The First Sunday after Christmas
Born in a Shopping Cart, by Rev. Kinsey
Nunc Dimittus! I just wanted to say that. Latin words can sound foreign and funny to our ears. And even though this one’s been part of our liturgies, since at least the 4th century, not everyone recognizes, Nunc Dimittus!
These are the first words of Simeon’s song in our Gospel today, which mean, “now you are dismissing…”
As Simeon took the 5½ week old baby Jesus, and held him, recognizing the salvation for all people was cradled against him, he couldn’t help but thank and praise God. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…” Simeon had believed he would see the Messiah in his life time, before he died, and, he was getting very old. All of Israel was looking for, and expecting the Messiah, to come. Their faith was in, various stages of anticipation, but it had certainly been a defining theme in the people’s return from Exile and the years of rebuilding the 2nd Temple, which led up to Jesus’ birth.
In our story today, Mary and Joseph had returned to the Temple in Jerusalem from Nazareth, 40 days, after giving birth, to make an offering, and Present him, according to the law of Moses, that, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.” So, like all new parents, they expected good things for their child, and this was an important way to begin – important to follow the religious traditions, so that no opportunity for goodness from God, would be missed.
But how could they have anticipated the blessing that came from the holy man, Simeon that day! “For my eyes have seen God’s salvation, prepared before all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel,” he declared. And “There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, …eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came [too], and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
You know, if Mary and Joseph were, the Kardashian family, or the George Cluny family, or Kate & Prince William, they probably would have smiled appropriately for the camera’s, and said, ‘oh thank you. We know. How very nice of you to say.’ And then they would have went on to the next interview.
But this was Mary and Joseph, the hoy polloi, who, in their circumstances, had to make an offering with two, cheap, common birds, instead of the proper offering of a lamb, because they were so very poor. Later Jesus would offer, himself, as the Lamb of God on the cross, of course. But the point is well taken: Jesus came as one of us, a bringer of salvation, not just for the rich, but also for the poorest of the poor.
In America right now, the richest country in the world, every fifth child, on average, is living in a household below the poverty line. And the younger the child, the poorer they are. And for the first time, a majority of American children under age 2 are now children of color — and in this demographic, 1 in 3 is poor, according to a rather disturbing new report, published by the Children’s Defense Fund. “The State of America’s Children 2014” Report, cites “the neglect of children, as the top national security threat.”
“A shopping cart was my first crib,” says Shanika, age 5. “Our home was on the street. Finally under a roof [we had] Two beds for six [of us]. Malnourishment, in these early years, they say, can carry a heavy toll in physical and intellectual development for the rest of their lives.
Who are we – and who do we want to be, as Americans? What do we value? What values do we want to stand for and transmit to our children … where the violence of poverty and guns, snuff out the lives, and dim the eyes and spirits, of children and adults?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” “If we are to teach real peace in this world, …we shall have to begin with the children.”
The incarnation of our Lord Jesus, that is at the heart of God sending God’s son into the world at Christmas, a baby born in a manger, the Son of God, is our unique hope. Can we pay attention to Shanika, born in a shopping cart, as much as we do to Jesus, born in a manger? Do we know why this is happening, and what God is calling us to do today?
After Simeon blessed the holy family, he told Mary something else that day: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed...” The mission of the Son of God, Simeon knew, includes hardship and sacrifice, but also, revelation. Jesus’ gift to us comes through his death and resurrection. A gift that also will “pierce our own souls,” as Simeon had promised Mary. But it is a miraculous gift, because it exposes, and reveals, to the whole world, the founding sin we all are complicit in: the lie of placing the blame on our neighbor, for our own faults, of creating enemies, near and far – “demonizing” them, as we say today – while all too often, letting ourselves, off the hook.
And so we love the baby Jesus, but we blame those in poverty, believing the common lie, that they are lazy. The truth today, of course, is that the many that have dropped out of the middle-classes, have become the working poor, often working more than one job. Not lazy at all, just victims of low wages, and a huge revenue problem. Or we feel sorry for the poor, but we continue to reinforce the privilege and structures that enrich ourselves, or at least keep us receiving a disproportionately unfair opportunity, by comparison.
Who do we want to be? What does the love of Jesus look like today?
St Paul said, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent [God’s] Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” – like us – “in order to redeem [us] who [are] under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of [God’s] Son into [y]our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” All of us are children of someone, even in our old age. And God loves us all, offering us forgiveness, and a way out of blaming and demonizing.
On this Commemoration day of The Holy Innocents, when Herod in his jealous attempt to blame and murder the baby Jesus, killed the young children in Bethlehem, it was a sobering reminder of the evil that led Christ to be born for our salvation.
But the Nunc Dimittus song, reminds us too, that the birth of Jesus was a foretaste of the salvation that was to come, and the redemption of family, at every level: our biological families, of course, but also our church family, the mother and brothers, as Jesus said, who hear the word of God and do it. And, the whole human family, because through Simeon’s prophecy, Jesus is the light, even to the Gentiles. And so God in Jesus blesses all families, and also challenges us to see beyond the bounds of what family is, to what it is becoming.
So, whatever family we identify with, we all come to the table, holding out our hands, like Simeon did, when he received the baby Jesus. We too hold the body of Christ in our hands, and we eat the bread of life, the one born in Bethlehem, which means, the House of Bread. And around the table, we are all brothers and sisters, one family, dismissed in peace.