Expectation, Disappointment, and Fulfillment

A Homily for the First Sunday of Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:20-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light for revelation to the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.

Well. It happened. Christmas came and went.

After four weeks of eager expectation, of singing Advent carols and lighting Advent candles and reading Advent texts, all while the rest of the world started observing Christmas back in November, we held fast. Or at least, we tried to. (Yes, even I broke down and listened to some Christmas carols before the Feast of the Nativity.)

And sometimes, if I’m being honest, Christmas can feel like a bit of a let down. It doesn’t go quite the way you wanted. The dish you were hoping for didn’t taste quite the way you remembered. The stress keeps you from really “getting into the spirit,” as they say. Or, let’s say, hypothetically, you lived in a state with a warm climate and so, instead of a snowy Christmas, you end up with greyish brown grass, deciding if you would rather perspire a little in your sweater or be more comfortable in short sleeves.

By the time we hit Christmas, the rest of the culture has already moved on, and so when you wish someone a Merry Christmas on December 30th (or God forbid, on January 5th!) you get all sorts of weird looks. The more proactive folks are already taking down their trees and tired of all the carols that we have oh-so-diligently avoided until now.

Of course, that’s in a normal year. 2020 has brought with it an entirely new set of stresses and changes, and I don’t doubt there are a good many people feeling let down by Christmas 2020. Traditions, especially if they involve large groups of people, have been canceled or moved online, and even we had to change much of what we do to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.

This entire year, we’ve been waiting – for life to return to normal, to be able to go out to eat, for a vaccine, for an end to the pandemic. Maybe by Easter. Maybe by the summer. Maybe by September. No, just go ahead and cancel your plans, because Christmas is going to be spent the same way Easter was: largely at home, away from the large crowds and celebrations.

And so, even in the heart of the Twelve Days, we feel a little let down.

Imagine being Simeon or Anna – how long they waited! Simeon, having been told that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, and Anna, who spent every day in the Temple. Anna, who at her advanced age, had seen the fall of the Greek rulers and the advent of Roman rule and the installation of Herodian kings as imperial puppets. Simeon and Anna, living in Judea when Rome imposed direct rule, installing Quirinius as governor and ordering a census of the region.

The world moved on around them, and still they waited.

Until it happened.

A family walks in with their young child, fulfilling the ritual obligations for a first-born son. That’s when Simeon takes the child and sings,

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

And handing the Christ-child back to his parents, Simeon tells them Christ “is destined for the falling and rising of many,” and he will be “a sign that will be opposed,” that “sword will pierce [Mary’s] own soul” as well.

And Anna, upon seeing the Lord, “began to praise God.” Even before our Lord called his first disciples, Anna was already telling “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” about this newborn child.

After years, decades of expectation and longing that  the Messiah would come, that God would fulfill the promise made to their ancestor Abraham, they beheld the Very Son of God, the Long-Expected Redeemer.

Not as a king riding in triumph, not as a divine figure descending on clouds, not a mighty warrior. But as an infant in his Blessed Mother’s arms.

And their joy was made complete.

So may it be with us.

Amen.

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