Familiarity breeds…what?

Those of us who have to preach at Christmastide find it difficult to say anything new about texts that one could mostly recite by heart, they are so familiar (tomorrow will be my seventh sermon on a different topic since Christmas Eve, since you ask). And yet, sometimes a word or phrase from a familiar text will jump out at you and open up new perspectives.

On Sunday, our Gospel reading was Lk. 2.22-40, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It had never struck me before how many references there were to ‘doing everything prescribed by the law’. I’m now convinced that Luke means us to see that Joseph and Mary, having gone to the Temple as observant Jews, expected to leave as observant Jews, but were challenged by Simeon, who in that moment became their teacher. They had to embark on a steep learning curve as they started to realise the implications of what they had done in bringing this child into the world, implications on which they would have to ponder for the next thirty years.

Simeon, for his part, having spent his life ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, had to confront the revelation of the identity of the Messiah, which was different from what he had expected. He had to accept that his day was over, and he would have to leave the stage. But by God’s grace, he went in peace and thankfulness.

There is so much about Christmas and other major feasts that encourages us to think in terms of sudden, earth-changing events, and this is, indeed, what they were. The recurrent metaphors speak of ‘breaking in’, ‘bursting forth’, and so on. But it’s also a matter of gradual process, of reflecting on and slowly coming to terms  with events that challenge us to be transformed.

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