Longings and Expectations

It is the season of wish lists and shopping, wrapping and wondering what’s in those boxes. It is the time for writing themes on “What I Want for Christmas” like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story. Remember Ralphie Parker? He has a laser-focused desire on just one gift – an “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” For weeks he has schemed to get his mitts on one of those fearsome blue steel beauties. He reflects, “My fevered brain seethed with the effort of trying to come up with the infinitely subtle devices necessary to implant the Red Ryder Range model air rifle indelibly into my parents’ subconscious.”

Ralphie and Simeon both have one wish, one longing, one dream, one hope…

Simeon and Anna are forgotten characters in our Christmas story. We don’t have figurines for them to join our nativity scene. They appear in the lectionary once every three years on the Sunday after Christmas, so many of us may not know their story. And we really don’t know a lot about them.

We know that Anna is 84 years old, that she was married for 7 years and has lived as a widow in the temple ever since. She is devoted to fasting and prayer; she is a prophetess and when she sees the baby Jesus, she gives thanks to God and begins telling everyone who is expecting the Messiah about him.

And we know that Simeon is a righteous and devout man, not a priest or a Levite or a Pharisee. He is just a good man who walks humbly with God and who longs for God’s Kingdom. That’s his one wish. He longs to see the salvation of Israel. He longs God’s Messiah to come in his lifetime. And he has hope – the Holy Spirit has assured him that before he dies, he will see the Christ, God’s anointed One, the salvation of Israel. Then one day, he has an urging, a nudge, because that’s how the Holy Spirit works, to go to the Temple. And while he is there, a young couple comes in with their month old son to consecrate him to the Lord.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”

Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand.”

So, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus, their firstborn to consecrate him to the Lord. Most parents also offered 5 sheckels after the consecration to reclaim their child, so that he was theirs and not the Lord’s, interestingly Mary and Joseph did not. They left their baby, Jesus dedicated to the Lord.

And while they were there an elderly man approached and asked to hold the baby. He took him in his arms and the two gazed into each others’ eyes. Mary and Joseph marveled at what the man said; it was as though their baby meant everything to him. “Now I’m content to die,” he said.

It is often translated, “Now let your servant depart in peace,” but the peace that Simeon means is not absence of war in the world or peace with his friends and family, the word translated peace means “contentment.” “Now, Lord, let me die contented.” All that I have been longing for, all that I have been living for, has been fulfilled.

For Ralphie, it was the “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” For Simeon, it was too see God’s salvation, a light that would reveal God to the Gentiles and bring God’s glory for Israel.

Everyone has a dream, a hope, a longing. We are taught that wishes are for children, and we tuck away our dreams. But, we all have longings that we live for.

Ralphie’s father, The Old Man, longs for something harder to obtain than an “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” The Old Man works puzzles, with his wife’s help, and sends them in, hoping for the $50,000 prize. And finally, he wins, and a giant wooden box arrives with his prize – a leg lamp. It would not have mattered what came out of that box. The Old Man’s longing is satisfied – finally, he is recognized; he is a winner – and he wants the world to know even if the message is delivered by a leg lamp in his front window.

Ralphie’s mother longs for the ideal family. She plays “Show me how the piggies eat” to get Ralphie’s brother, Randy, to eat his dinner. She insists that Ralphie try on the bunny suit pajamas that Aunt Clara made him. “Come down here so I can see you better. Isn’t that cute? That is the most precious thing I have ever seen in my life.” She is determined to be the traditional mother, shocked at expletives, blaming friends and calling their moms, washing Ralphie’s mouth out with soap. But when the Bumpus hounds trot through the house and devour the turkey, she is reduced to tears. Her perfect Christmas will not be had.

Ralphie will drink gallons of Ovaltine to get the Ovaltine inner seal so he can get his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder pin with all its honors and benefits – the ability to decode an advertisement. The Old Man’s leg lamp will break. And the perfect family, the perfect Christmas, will not be had.

Perhaps Simeon and Anna should be in our nativity scenes reminding us to ask ourselves, “What do I long for? What is a hole in my life, what emptiness do I carry? Will I allow this baby born in Bethlehem to fill it? Will I welcome him in and walk in his ways?”