Friday, January 19, 2018

Greetings, Rejoicers!

As you are reading this letter, we are probably well into the New Year. Christmas will be a warm memory, and maybe already a bit of a blur. New Year’s resolutions will have been made, and perhaps some of them already discarded.

So, instead – let’s think about Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day? Yes; the day goes back to German settlers in Pennsylvania who thought it would make a fine observance of their Candlemas tradition.

Candlemas? Yes; the day goes back as far as the fourth century, when candles were blessed and distributed to parishioners, to remind them of Christ, the light of the world, and in observance of the presentation.

Presentation? Yes; the day goes back to the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth, when his observant parents came to the temple for rituals of dedication and purification.

Dedication? Purification? Yes; the Gospel of Luke conflates both in citing passages from Leviticus and Exodus, having to do with ritual purification after childbirth and dedication and redemption of firstborn sons.

So, Jesus’ faithful parents observe the law, and bring him, forty days after his birth, into the temple: they are apparently of modest means, for it’s implied that they bring a pair of turtledoves for sacrifice, an option for those who could not afford a dove and a lamb.

Into this scenario of faithful observance steps another faithful observer, the aged Simeon. The Holy Spirit is upon him, and led by the Spirit, Simeon comes into the temple. Seeing the couple with the baby, Simeon lifts up the infant into his arms, blessing God as he does so. Perhaps the baby looks back, as Simeon gazes intently. And then, Simeon begins to speak.

Some of us may recall the words of Simeon from the King James version, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” beautiful, poetic words, some of us may even have sung at the conclusion of a communion service.

In fact, the words in the text that Simeon uses are actually those that might be used for a slave being emancipated by a master. I like to paraphrase Simeon’s words along the lines of, “I’m outta here! Free at last!” Simeon was ready for a change.

Martin Luther perhaps captured this feeling with more elegance when he wrote a hymn in 1524, based on Simeon’s words. The German text could translate as, “In peace and joy, I travel there.” Simeon was ready for a journey.

Simeon is an old man, but he is still looking forward. I like to imagine that, as Simeon gazes down on this baby, forty days old, Simeon thinks, “This changes everything!”

As I write this letter, we have just had the shortest day of the year. Light, and longer days, will be returning. Change is in the air, whether we’re ready or not. I heard a speaker recently remark, “People are willing to change, as long as they don’t have to do anything different!”

Rejoicing Spirits has changed so much for so many, precisely because people have been willing to do old things in new ways – to do something different.

At this time of year, my prayer is that we may recollect Christmas warmly, and anticipate with peace and joy whatever the new year is bringing. As we say at Mosaic, we look back in gratitude, and forward in faith.

May our involvement with Rejoicing Spirits be a part of the ongoing work that changes everything. May we embrace the changes that come our way as challenges to grow in grace.

May we be lifted up, as we endeavor to lift up others.

And may peace and joy come to you, and through you!

Blessings! Rev. Jim Fruehling. Ph.D.