“In Their Shoes …..” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our worship video for December 27, 2020. It was based on the story of Jesus’ infancy, as recorded in Luke 2:21-40.
“In Their Shoes”
Luke 2: 21-38
The hardest math class I took in college was one that I had thought would be the easiest. Have you heard the terms “techie” and “fuzzy” applied to college coursework? Well, math and science were considered “techie,” while philosophy, literature, and classics and the like were considered “fuzzy.” When I read the course description, I immediately labeled the “History of Math” class “fuzzy,” and decided I could take 3 math classes along with my 3 general education (“fuzzy”) classes that semester: 6 classes instead of the usual 5. After all, how hard could “The History of Math” be?
Well, hard. It was incredibly hard. As we began from the earliest known mathematical thoughts of the ancients and worked our way forward in time, we were expected to do each assignment using only the math that they knew… to forget everything we knew and to literally put ourselves in their place. We were to think like they would have thought, reason like they would have reasoned. It was really challenging. In my final paper, I proved one of Euclid’s theorems in a different way than he had, but still only using what he knew. I pulled out a B- in the class, my lowest in any college course. But I learned – I learned a lot of math, yes. But more importantly, I learned how hard it is to put oneself into the mind and circumstances of another person, especially one from another age… but also, what a blessing it is to be able to do that, however imperfectly. It was by far my biggest learning experience in college.
By now you may very well be wondering where I’m going with this. Well, when we read the Bible, we of course read it as 21st Century Americans, and it is not possible for us to completely shed that identity and imagine the Biblical story from the perspectives of the people in it. But like my History of Math professor, that is exactly what I am going to ask us to do. Take a moment to decide which person you would like to be (in your mind’s eye): Joseph? Mary? Simeon? Anna? The people to whom Anna spoke about what she had seen?
It’s first century Palestine. The Romans occupy the region, including Jerusalem. Life is difficult for the Israelites. But they are allowed to worship their God. Rome is okay with that as long as they don’t stir up trouble.
Simeon feels led by the Spirit to go to the temple. He sees a young couple from the countryside making their sacrifice for purification after childbirth. Then he sees the baby and he knows – he knows that this One is sent from God for the salvation of Israel. He takes the child in his arms and sings a song of praise. Giving the child back to his mother, he blesses the couple and says some words of destiny to the child’s mother, including that “a sword shall pierce your own soul, too.” (Would it have been strange for a male, non-family member to address Mary directly? I think so.)
Though our text doesn’t say so, I think that this is another thing for Mary to ponder in her heart, just like the words of the shepherds. And then Anna came in and saw the child, and her words were also something that Mary would likely ponder.
Anna began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And what about those people? Would they have thought these to be the ramblings of an old woman? Would they have laughed at her – a baby?! How can a baby be our redeemer? Maybe they did believe her, and yet, as they watched him through the years, 30 years later nothing had come of her words. Maybe they lost hope. Many people of that day thought that God’s Messiah would come with military might, like David. They sure weren’t seeing that in this ordinary carpenter’s son.
How did that go for you? Were you able to put yourself into the place of one of these people? Did you learn anything new or surprising? If we were in the sanctuary together, I’d ask you to do a turn-and-talk. For now, we’ll need to be okay with the questions being rhetorical.
The most amazing thing about this story for me is that Simeon and Anna could see him. He was eight days old. He hadn’t done anything yet. And yet, these two people both knew he was God’s Messiah.
Throughout his lifetime, Jesus was not often seen for who he truly was, even by those who spent three years traveling with him, even by the crowds who followed him, heard him speak, watched him heal, and were fed by him.
Yet Simeon and Anna saw and witnessed to his identity when he was only 8 days old. How?
How did Simeon and Anna see? How did they see what was so different from what they expected? How were they able to proclaim to Joseph, to Mary, and to others who faithfully awaited the Messiah, that this tiny little baby was the Messiah?
The common thread between them was devotion and prayer, staying close to God. Both were continually near, or in, the temple. They were praying, and they were listening for an answer.
We may have struggled quite a bit with that exercise of putting ourselves in their place. I certainly struggled with that History of Math class. But, having spent some time getting to know and understand what they might have been thinking and feeling, we may be pleased to find that there are some things about these Biblical characters’ faith that can come to life in us: devotion to God, closeness to God’s House (not necessarily just the building), prayer, listening. When we adopt these ways of being close to God and of listening to God, we, too, can see Jesus, the Messiah.
We can see Jesus in unexpected places and in unexpected people: the homeless person; the grocery store clerk or postal worker; the nurse coming home exhausted from a shift but needing to launder clothes and shower before he can be with his family; our own loved ones whom we are missing as we are not gathering in person; and on and on.
As Pastor John said on Christmas Eve, when we share God’s love, we are being a candle in the darkness.
Like Mary, may we ponder these things in our hearts. Like Simeon and Anna, may we proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth. And like Jesus, our savior, may we love and care for all people, letting them know that they are treasured by God, who came as a babe to bring all of us home.