December 2020

In The Meantime

1st Sunday After Christmas, December 27, 2020
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Luke 2:22-40

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

It is important to note that amid the backdrop of emerging anti-Semitism decades following the death and resurrection of Christ, the author of Luke’s Gospel emphasized the important role Jewish leaders played in the nurturing and upbringing of Jesus. Luke acknowledges that Jesus first revealed himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy concerning the anointing Spirit of God upon him in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth (4:16-21). Luke later reveals that another Jewish leader, Joseph of Arimathea, provided the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed (23:50-53). But before either of these events, Jesus had to be dedicated as a child of God at the temple in Jerusalem, and we are told that Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was informed by God that he would not die before seeing the Christ. Simeon not only saw him, but blessed him.

Some biblical scholars believe that this Simeon was Shimon ben Hillel, chief priest of the Sanhedrin and son of the eminent Jewish scholar Hillel, who authored what we call the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Simeon, or Shimon, was also the father of the renowned rabbi Gamaliel, whom the Apostle Paul acknowledged as his teacher.

But this is mere speculation, for little beyond this brief reference in Luke’s Gospel is known of the man called Simeon. Yet what reference is made of him is of vital importance, because he was a man filled with the Holy Spirit and favored of God.

Now amid all the talk about the importance and blessing of male infants in what was then a patriarchal faith tradition, we also read about Anna, so prominent among the people if Israel that they regarded her as a prophet. It is Anna who shares her vision regarding the greatness of the child to all in the temple.

I mention this because there is always a time in between, a meantime during which we live and wait in anxious expectation, and often die without witnessing the fulfillment of our dreams. Anna and Simeon were near the end of their earthly lives which, no doubt, were of enormous significance to their contemporaries, yet all we know of them is revealed in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The thirty years prior to Jesus’ baptism remains, for the most part, a mystery. Yet during this time between birth and ministry, we can assume that he was loved, protected and nurtured in his faith by his parents and the synagogue in Nazareth. What we actually know about him consists of only three years of ministry from indirect sources. Most of the New Testament is about what happens after his earthly ministry which is, once again, the meantime, the time in between his resurrection and second coming.

It is in the meantime, the time in between, when we should be most attentive to the meaning and magnitude of our faith in God’s incarnate presence among us. As Christians, we believe that through Jesus God’s life and power over death were witnessed and experienced among us. But this doesn’t mean that God was absent or less prevalent before or after Christ, or that God’s embodiment was confined to the region of Palestine and nowhere else in the world. By believing such we negate the presence of God’s omnipresence, whose Spirit abides in each of us and knows us.

God knows each of us, our needs and motives and dreams. And God enables us to discern the presence of the divine among us based on our ability to believe in it, care for it, and nurture its potential within us and our children, even as the parents and community surrounding Jesus cared for and nurtured him to the full awareness of his God-given potential. This is the in-between or meantime we don’t see or hear or read about, but is nonetheless important.

Following the last Racism in America Forum featuring African American students sharing their experience of growing up in rural Vermont, several Vermonters responded by trying to find a means of supporting, sponsoring and encouraging these students to pursue their dreams, and then return to Vermont to help make this a place where they can feel more at home, and we more at home with them and each other.

This is an example of the caring, nurturing reality of the Word of God made flesh among us. It is not an event that happens in any particular moment of time. It is an ongoing and ever-present occurrence we must learn to see, believe and embrace, even as we hold the Christ to our hearts and lives, so that we, by our lives, may fill the meantime with the fullness of time; and so that we, by our lives, will not pass from this life without seeing the presence of Christ among us. Amen.