from Henry Van Dyke, whose messages turn up on cards and are quoted in old Christmas movies that play this time of year.
“Are you willing”, says Henry Van Dyke, “to forget what you have done for others and to remember only what others have done for you…. to stoop down and consider the needs of little children… If so, then you can keep Christmas, and if you can keep it for a day, why not always?”
I think we know full well why we can’t keep Christmas always. It’s because it would just be too exhausting, and if we did keep Christmas every day, then it wouldn’t be anything special, would it?
We weren’t built to have special things happen every day of our lives. We need special times, but we need routine too. And if you are like me, while you enjoy all the special celebrations and special foods, you probably quietly look forward to getting back to the soda and spam sandwiches. The key, as Kierkegaard put it, is to “find the infinite in the everyday”.
The new and the old, the spectacular and ordinary – they come together in Jesus. This is what incarnation is all about – that the God who is there in the skies over Bethlehem in the chorus of the angels is back a few days later, shuffling about at the back of the temple with some elderly folk. We experience Christ on the special occasions, and then we take Christ home with us afterwards. God is with us in Bethlehem and in Nazareth – in the spectacular, and in the spectacularly ordinary.
We can’t have Christmas every day and, quite frankly, we don’t want to. Even so, we can have the presence of God with us every day – in the extraordinary moments of life and in the familiar. All we need is the discernment of a Simeon or an Anna – to see the infinite in the everyday.
Our Sunday Eucharist
We shared another wonderful Sunday Eucharist last weekend. Our dear brother, Doug, who tends to surprise us each month with the creative names he uses to identify himself on the panel, really outdid himself this time. Rather than simply have ‘Doug’ appear below him, this time it was “Hair … who needs it!”. If that’s not making any sense to you, just watch the first two minutes of the video below.
Unfortunately, I was experiencing a fair degree of lag-time in the broadcast, meaning that there were a few seconds between me saying something and the others hearing it. I was in Queensland for my fight, staying at a friend’s house, and the broadcast was going through my mobile Internet connection. It was working fine until I received two phone calls just before we went live. At any rate, we struggled through, thanks in large part to my partners on the panel – David Baldwin and Mr “Hair … who needs it!”
This Sunday I’ll be back in Sydney and the Internet should be good. I’ll have Rob Gilland and Father Mark with me on the panel. I’m hoping to also get a contribution from Father Elias this week, who may just join us live as well! Either way, we’ll be live this Sunday from noon at www.thesundayeucharist.com, and you can join us through Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Streamyard.
I look forward to sharing this Eucharist with you. 😊
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Again, it’s a rather empty calendar this week as I still haven’t organised a regular gym or training times for our boxing team. If you have any suggestions, share them with me. Everything 2024-related looks very uncertain for me at the moment. I am open to all suggestions. I am determined to carry on the fight.
Speaking of fighting, I lost my fight of December 23rd in a split decision. I thought I won. Unfortunately, only one of the three judges agreed with me.
Interestingly, I had been told that my opponent was an amateur champion but that he’d never fought professionally. Talking to him afterwards, he said he’d had 27 professional fights in Argentina before coming to Australia, followed by another 28 amateur and corporate fights here. That made me feel a little better about the result.
The question now is whether that fight will give me any leverage to get a contract for a series of fights in 2024. I’m trying to meet with promoters now to sound them out. Please put in a prayer for me that something good will come out of this.
Joy and I do plan to be at Binacrombi for New Year. If you’d like to join us, please call Amanda on 1800 620 706. I’m sure she will find a cabin for you. There should be a decent group of us down there this weekend though Joy and I won’t arrive until the Sunday evening. Even so, I expect we’ll have plenty of fun, and will hopefully get in a bit of fighting and praying as well.
In terms of other things I’ve published this week:
- Darren Walton’s AAP article, “Father Dave the fighting priest still punching on at 61” now appears on fatherdave.com.au.
- “A Call for Repentance: An Open Letter from Palestinian Christians to Western Church Leaders and Theologians” is on israelandpalestine.org
Please keep praying and raising your voice for our sisters and brothers in Gaza. As the violence continues unabated, it is easy to fall into apathy and to somehow normalise this ongoing campaign of mass murder. I do not believe the Almighty can allow this to go on much longer. May God have mercy on us all.
Your brother in the Good Fight,