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"What We've Been Waiting For," by Claire Helton

Luke 2:22-35

When the day came for them to be purified, as laid down by the Law of Moses, the couple took Jesus up to Jerusalem and presented him to God. For it is written in the Law of our God, “Every firstborn heir is to be consecrated to God.” They likewise came to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accord with the dictate of the Law of our God. Now there lived in Jerusalem a man named Simeon. He was devout and just, anticipating the consolation of Israel, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he wouldn’t see death until he had seen the Messiah of God. Prompted by the Spirit, Simeon came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child to perform the customary rituals of the Law, he took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Now, O God, you can dismiss your servant in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the peoples to see—a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” As the child’s mother and father stood there marveling at the things that were being said, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, the mother, “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is rejected, so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare. And a sword will pierce your innermost being as well.”



Sermon

For the past four Sundays we have grounded ourselves in the annual Advent rhythm of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. And now, at last, the season of Christmas has truly, liturgically, arrived. But has hope arrived? Or peace, or joy, or love?

When the Christ-child had arrived, the prophet Simeon held him in his arms and proclaimed that all of what he’d been waiting for his whole life was here now, in this child, in this moment. Now he could die in peace. I don’t know many people who’ve had a moment quite like that at Christmas, nor am I saying that’s something we should strive for – but I do wonder what it would take for us to know in our spirits what we’re waiting for so definitively that, when we saw it, we’d be as confident as Simeon that we had found it.

Theologically, I feel like we always walk a tightrope in the transition from Advent to Christmas. We spend so much time talking about the things we’re waiting for during Advent, and at times it feels like the implication is that when Christmas arrives, when the Christ-child is born, those longings should be fulfilled. But our experience tells us otherwise. Our experience tells us that, perhaps more often, fulfillment and longing coexist, side by side. To inhabit only one at the expense of the other is to live a fragmented life.

So, I want to offer a poetic meditation this morning on the yearnings of Advent and the coming of Christmas; if you were at the Christmas Eve service in 2019 it will be familiar; I’ve tweaked it a little since then. And today, my voice is only one of the many that will offer a mini-sermon on our longings and their fulfillment – several of our Northminster members have sent in reflections on where they have seen hope, peace, joy, and love in this season, and we’ll close this part of the service with a collection of those reflections, in the hope that we might continue to train our hearts to know more clearly what they long for, and our eyes to see more clearly the ways those longings are already being fulfilled all around us, here and now.

This is a poem called “The Unfolding of Dawn.”

I. Hope

It’s the promise of a future,

a story we can find ourselves in.

It’s an unfolding path

and despite the fact

that we may not always be able to see past

the next bend

it’s enough to trust

that we’re headed somewhere,

that the road doesn’t end

or suddenly drop off –

or that even if it does

the journey continues

on a path through the valley below.

In the darkness we’ve waited

and for some hope was bright

giving light to the path

that we’ve walked.

For others, hope was distant

like a dream melting away

like a story unremembered

not quite forgotten

but far enough gone

that it carried no punch,

not enough to live on.

If hope is a promise

and the promise has been broken

how do we move forward

with hearts open?

Our waiting is over,

now the light turns

Morning has broken

Don’t we still yearn?

II. Peace

It comes unexpectedly

in the calm after a rush of wind

at the same time as dependable

as the rhythm of the ocean waves

It comes at great cost

when it means anything at all

when it’s more than delaying the inevitable

when it’s more than mere repression

when it’s more than a shushing

of what aches to be made known

As we’ve traveled the path of hope

we have seen that it leads toward peace,

have even discerned

that the path toward peace

is peace

if we let it be,

and we have done what we can

to let it be –

Let it be.

Be,

and let it be enough.

Our waiting is over

Now the light turns

Morning has broken

Don’t we still yearn?

III. Joy

Elusive as answers

abundant as air

it arises within us

despite all our fear

and because we can feel it

even in fear’s dread grasp

we have trusted

that we will know true joy at last

In the walking of this path

this journey through night

with peace as our aim

with hope bearing light

for some it has still been

a journey toward joy

not a journey of joy

for it seems that joy lingers

just out of our reach

as the weight of the season

bears down,

but now

Our waiting is over,

now the light turns

Morning has broken

Don’t we still yearn?

IV. Love

Untaught, unkempt,

unbreaking, unbought:

it’s the stuff of miracles,

the unthinkable, thought.

And it’s not so unthinkable,

commonplace, mundane.

It’s eyes that see deeply,

it’s the lifting of shame.

It’s the weight of a blanket

tucked in tight and warm;

it’s the decision to stay

even after the storm

of emotion

confusion

mistrust

disbelief.

It’s returning again and again

to this truth

that we each hold within us

the image of the invisible God.

However hurried or timid our step

down this Advent path we’ve trod

it is love that has called us forward:

love waiting to be born.

Our waiting is over,

now the light turns

Morning has broken

Don’t we still yearn?

V. Dawn

Maybe for you it was sudden;

maybe you woke up

and the ache was gone.

More likely it will be slow,

like the unfolding of dawn.

It’s hard, you know, to pinpoint

the precise moment the dawn arrives.

Still, it comes,

and we trust its coming,

from the first whisper of light.

Like a new mother laboring

(toward what anguish she does not yet know),

once begun,

there is no stopping it,

this life will be born,

this darkness will be broken,

this morning be made known.

This dawn won’t be the last

neither will this night

light falls and it rises

but with hope in our hearts

let us press on in our yearning

until the next morning

and the next

receiving what hope, what peace we may find

receiving what joy, what love may come

receiving the gifts of the light.

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