A Most Tender Love
Topic: LOVE Scripture: Luke 2:25–2:38
Our culture has a proclivity for the excessive. For the extraordinary. For the tremendous. It’s more than just a “bigger and better” type of mentality. I think there is a genuine belief that something is only it's best if it is the largest, most prominent, most important version of itself. And what this tendency has fostered is a never-ending yet self-defeating cycle of constantly trying to outdo what has been done before. A great example of this is movies. Many of you know I am a huge fan of superhero and science fiction stories. Star Wars above everything else. And for those wondering, yes. I did already see the new movie, The Rise of Skywalker. But whether it’s Star Wars or a Marvel movie, there’s always this desire to make the next movie bigger, more powerful, to make it better than the last. And this is true with remakes of movies too. They did it with Jurassic Park, Mary Poppins, the musical Cats, and even with Ghostbusters this summer.
We do it with food too. It’s not enough to like chocolate cake. Now it’s got to be 3-layers, devil’s food, ganache-filled, and drizzled with something that is made of enough sugar to bring down a diabetic bison. I know what a pork loin sandwich is. We had them back on the east coast. And then I moved here and saw one of those sandwiches where the pork loin is 4 times the size of the bun. The bread simply serves as a gluten altar for the 1/10 of a pig on that sandwich. Like I said, I was at the movies this past weekend. Did you know that they now serve hot Cheetos popcorn? Popcorn covered in that spicy inferno powder and mixed with hot cheese puffs. It’s all connected to this need to go further, bigger, and better.
And you know what else falls victim to this insatiable drive to be improved upon? The display of love. Whether it’s wanting to make sure your child has the most expensive Christmas gift or an over the top proposal, our culture has fully adopted the “bigger is better” mentality - even with how we show affection. But you know what? I’ve come to find that the simple, small, soft expressions of love oftentimes have the deepest and riches roots. Sure, sometimes they aren’t flashy or attention-grabbing, but those simple and sweet displays of affection demonstrate A Most Tender Love. And it is that kind of love that I want us to observe this morning as we prepare to end our time within this liturgical season of Advent. For the past several weeks we have looked closely at the realities and expressions of Hope, Peace, and Joy and we’ve used moments out of Luke’s gospel to do so. This morning, we return to Luke’s account surrounding the infant Jesus in order to witness an expression and celebration of love. We’re in Luke 2:25-38.
Now, I’ll admit it. Yes, the events of this passage take place after what we know of as the Christmas story. But just because we leave the nativity doesn’t mean the story of Christ’s infancy and its impact is over. There are few and rare moments that describe the life of our Savior between the manger and His adult baptism, but this is one of those rare moments. And it is a moment of celebration and reverence and A Most Tender Love.
This account in Luke’s gospel introduces us to two people we didn’t meet at the nativity. Two people who, even though they weren’t by the manger, possess a profound affection for the Christ child. Simeon, who we’re told is as righteous and devout as they come, is almost the living embodiment of the Advent season. He waits and refuses to leave this earth until his eyes have rested upon the culmination of God’s promise and faithfulness that is the promised Messiah. He yearns for the faithful of God to be given peace and comfort and the very Spirit of God is on him.
Mary and Joseph bring their child to the temple for what is a custom of dedicating children to God. And how appropriate and special it is that this morning we have had the chance to celebrate the baptism of little Leni and declare the love God has for her and her place within the family of faith. While unique from one another, both the Jewish practice of dedication and our Christian tradition of baptism put on display the love our God has even for the meekest and most fragile of persons. And it is that same love, coupled with the urging of the Holy Spirit, that lead Simeon to visit the temple at that moment of Christ’s arrival. And that is when he lays his eyes upon that which he has been waiting for, for a very, very long time.
