Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog has been running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
By Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald
Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the babe was born for you.
Christ the babe is born … for you.
Peace at last! (Ah yes, the joy of Christmas!) The aged Simeon and Anna thank God that they have lived long enough to see the Messiah! (Ah yes, Christmas is not just for children.) Their hopes have been vindicated, their dreams fulfilled, their faithfulness and devotion rewarded.
But Simeon also foresees a future of strife and discord. Some will feel threatened. (Ah yes, those who now hold the reins of economic and political power will not be happy with what this birth means for the future.) The Old Order is destined for change. Opposition will form. Governments will be shaken. New rulers will arise. Regimes will be overthrown. And the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable will be lifted up. (Ah, yes, justice!)
Where will people, rich and poor, young and old, men and women, cast their lot? With Jesus and the New Creation open to all? Or with the status quo, with those who hold onto power in order to maintain the privilege, prerogatives, and perks of the few? This is still a choice for us today, is it not? Why isn’t the choice obvious? A prescient Simeon tells mother Mary that a sword will pierce her soul, and today the pain of the world’s cruelty, ignorance, and indifference pierces our souls as well.
The conflict here is not between Judaism and Christianity. After all, Jesus’ presentation in the Temple locates his story firmly in Jewish tradition. Nor is the conflict somehow between Christianity and some other world religion — like Islam, for example, which wouldn’t make an appearance for another six hundred years. This is about the establishment of a world reconciled with itself and with the Creator herself through the power of divine love. Dare we hope for such a healing as this? Dare we choose it and enact it?
Prayer: We rejoice and sing your praises, O Holy Child of Bethlehem. You have shown God’s good intentions for all the earth and all your people — healing, peace, and justice — through the power of love embodied. Let your Holy Spirit guide us, O God, to make it so, according to your word. Amen.
* The opening verse is from the hymn “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.”
Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald is the president of the San Francisco Theological Seminary.