Luke 2:25-38 and a woman’s voice

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

I think often Jesus, in his ministry, used “masculine” and “feminine” imagery to get the same point really across. For example, the Kingdom of Heaven is like: yeast and will multiple the dough; or it is like a net which will catch a large amount of fish. If you don’t know something about yeast and dough, then maybe the fish will catch your imagination.

So — the widow, Anna, also praises the baby Jesus. If you do not trust the words of a proper righteous man, that’s ok. You can listen to Anna. It isn’t exactly equal time here, but I am told that in that time and place the word of a woman was not “trusted”, especially legally, the way a man’s word was; a widow could not own property; a widow on her own, as Anna was, would have a very hard time. She would be perhaps invisible to people, or perhaps she would be useful, perhaps she kept things clean? We do not know a lot. I am sure that if she was not truly nice and truly thoughtful and helpful, and truly worshiping God with a shining and inspiring sincerity, they would not have let her stay at the temple all those years of her widowhood. So she earned some right to be heard. She chooses to speak to “those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Meaning those who were seeking justice from oppression politically, perhaps from the Romans, perhaps in other ways that oppression can occur. If you are looking for redemption, then you have something that needs to be sorted out, reclaimed, redeemed, remade…..

“At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Perhaps Simeon spoke to those of power. Perhaps Anna spoke to those without.

Jesus, I hope, speaks to us all.

FTGOG

Luke 2:25-38 and joy

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

So I think perhaps Simeon and Anna were joy-struck. Somehow (the Holy Spirit…) of all the babies they had seen brought to the temple for blessing, this baby, Jesus, stirred their hearts and made them think he was the one: a light, a blessing, a sign. Not just another life, not just another good life. Perhaps not a “good” life at all because being “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” does not sound safe and secure and happy to me. There’s going to be conflict, so much so that Mary will suffer, because we suffer when our children suffer. This child was the one.

And they are delighted. They were struck with relief and thankful joy to have lived long enough to be in the presence of the babe who would go up and bring Israel’s light to the whole world. It is not a gift for them that is making them happy, it is a blessing for the world.

Just as Luke’s angel declares to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people”. You can hear it as just one set of people or you can take that “all” seriously and I take it seriously indeed. This joy is a love for all — a radical love that has no boundaries, that has no limits, that wants everything made whole, that shares and grows and is full. An abundant love.

This harks back, so my footnotes say, to Isaiah 49:6:

[The Lord] says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to restore the survivors of Israel;

I will give you as a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It would be too easy to just save Israel. God wants the whole world to be saved. Saved from battles and strife and hunger and pain and suffering. Saved from economics that separate and hurt. Saved from a yardstick that only measures by “worldly riches”. Saved by giving.

I think it says a lot that Simeon and Anna were full of joy and thanksgiving at this news from the holy spirit, instead of bitter and anger that it didn’t come sooner. By their joy, the good news of redemption was already a treasure they had, yes? Just as we do: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, Jesus will grow up to say. Not yet, but here.

FTGOG

Interrupted by the Overwhelm and Poetry

So completely overwhelmed, my friends. This morning I went to a beautiful lecture/speech and the speaker said, to the effect anyway, “When we hurt the least of us, we are hurting God. God suffers when the hungry are not fed, when the thirsty do not have water….to help God is to help each other.”

I nearly cried right there and my eyes are suspiciously moist now.

Here’s a poem, written a while back initially that I have been working on for a while.

 

The Body of Christ

 

We remember Him by breaking bread or

Is that the way He remembers us? Either way

Breaking is messy – let’s be glad it isn’t glass

Imagine the shards

Stabbing us

The drops of inevitable blood

 

Instead, today, with each piece pulled free and given,

Tiny crumbs fell to the ground, creating an abundance of memory

Reminding us of dogs who also

Deserve salvation and the birds of the air

And even of mustard seeds

 

Close your eyes. Wonder about mysteries

Wonder about wholeness that is found

only in the beautiful broken mess and then open your sight

to the cross, to what we are remembering

to Whom was so messily broken for dusty us

 

Interrupted by Books: Today will be different

Today will be Different, by Maria Semple, is a wonderful book! I have to interrupt going on more about Simeon and Anna and baby Jesus at the temple to praise this book. I thought it was just going to be another modern family story: Eleanor and Joe had a perfect life, with their son Timby, when …..mental trouble, physical trouble, emotional trouble, you  name it, one of the “troubles” would descend and mess things up. Instead something else entirely happens, a whole new future is suddenly there. To say too much would be to entirely spoil the story.

