The Sunday of the great letdown. I’m sure this day has an actual designation, some sort of inside-joke/private language designation that serves to help the professionals maintain the exclusivity of knowledge, us professionals like those kinds of things, The Sunday after Easter, despite having a perfectly good name, The Sunday after Easter, is called Low Sunday, though I have been heard to call it Doubting Thomas Sunday because Thomas is always the scripture for that day.
But the Sunday of the great letdown is as good as any other name, i suppose. I would like to confess that i do not know of another name for this day, Pastor Dave might but they didn’t cover older nomenclature at seminary which is kind of too bad.
This is the Sunday that the enthusiasm starts to wear off and people slip back into the slumber in attendance until Easter rolls around. To be fair, we’ve had a remarkable season of worship here at Faith. We experimented with the liturgy and there were no repercussions. We worked some Christmas carols into the service a few Sundays in advance of it actually being Christmas and the earth did not spin from its axis. We each gave up a little more of our time to the worship of the Lord than we usually do, but we somehow managed to keep up with our television viewing at the same time so mass-congregation-wide suffering was averted.
The trappings are much the same as always. Ed Rybat even put lights on the tree one afternoon after realizing that they were missing. He rightly thought the tree would look a little better in the dimness of the candlelight if it were all a-twinkle. We sat in the usual places and sang the usual songs but it was, as it always is, a little new as well. Faces were new. Either fully new, recently met or returned to us after a time of rest we saw new faces and thought of the gifts from God that they represented.
Each of us is a gift from God to the rest of us, to the whole of the Body of Christ.
But ask any kid, after the rush of adrenaline, after the wrapping paper has been discarded in an appropriate receptacle for recycling or disposal and not placed into your fireplace, the gifts begin their long, inevitable slide into obscurity, obsolescence and being taken for granted, like that thing you got a couple of years ago that sits in the closet, making it hard to get around and get the other, newer thing you are looking for.
Today is the beginning of the great letdown.
Which is kind of sad, after all of the buildup. In the church we have the four Sundays of Advent, the three or four mid-week services, before that we have Christ the King Sunday which brings the previous year to a close so we can really turn our attention to the coming Christ. There is a lot of build-up in the church as Christmas approaches because this is our festival time, this is the time that we are far more intentional, far more avidly interested in making the time we spend together joyful, and triumphant even.
And we are just pikers compared to the rest of the world. our build-up begins with planning in July or August but it goes into action at Thanksgiving, at the beginning of the holiday season.
Out there, the preparation for Christmas 2015 has already begun. It will go into action sometime soon after Labor Day if they can wait that long, someday I assume we’ll be hearing those sleigh-bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too on the 5th of July.
But the build-up is only a part of the let-down. At some point we have to start questioning the whole enterprise, not just the frenzy of consumerism that we see outside our walls each holiday season, but also the frenzy of activity and expectation we experience within these same walls as well.
What is it that we are waiting for?
Simeon and Anna were waiting. In essence they were professional waiters, not of the food-service variety but folks whose lives had become proscribed to the extent that they did nothing else but wait. Anna had been waiting since her husband died, waiting in the temple, day and night, for either death or the Messiah, whichever came first.
Simeon was a little more clear, he had been told that he would not see death before seeing the Messiah come, so when he was waiting, in the temple or in the street, he was waiting for the one thing, the certainty that was promised to him.
When the messiah came to them, the little tiny baby, presented to the priests for consecration unto the Lord, they knew just what to do and they leapt into action. Simeon took the Christ Child into his arms and praised God because he could finally now rest, his time of waiting was over.
I often think that we take our cues from Simeon far too often. He’s a man after all and in the bible that lends you a little cachet, after all the live of David is being fulfilled, the major prophets whose names we bother to memorize are men, the book is quite Andros-centric on the surface and so Simeon is the one whose name is more often remembered when it comes to the presentation of Jesus.
Simeon praises his God and thanks God that he can now rest and with all of the build-up to the season, with the extra worship and the shopping and the caroling and the shopping and the sharing and the shopping and the TV specials and the shopping we are all looking for a rest at the end of the season, praising God and giving thanks that we are now done with our waiting and can take our rest.
But as any good reading of the bible will tell you, the subtle cues are to be taken from the women.
Anna finds her solace, in the temple, her joy and her meaning are in praying day and night and her patience is rewarded one day when, out of the blue, in walks the messiah, actually in is carried the messiah. Anna too is old but nobody bothered to tell her that she would not die unless she saw the messiah and so her waiting is different.
She waits because she knows that when the Messiah comes, people will need to know. She waits so that she can be ready to do what needs doing when the time comes for the Messiah to be seen, to be recognized, to be hailed, to be embraced and understood.
Simeon waits for release as if waiting to see the Messiah was some kind of prison from which someday his God will grant him release. Anna waits for the Messiah because she eagerly wishes to see the coming of the Lord, to see that joyous day and to play her part in His coming. Her life has not been broad and varied, she has focused on this one thing, on doing it right, on being present for the past few decades.
How long have we been waiting? Off and on for almost fifty years in my case, I don’t know about you. I have waited in anticipation for the things that make the holiday bright and cheery, meaningful and meaningful, the things that make it real. Hooray for us, we got it.
We had guests galore, family and friends, new and old, visitors in church and in our home and the season was filled with love.
I have been waiting for this for a long time.
So now that it has arrived, now that the day has come, am I dismissed, is God’s servant permitted to go in peace or is there something else, some other imperative for me to see to, some mission for me to invest in? On the Hole front we will indulge the season another week but then the inevitable dis-assembly will take place and all of the ornaments, the heirlooms, the memories will be packed away, I don’t know about your house but on Lewis road it takes nine totes and a couple more special bins to sock it all away for another year.
But when we do, I will remember this year’s joys and plan on unpacking next year, of finding the right spot for the ornaments, for the crèche, for the things that are the landmarks of the season.
Around here, we also have a mission to accomplish but Simeon cannot be our guide.
We need to be Anna’s people now, there is a further task for us, a word to be spread, a world to be brought into the fold, a Messiah to be claimed and proclaimed.
Who were our gifts this year? Do we know their names? Did we speak to them on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? The anticipation of the gift of the messiah should not fade into the somnolence or s captive set free but should be our guide and companion the rest of the year as we seek to bring the word of the Word made flesh into stark relief for a world grown complacent and lazy, grown inward and selfish.
Anna sought the Lord’s path and got right to it. On this the Sunday of the great letdown, let’s not let the rose fade, not let the joy wane, not let the possibilities wither away as the season turns. We’ve waited so long that we are very good at it, let’s celebrate the seeking as well as the finding of Christ and remember all those who have not yet found Him and be about fixing that.