Simeon takes this precious infant into his arms and he does the only thing he can as his heart swells with A Most Tender Love…he prays. He prays a prayer of relief, a prayer of thankfulness, a prayer of joy, and a prayer of anticipation for what this child will bring into the world. It is honestly one of the most tender, soft moments within the biblical narrative. Even Mary and Joseph are moved by what they hear this man say concerning their son. They cannot believe what they are hearing. But even then, this moment is not complete. Anna, a prophet of God and a woman who has lived a long life, comes and approaches this child. Upon seeing the baby Jesus, she gives thanks to God, and from that moment on, whenever anyone asked her about the salvation they so desperately desired, she referenced the Christ child.
I know this account moves away from the manger, but I hope you can see where this moment fits within our observance of Advent and our celebration of Christ’s birth. In Simeon and Anna, we find the embodiment of the Advent purpose. The waiting and longing for the One who will bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. We find the steadfast spirit, even if it is a bit weary. But in these two we also find the excitement of Christmas. Seeing the baby Jesus not only brings an end to their waiting but it swells their hearts to the point of overflowing.
Even though Simeon and Anna have no family relation to Jesus, I can’t help but think of them as the grandparents of Jesus. Again, no relation to the family at all. But when I read and reflect on this sweet and soft interaction between the infant Jesus and these two mature adults, it just feels so akin to the love and affection I see displayed in grandparents. I think of Kurt and Polly and the love they have for Leni. And I think of Caitlin’s parents and the love they have for our boys. I’ll be honest, there is nothing I enjoy more about being a part of Caitlin’s family than seeing the warmth and attention and love that her parents give to Isaac and Levi. It’s a love entirely different than my own, just as the affection of Simeon and Anna is entirely unique from the love Mary and Joseph possess for their son. I’ve said a few times already this morning, but it is A Most Tender Love.
And this brings me back to what I mentioned earlier about our culture’s obsession with the largest, loudest, most extravagant form of virtually anything. We make a big deal out of Christmas and there’s nothing wrong with that. For children and for adults, this is a time of year that is filled with a little something extra. But at the heart of this celebration, we must not forget, it is something soft, precious, and tender. There are plenty of us that take the Clark Griswald approach to Christmas. The brightest lights, the best gifts, the biggest turkey. The whole shebang. And, as I said, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But at the heart of Christmas is something much more subtle, much more humble, much more tiny. As Simeon and Anna show us, virtually every God-believing person was waiting for the foretold Messiah. And historical context tells us that everyone expected something big. Like the lights on the Griswald home, everyone expected something loud, looming, and immense. They expected a champion with unparalleled strength and an indisputable strategy. They anticipated a warrior king who would break their chains and put the Jewish people back on top. They absolutely did not expect the Charlie Brown Christmas kind of event that we found around the nativity. And yet, that was the plan of our Almighty God. To not change the world with violent strength and decisive political action, but instead, to change the world with the birth of a baby boy who would be placed in a manger. What the world expected was an authoritative display of supernatural power. What we received was the unfolding of A Most Tender Love.
This should serve as a powerful reminder and conviction for all of us. We look out into this world, into our neighborhoods, and into the lives of those we know, and we undoubtedly see so much need. So much that needs to be made right or to be healed or that is deprived of the warmth and compassion that should be common in all spaces. And even though we are all flawed, broken people, there is a stirring within our spirits that compels us to believe we should do something to bring light to that darkness, warmth to that coldness. But against the seemingly overwhelming bitter cold, what can we really do? The answer, my friends, was spoken by Simeon and Anna. The answer found rest in a manger. The answer is a small, precious child.
And so, I encourage you all with this: Never think that even the smallest act of compassion or generosity or advocacy goes wasted. Never question what one flickering flame of light can do in the work of piercing the darkness. Our amazing God showed us how one of the most defenseless and meek of our race could change everything. We are a people who believe in miracles. My challenge to you is to be like Jesus. Not simply the adult Jesus we think of often, but the infant Jesus. I pray that each of you would be the reason another person sees the promise and goodness of God manifested in this world. I pray that, regardless of how small it may seem, that your actions might bring another to a place of hope despite conflict, and to a space of joy after much longing. I pray that each of you might be the presence that shares with this world A Most Tender Love.