It is funny. It is heartbreaking. It is so true to life in spots! Eleanor, mostly our narrator, seems both so real and so awful and so cool. I liked her more and more as the story rolls on. While in a way the action of the story takes place in just one day — a day she wakes up determined to be different (she wants to be the perfect wife and mother and she doesn’t want the mess and stress of an ordinary day) — in another way the action travels to the past in memory to explain how this day came to be about. And the more she tries to be perfect, well, the more hilariously things unspool. She is definitely in “firstworldproblems” territory at first, but then, so many surprises.

Parts are told with graphics and other clever things — normally I just want my stories immersive and don’t want clever things but this totally works. It is completely integral to the story.

Absolutely a unique and delightful voice, a great story, a fast read, a surprise.

Luke 2:25-38 an old man and an old woman are joyful

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

This is actually one of the stories that I think I am supposed to like — look they knew this child was the Messiah and they died happy — but to me it is one of the “spooky” stories that do not quite make sense. In fact, miracles of healing don’t trouble me — God can do miracles. All sorts of stuff that might seem spooky is fine by me. But this story has people not really making sense, it seems to me.

Simeon is looking forward to the consolation of Israel — what? The Holy Spirit rested on him and revealed things to him? This is so confusing. Since he was guided by the H.S. to be at the temple when Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus there for circumcision and presentation, on the eight day — really? It is about 6 miles, but they were on the road for so long to get to Bethlehem and Mary has just given birth. This is true dedication, right? Is Mary ever going to catch a break?  And where was Simeon before the H.S. told him to go to the temple? And…. how about something more like this.

“Simeon rose early that morning as he typically did, and said his prayers. This room was chilly in the morning air, but the day would be warmer. Shepherds would bring some spring lambs to the city, farmers might bring some vegetables and fruits. Slowly the sounds of his household pressed upon him — the women in the kitchen, eternally working to feed everyone. Simeon knew he had work to do that day. He raised his hands again and closed his eyes and said a final blessing and suddenly a shaft of dawn’s light broke into the room through a slit in the covered window. He opened his eyes and was amazed at the brilliance and dazzled. Suddenly he knew work could wait. Today he would go to the Temple first thing, be a part of the daily quorum of prayers. His heart lighter, he dressed quickly and ….”

See doesn’t that make more sense? {{laughing}} I know…that was a bit silly …the Bible doesn’t work that way. We are just told — as in a classic storytelling opening — “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, …” where he was when the Holy Spirit inspired him and what it means to be Guided by the Holy Spirit just are not explained.

Maybe that is part of the point? The Holy Spirit needs us to listen and see and do, not fret and question? And with the classic story start — Now there was — his chops to authority are authenticated, at least to the people that first heard this. We’d want to know where did he go to school, and if it wasn’t Princeton Theological Seminary, why not, and what did he study, and …..that’s why I think this is a “spooky” story because I don’t understand who Simeon is and what is motivating him. I think the people then and there and those later that heard the story, woudl absolutely know who he was.

What Simeon does is to hold the baby and praise God and to give a prophesy, a word from God — motivated by the love of God.

And that’s enough for now, for the glory of God.

 

 

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions, for me it means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805823

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805927

At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.

FTGOG

 

 

Matthew 1:18-25 and you

In practicing this story out loud to people — I’m doing it as a layreader at church tomorrow at 8:30 — people are struck by how clear it is that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. And one person said, “Is that really in the bible?” {{grins}} I love when that happens when I am telling a biblical story because it means the person is listening.

Oddly the closer I get to “going live for real” with a story the more disastrous all rehearsals go. That just seems to be the way of it, for me. I keep practicing and praying that all will be as it should tomorrow. I think the worse thing I could do is let fear drive me to just read the words. I think the life that is breathed into a story when it is told instead of read is worth the possible stumbles. (Also it is the small service and very few people will be there…..{{grins}})

In practicing out loud the word “you” has struck my ear, especially in this phrase “…, and you are to name him Jesus”. It is perfectly clear that that “you” refers to Joseph and is an action that Joseph is supposed to take, and, in fact, will take. But somehow, in telling the story, the you almost sounds like “you people, all of you” will name him Jesus, especially as the line continues “for he will save his people from their sins.” You. He has come for you, his people, which is everyone, which is you and me.

Somehow I hope that in telling this story tomorrow people hearing will listen and feel invited into the story.

FTGOG

 

Matthew 1:18-25 and sin

Let’s zero in on verse 21: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

So often you hear that this is a season of love — which it is but then isn’t every season and every day supposed be about loving each other? So often you hear that this season is so joyful, so fun, so special. And it is.

