Lord, I Am at Peace: This Christmas Too, Mine Eyes Have Seen You

Luke 2: 28-33

Simeon took up the child Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to they word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to they people Israel.”

The father and the mother were marveled at what was said about the child.

When I come to die — Oh, let me die like Simeon.

I, too, have been a watchman, waiting for your coming. I knew the promise of your word. In your word was all my hope. But I sought to see you with my own eyes; so I stayed awake, watching, watching for your coming. O Lord, my soul waited for you more than they that watch for the morning; more, I say, than they that watch for the morning.

I heard it said among the disciples: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see”—and I wanted so to be  blessed! It was your voice among the disciples, saying: “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Like 10:23-24).

I myself, I had heard. Sermons and personal declarations and the assurances of many believers, I had heard. But I had not seen. And I yearned, O Lord, to see your salvation.

I prayed, “Come!”

With the Spirit and the Bride I prayed, “Come!”

Since I was him who hears, I thundered, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”

Such was my Advent thirst and all my hunger: “Come.”

And then you did, O Lord! You came!

My Advent has been fulfilled in Christmas, and I see you!

Again this year that great and mighty wonder—a Virgin bearing an Infant—has seized my heart with its glorious love. You came into the world. You’ve come into my world! You came once, surely: two thousand years ago. But that has caused your coming still, daily, daily, morning by morning, for people like me.

And so I celebrated the feast of your Nativity this year with the softer passion of gratitude, and that — the gratitude itself — was proof of your presence.

“Blessed are the eyes which see what you see,” you said to the disciples. And what had they seen? In sequence, the same three things that I have seen (Luke 10:17-22):

  1. The effective power of your name in their mouths: “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” they said, and you said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority . . . over all the power of the enemy.”

I, too, have experienced in material  fact the salvation of your name. For your contemporary disciples prayed for me, and I was surrounded by your love and the demons did not possess me. Those who believe in you uttered your name for my healing, and though the pain continued, it was changed. Satan could not use it to tempt me. Pain no longer dominated me, for you shared the pain, suffering it with me. Mine eyes have seen you: you have come.

2.  And you said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There has grown in me this year again a genuine joy, O Jesus. A personal, deep down, inexpressible joy. Joy after loneliness. The joy of new relationship: for I am yours and I am God’s. My name is written in the Book of Life.

3.  Then you thanked the Father that he had “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.”

As a baby myself — more needy than able, weaker than strong, foolish from failure, helpless and hungry — I’ve seen the sheer grace of your love: for I should be dead, but I live! I should despair, but during this Christmas too I’ve known moments of genuine peace. This cannot arise from me. It has to come as a gift from the Source of Life and Truth and Light and Bread and Love. It is visible proof of you.

Moreover, I have used your name among the Gentiles, and even now I see what light you are for them! My words became your angel to all people, testifying that you are the root and the offspring of David, the glory of Israel, the bright and morning star.

Mary’s Song: Echoing the Songs of Prophets and Angels

It has begun: the song that the prophet Habakkuk sang centuries ago it being fulfilled!

Habakkuk’s hymn ends:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
     I will joy in the God of my salvation!
God, the Lord, is my strength;
          he makes my feet like hinds’ feet;
          he makes me walk on my high places!

Mary’s words “God, my Savior” are the same in Greek as Habakkuk’s, “God of my salvation.”

From two sides of the promises of God, a man and a woman sing duet. He has heard the promise-word, and believes it. She’s been told of promise-keeping, and believes it. Salvation is surely coming to the people of God, and time itself collapses, all chronology contracts into that single fierce and burning moment when God acts among us.

But even as she sings across the times a duet with the prophet of old, Mary is singing across the worlds a duet with another figure altogether.

What, when God communicates a blessed message, is the first best thing to do with it? Why, tell it.

And how shall your joy affect the telling? How shall faith and gladness send the message straight to the hearts of your hearers? O Christian, sing it with highest delight!

Listen with remembering ears to the song that Mary sings, and you will find that Gabriel’s message has swiftly been given a human voice (both for Elizabeth and for “all generations” thereafter). It never is just the intellectual meaning of the words that captures the message of the Almighty! The messages consist as well of things that must be felt, experienced: God’s ineffable love, our emotional and spiritual responses, elements whose truth cannot be objectively analyzed nor reduced to doctrine.

Praise and thanksgiving require more than our brains. They want our laughter, our capering bodies, our trembling delight, smiles and the sweet flush of delight — and song. Praise must be sung.

