The new year is upon us with all its worries and woes.
Both in our nation and our world there is anxiety over fragile economies, global warming, and sectarian uprisings. As I write this, the people of Russia are taking to the streets protesting the existing leadership just as Time Magazine has named “The Protestor” as person of the year.
Wherever we live we seem to be under similar strains of unease and unrest and we don’t know exactly what to do. It’s as if HR has taken a collective vacation and all those who work the customer service window are on a long coffee break and there are no immediate plans for their return. Since we don’t know where to take our worries and apprehension, we take to the streets. The world is a hard place and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier.
Meanwhile, those of us in the church carry about with our own little rituals. Christmas is not quite over for us and Epiphany is just beginning. We speak of light and surprises and stars, small wonders some might believe are absurd, but it is precisely in these hidden places where Christ’s people seek hope. In this year of Luke, we begin on New Year’s Day with a text in which both Simeon and Anna praise the coming messiah. As Simeon holds this child in the temple he proclaims “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” It’s a ridiculous thing to proclaim because this after all, is a child, and the world was hard place then just as it is now, and we, who preach, foolishly proclaim that through the Holy Spirit, salvation is at hand. Salvation is at hand.
Yet for many, even Christians, Christmas with all its fal-da-ral and manger scenes seems as removed from the notion of salvation as tap-dancing dogs. Isn’t salvation what’s theological at stake in our Easter celebrations? How could it be that Simeon and Anna find salvation and hope for the world in a mere child?
The message of salvation is not merely seasonal for we cannot separate the incarnation from the cross and resurrection. It is not a message exclusive to Easter; in fact, faith that salvation is at hand has everything to do with our daily life and the life of this world, here and now. Ultimately salvation is not dependent upon us, but as with Simeon and Anna, is bestowed upon us through God’s grace and this grace allows us to see the world through a new lens. We realize that below and beneath our brokenness and our sin, under what is visible and difficult God is acting in the invisible and hidden work of God.
God’s salvific work is paradoxical and it comes to us daily, in and under and with our ordinary lives. It comes to us born upon our words and water, bread and wine. Salvation comes to us as a child. As Paul Tillich writes, “Only he (sic) who can see power under weakness, the whole under the fragment, victory under defeat, glory under suffering, innocence under guilt, sanctity under sin, life under death can say: Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” (Has the Messiah Come? From ‘The New Being’, 1955.)
It is just as crazy for us as it was for Simeon and Anna to proclaim this message in these hard days. But history and our life together has always been hard and it will always be. Yet salvation, such a gift, will always remain in the mystery of the Christ child. This child, who tells us that even as the world seems set upon its own destruction, God is at work and we — favored more or less — cannot help but proclaim that salvation is near.