Dec 28, 2008
First Sunday After Christmas
First Christian Church of Hagerstown, Md
Have you ever seen one of those images of Jesus? They show up all the time on rocks and trees, on ceiling tiles, and grilled cheese sandwiches. People flock from all over to witness it or they pay large sums of money in order to somehow own this supposed miracle.
The most recent occurrence which I can recall was a sighting of Jesus on a power-line transformer in Kingsville, Texas this past November. “hundreds of people have come on foot and in car to check it out, even one very sick woman with her daughter came here to pray for a speedy recovery,” reports kiii.tv, the local station which covered the story.
Even I have seen, with my own eyes, one of these wonders; outside of my in-law’s home in South-western Pennsylvania. I recall the first time I saw it my heart skipped a beat. I wandered closer to the image which I found on a log next to the pond. It was unmistakably Christ: his soft, inviting eyes and a crown of thorns appeared to be etched into the wood. My in-laws, Ed and Elaine, don’t need to ward off the crowds however. And they haven’t placed the item on eBay. This story never appeared in any newspaper; and I believe you are the first to hear of it outside of the Budner household. “Its not a miracle” the public would say. Because, you see Ed is an artist and he carved the image himself.
I asked him about this image one day and he told me that it was not planned out, he just started craving one day. He said “I did not see a face in it before I started carving. I just went for it and that’s what came out.” Somehow those other images are deemed miraculous because they are some sort of natural accident, untainted by human hands. It is a miracle, they would say, because human beings had nothing to do with it. Natural is synonymous with miraculous; humanity is not.
The miracle of Christmas, which we recalled last Thursday, flies in the face of this reasoning. The baby named Jesus was born long ago in a town called Bethlehem and it was miraculous. Besides his virgin birth, the prophecies fulfilled, the traveling star and the wise men – Jesus himself was a miracle. The first miraculous image. Not in trees, moss, nor any other inanimate object but in the flesh and blood of a human being. The miracle of Christmas is that God became human, in the flesh AND…what is truly miraculous…God became a man in such a way that human beings, you and I, are able to recognize him!
This is what Simeon did in our Gospel account today. He was an old man who was serving in the temple. He knew that the messiah would come some day and he waited patiently, knowing that Israel would be redeemed through him. He had assurance of Christ’s coming because “it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Christ of the Lord.” Finally, one ordinary day, God fulfilled this promise which was made to Simeon. The child Jesus was presented in the temple, as was customary in his day. When Simeon did see the promised Christ child he, saw the Christ child not only with his eyes, but he also welcomed him into his arms. Simeon experienced the Christ.
He held the promise in his arms, the divine image, and he praised God. After praising the holy family, Simeon prophesied about the work which Christ would accomplish throughout his life. Being a mere image was not enough, but it is because Christ caused many to rise and fall, that he was opposed, and a sword pierced him that our Christ, the image of God, has great power. The Christ child was not a two dimensional image, but the living and breathing God.
Just as Christ did more than simply appear, we must do more than simply to observe or acknowledge him. This miracle, the miracle of Christmas; God come in the flesh; is a miracle which demands a response. It is not one which we can glance at as we pass by. It is something that must be experienced fully. With one’s eyes, with one’s head, and with one’s heart. Simeon realized this when he held Jesus in his arms. It was a life-changing experience and a fulfillment of his expectation.
That Jesus was born some 2000 years ago does not mean that we are unable to see and experience him now. Christ is alive and well, through the Holy Spirit in his church, in this particular church in Hagerstown. He is at work in the Sunday schools, in your homes, and in your mission work both locally and globally.
God came in the flesh in the baby Jesus born long ago- and Simeon praised God. What then is our response? We, the church, are the body of Christ. We have become what Simeon prophesied: the light and glory to the nations that through us Christ may be known. And so, like Simeon, we praise God for his self revelation through his Son. And, like Anna the prophet who followed Simeon in today’s Gospel reading, we speak about the Christ child to all who look for redemption.
So, I say to you: Ed’s image of Christ in the log is a miracle and those found in the wild are not. The miraculous is not found in a pile of rocks or a natural arrangement of water stains. The miracle is that human beings are able to recognize Jesus the Christ. That we are able to point to an image and recall the living God who entered into space and time. When you hear about the next miraculous sighting of Christ remember that it is true – but not only as a graphic representation, God has broken into history. He looks for your response of faith, a response of praise, and a hopeful anticipation of his return. Let your light shine that others may know that Christ has truly come, this is the miracle of Christmas. Merry Christmas!