So Mary sings a duet with the angel, a celestial song that transcends all worlds, for the flaming servants of God do join our grateful, faithful choirs:

The power of the Most High will overshadow you, sang Gabriel, and Mary refrains that word “power” in the words “mighty”: He who is mighty has done great things for me.

Of the child to be born, Gabriel sang, He will be great, and Mary echoes the word: Great things for me!

Well, and we know what great things, don’t we? We ought to. We, too, are recipients.

In her life and in her child — and already now in her song — they become great things for “all who fear him.” Her praise is generous. What is being done for Mary personally will embrace the faithful generally.

And as Gabriel sang: Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy — Son of God, so Mary sings: And holy is his name!

And as Gabriel sang: Of his kingdom there will be no end, so Mary sings the same endlessness — again, embracing the many: His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

So Mary sings with the prophet of old to show what promises God is keeping in her present.

And Mary sings with the angel of heaven to show how the events of her present shall embrace all future generations.

We are that future. We are embraced.

But who are we?

The proud look down on others because they do not look up to God.

We are, apart from God, those of low degree. We must be the hungry and the poor. It cannot be otherwise! No, it can’t — or we would never, when God exalts us after all, sing as Mary sang: spontaneous praises and thanksgiving.

Joseph: the Character of Righteousness

Joseph, the carpenter;

Joseph, a common man caught up in cosmic affairs;

Joseph, known to his neighbors, yet so unassuming that he sinks swiftly from biblical sight (indeed, this episode in the book of Matthew is the single personal story by which we might really meet the man);

Joseph, more mute in the Gospels than Zechariah since the words of the latter are recorded in talk and in song, but of the former there are no words remembered, none;

Joseph, husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus —

Joseph is a just man.

Because the Evangelists say so little about him, each word must bear enormous importance: Joseph is an “upright” man. For raising his child, papa Joseph shall be the very model of a righteous man—not so much in what he says as in what he does.

So, let’s examine it: what does he do? What is righteousness, as revealed in this brief episode of rights and choices regarding the life of another?

Mary was found to be with child…

Until the angel enlightens him with a holier explanation, the evidence speaks for itself. Mary has committed adultery. Betrothal binds two people as completely as marriage itself, even though they don’t yet live together or engage in sexual activity. So Mary has broken the Law, and the Law defines the consequence.

The woman charged with so serious a crime as adultery shall be stoned (Deut. 22:20-21).

But Joseph?

He resolved to divorce her quietly. He has some legal discretion here, he chooses, Joseph chooses, not to accuse her of the crime, neither publicly nor privately. He will make no accusation at all, though he has every right to do so.

Evidently, one’s rights do not define one’s righteousness!

So this is what that righteous man is not: he is not self-centered!  If Joseph suffers a blow to his ego, his masculinity, his stallion pride, we don’t see it. He shows no anger, no public outrage, no withering scorn. He doesn’t launch a campaign to smear her. He never says, “She owes me” or “She’ll pay for this,” as if her sin owes something to him. Mary’s adultery seems to have absolutely nothing to do with his reputation! And the righteous man does not view justice as something he receives for damages.

But today, in systems of law that ignore God altogether, and in hearts too filled with selves, folks demand justice as their own due! “She’ll pay for this” means “I’ll get that pay!” And we seek punishment to satisfy nothing but ourselves.

And Joseph?

He resolved to divorce her……Though he chooses to do it quietly, he nevertheless chooses to divorce her.

Neither, then , is the righteous man the romantic hero who flouts laws and traditions for the sake of some higher individuality. Just as Joseph’s decision doesn’t center on himself, so it does not center on Mary or on their relationship as if that were the true nobility of humanity.

Joseph does not cry “Love conquers all!” He cannot make a small world of himself and his true love alone. He won’t (as do so many today) exchange the restraints of God and one’s culture for sweet, explosive emotions or for some fierce individuality that knows better than all the ancestors and all the parents combined.

No, Joseph’s righteousness (1) honors God and God’s will above the will of the self and even above the love of another. But it (2) is tempered by mercy.

Joseph resolves to keep the law, yes, but with such lenience that Mary’s life will not be destroyed in the process. There will be no accusation, no trial at all (though a trial by ordeal is indicated where no witness can be found, cf. Num. 5:11-31), no public shame, nothing to save the writ of divorce and two witnesses.

What, then, is righteousness? These two things: the obedience we owe to God and the mercy God grants us to grant others. It looks first to God, second to the other, never to the self — yet the self experiences a most holy peace in these relationships.