But ultimately what the Incarnation is about is God entering into the story in our realm and saving us from our sins. What sins? Not those things that are merely designated wrong by the culture you find yourself living in — which sometimes may be ill-advised things and sometimes may be just fine. In terms spiritual, in the view of God (perhaps), what is a sin (or sins) so profound that Godself had to come here in person to solve and fix?

And if something needed fixing, then why did God arrive here as a newborn baby, helpless and powerless? Why not arrive like a king or a rebel or a magician or someone with the power to order people and the world around and fix things? And even if arriving here as a baby was the thing to do, then it took a number of years to grow up and be ready to fix things and He still did not fix them with orders and clarity and a flowchart (I think there should be flowcharts) and action steps and programs.

So it seems to me that the sneaky little hook in the Christmas story is that God is saving us from the essential brokeness of this world; a world that He had created* without brokeness and called Good. (Let’s set aside how the world got broken — can we all acknowledge by glancing at a newspaper that it is broken/not perfect?) God is saving us from making our wrong choices over and over that lead to unkindness and hurt and suffering. God is saving us from hard hearts. God is saving us from sin so profound we want to shrug and say “that’s just how things are”. We don’t want to even see the broken relationships (and, perhaps, the very lack of relationships) that is the sin God has come to save us from. We want to say that God sent his son here because He loves us and then just stop and have a birthday party. (And, as the saying goes, God does love us, each of us, completely and wholely and loves us too much to leave us like this.)

Godself came to earth as vulnerable as any baby, but immediately in a network of relationship. God came as a son. And was loved and cared for and protected and taught. I can see him helping Mary, the way a toddler does, to make bread, pouring in the yeast with a shaky little hand. I can see him playing with toy tools that Joseph whittled for him and then learning to carefully measure and cut and work with wood and stone.

And all of this was to restore humans to right relationship** with God and with each other and with self not just feel good or celebrate….perhaps this restored relationship is all right here, at hand, now. Perhaps it is not yet, not quite yet. But it wasn’t for mere happiness or for just a yearly joyful season that God arrived here in flesh. It was for so much more; it was to save his people (all of us) from their sins.

FTGOG!!! Merry Christmas! Hallelujah!

*Interpret artistically, I suggest. While human art is never perfect, never flawless, God’s work is — or was — and it was good.

**Perhaps should discuss in a future blog, but think about words such as loving-kindness and law-abiding and reconciliation. Think about how self-care and care of a baby/child differs from self-indulgence or spoiling?

And note — God has not come here to show us how to be rich and powerful.

Interrupted by Books

So many many books…..

Let me mention and praise Wendell Barry’s Hannah Coulter, it is so beautifully crafted, so beautifully written, but of course it is by Wendell Barry. It also struck me deep in the heart. The passing of the “family farm” is, perhaps, the main loss in the story’s plot. The characters are so alive, they live and breathe and I feel as if I know Hannah and feel the suffering that a way of life has passed or changed so completely. So often this story would be told romanticized or with nostalgia and, of course, both of those perhaps are elements. And there are other truths about country life and country living that were only in the very very outer margins of the story. Different stories about farming life and country life will be told by different authors and in different books. Berry has given us a gift of meeting Hannah, and the people she loves, and learning about the life she and they have lived, and how much they loved “having membership” in that community. It is so real that I feel as if I was there. It was beautiful.

Because for all the sorrow, this is at some core level a novel about a happy life and happy and loving marriage; a network of family and friends. It is about good people, who might have their little ways, but they are decent, loving, kind, hardworking, skilled at what life has caused them to be skilled at.

“The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together.”

or maybe

“Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different.”

Seriously, you can pick out pretty every sentence…. beautiful, transparent, proper, fitting, wonderful writing.

While they mention going to church, other than one small scene, church and religious life isn’t part of the story, but it is part of the lyrical language, part of the richness of the language. Faith is in the iron and bones of the very structure of the lives these characters live, breathed in the very air. Port William may in fact be heaven or a vision of the new earth that is to come.

Oddly, I’ve also read recently the two-book autobiography by Beverly Cleary, the wonderful children’s author. A Girl from Yamhill and  On My Own Two Feet these are engrossing stories of how she got her education and because a writer, when both of those things were hard to do for anyone much less a girl. It, too, takes place in the depression and then WWII and brings that whole era vividly to life. I think at times she was trying to be funny in telling her story, and all I can think is how amazing and strong she was. Really interesting.