A Pastoral Message on Sunday, December 27, 2020, by Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD, based upon Luke 2:22-40 for the people of St. John’s Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Imagine a young parent quietly opening a door in the afternoon or in the middle of the night responding to a crying child. The parent cradles the child who is reassured. This happens a few hundred times in the first years of life. Yet, this repeated action builds trust in the child and he knows he will never be abandoned.
Imagine a husband holding the hand of a spouse. After more than 60 years of marriage, she lives with dementia now. She doesn’t remember his name; only his face. He visits her every afternoon and calls her honey. She smiles and gently pulls his hand close knowing she will never be abandoned.
Imagine a young adult sitting with a friend after a relationship ends. Tears flow and anger blurts. Her hurting friend folds her arms in disgust and pain. Acceptance gradually unfolds like a sunflower slowly following rays of the sun. After a couple of hours, the hurting friend expresses an audible exhale and looks at the friend knowing she will never be abandoned by this friend.
Imagine a parent sitting with a teenaged child after the teen has made another mistake. The teenager truly is sorry for failing again. In fact, the teenager is tremendously disappointed in himself. He folds his arms in shame. However, this teenager is learning how to make decisions and mistakes are part of the curriculum. This parent will be disappointed again and again while helping this teenaged child move beyond dependence to independence. One day, this teenager may reach interdependence and learn why he was never abandoned.
Imagine a woman standing at her kitchen window. Her arms are folded as she watches birds flitter around two feeders. Approaching the end of her professional career, she is providing emotional support for her daughter who recently suffered a miscarriage and for her mother who is grieving the recent loss of her second husband. She patiently deals with uncaring people at work. Now imagine this woman walking into the halls of St. John’s one Sunday and receiving three hugs before she reaches her pew. She knows she will never be abandoned.
Imagine a couple going through their possessions to sell their home and move into a Continuing Care Retirement Community. Although they know it’s the right thing to do, this begins a whole new chapter of living. He folds his arms and says, “Let’s break for lunch.” As they sit at the kitchen table, he reaches into his shirt pocket to pull out a handwritten prayer: “Lord, you have been faithful to us in so many ways. You have never abandoned us. We are committed to trust you above all other commitments in our lives. Thank you for your sustaining hope, your transforming peace, your contagious joy and your compassionate love. Guide us with your light. Use us to remind others of your promise of constant faithfulness. Amen.”
Imagine a day in the Jerusalem Temple almost 2,000 years ago when a young couple entered to present their firstborn son to the Lord. They offered a sacrifice according to their Jewish customs and laws. Imagine a man named Simeon sitting off to the side with his arms folded just watching people arrive and depart. He is always watching for people with infants and this young family catches his eye. He approached them and their infant son. Simeon was extremely devout in following the right ways of God. He looked toward the day of the Lord when Israel would receive the consolation of God. He believed God would not allow his life to end until he had seen tangible assurance of God’s salvation through the Lord’s messiah. Simeon took this eight-day-old infant boy in his arms and knew this baby, named Jesus, was the one he had been anticipating. Isn’t it amazing how tough men with calloused hands can become like marshmallows when they cradle a baby? Simeon offered words of praise to God: “Master of my life, you can now receive your servant anytime for I am experiencing your shalom according to your promise; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…” The arms of Simeon were cradling salvation. He knew he would never be abandoned by God. And, more significantly, he knew this child brought God’s salvation to all people; God will never abandon anyone.
Imagine that same day, after Simeon was cradling salvation in his arms, an elderly woman sitting off to one side with her arms folded. She was a well-known matriarch around the Temple courts; a woman of 84 years named Anna. She shuffled over to see this infant who had caused such praise from Simeon. Her aged fingers gently pulled back the corner of the blanket to reveal the face of the sleeping baby. Her gentle and pure smile of wisdom and insight revealed her inner thoughts. She became the first joyful witness telling others how the God who never abandons us is revealed to us through tiny fingers and toes. Imagine if Anna could have known how those fingers would one day touch lepers, write words of grace in the sand, bring sight to the blind and wash disciples’ feet. Imagine if Anna could have told how those toes would one day leave adult footprints on the hills of Judea, alongside the Sea of Galilee and through these very Temple courts out to Golgotha’s skull hill. Imagine if Anna could have told how those toes would someday make resurrection footprints leading out of death’s cold tomb.
Beloved, on this last Sunday of 2020, a very difficult year, I invite you to fold your arms. Now form your arms as if you are cradling a baby. Imagine the Creator of the universe placing in your arms a life for you to nurture. You are cradling the life of God’s salvation within you. This salvation is given to you with a promise that God will never abandon you. My prayer is that now and then, as you fold your arms across your chest, God will cause you to remember this posture of cradling and remind you that you will never be abandoned. And, I pray you will incarnate God’s salvation by refusing to abandon those who need you.
Amen and AMEN. May it be so within us so it can be so among us and through us as Ministers in Daily Life in the life of the world.