|Deacon Annie Watson ARCWP, second from left|
Father Daniel, Pastor
“Never Underestimate Small Bundles of Joy”
December 28, 2014
Deacon Annie Watson, ARCWP
His parents are doing everything right. The Law says he is to be circumcised on the eighth day. Check. The Law says the new mother needs to go and make a postpartum sacrifice so that she can be declared ritually clean after giving childbirth. Check. The Law also says every first born son is to be consecrated to God. Check.
On their way in to the Temple, however, they are interrupted by a man named Simeon. Can you imagine a total stranger walking up to you and demanding to hold your baby? After all, who would harm a baby?
We are not as trusting with our babies today as people have been in the past. In the BBC television series, Call the Midwife, mostly impoverished women in a 1950s London eastside neighborhood turn to midwives and nuns to help them bring their babies into the world.
The expecting mothers arrive at the convent’s clinic for prenatal care. Surprisingly to modern viewers, they often leave their other children, even toddlers, outside the clinic, unsupervised. The toddlers sit in their baby carriages unattended. Today we would call Child Protective Services if someone did this.
We live in a world of distrust when it comes to our babies and children. Because of this, my special needs daughter, Megan, doesn’t understand why she can’t pick up babies in public places like grocery stores or restaurants. Megan is fascinated with babies. She is instinctively drawn to them and sees all of them as beautiful, even the ones who resemble Winston Churchill.
What happens in the Temple is strange to us. And yet Mary and Joseph do not even flinch. Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and basically says, “Now I can die. I’ve seen the Messiah.” If this happened today, we would think the person is mentally ill, and we certainly wouldn’t allow him to grab our baby in the first place!
But these were different times with different expectations. Simeon, and then, a minute or two later, an elderly widow named Anna, were looking for something. The Holy Spirit had opened their eyes to the possibility that the Messiah of God, God’s anointed one, was in their presence. They had learned to pay attention to detail, to the smallest detail. And what they saw was as plain as the nose on their faces: the face of the Messiah in a small bundle of joy.
For modern readers, this story has no ring of truth to it at all. We can’t just look at babies and know what the future holds for them. So maybe there is more to this story than meets the eye. Maybe there are deeper messages here that we too can see if we also pay attention to the smallest details.
The first detail is this: do everything right. Remember what I said at the beginning. Mary and Joseph are doing everything right. They are following the Law. These are Jewish laws, of course. They don’t directly apply to our tradition, and yet what we can take away from this is the importance of being true to our tradition.
Because you and I are hoping to one day gain acceptance and even validation within the larger Catholic community, it is important, I believe, to be as true to our tradition as we possibly can. If we want to continue to call ourselves Catholics, then we should be Catholics.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of Catholicism when Catholicism falls short—in fact, the best way to be effective in one’s criticism of a religious tradition is to be part of it. No one can stand outside of a tradition and critique it in a way that matters to anyone else.
So, no matter how much we are, or aren’t, accepted or validated within the larger Catholic community, let’s do everything right.
A second small detail I see in this story is that the Gospel writer, Luke, provides gender balance to the story. I see this in two places. First, I see gender balance in the fact that both the male baby Jesus and his mother Mary are required to seek purification according to the Law of Moses.
Second, notice that a man, Simeon, and a woman, Anna, are the ones who see something special in Jesus. Notice also that Simeon is simply called a “man,” whereas Anna, a widow, is referred to as a “prophet.” Is this Luke’s “sneaky” way of validating women in ministry? Is this Luke’s way of introducing his readers to the principle of inclusiveness?
A third minor detail I see is the one that is as plain as the nose on our faces. If Captain Obvious were reading this story, he would say, “Obviously, this story teaches us that we should never underestimate little bundles of joy.”
Do you recall the parable of the mustard seed? Today’s story is that parable fleshed out. Sometimes something very small and insignificant becomes larger than life. That’s Jesus in a nutshell, or in this case, a mustard seed.
Luke confirms this when he writes, “The child grew in size and strength. He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with him.” Just like the mustard seed grew to become a great tree.
What is just as obvious to me is that this is also true about this community. For now, you are a little bundle of joy, doing everything right, and you are doing so with a sense of inclusiveness and grace. Those of us who are here, who are intimate with the community, see the potential and promise. Like Simeon and Anna, we are open to the possibility that something wonderful is happening right in front of our noses.
And yes, just as Simeon predicted that this baby would grow up and become a source of consternation for some, you and I seem to be in that same vein.
The fourth and final little detail I see in this story is faithfulness. So far in Luke’s Gospel, everyone has been faithful. Mary is faithful in terms of her unexpected pregnancy. Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are faithful. The shepherds in the field are faithful. Everyone is faithful.
Now Mary and Joseph faithfully fulfill their responsibilities, and Simeon and Anna—well, as one writer puts it, their “faithfulness takes the cake.” It’s not like they had the proclamations of the angels to rely upon! They just kept their eyes open, day after day, perhaps checking out every baby that came through the doors of the Temple, waiting to be enlightened and inspired. Can we be as faithful in our setting?
And what does this faithfulness look like? It looks like keeping our eyes open to the smallest of details. Check. It looks like doing everything right, staying true to our tradition. Check. It looks like being passionate about our commitment to inclusiveness. Check. It looks like learning to never underestimate the smallest bundles of joy. Check.