Perhaps one of my favorite Christmas stories actually takes place sometime after the manger scene. It is found in Luke's nativity narrative when Mary and Joseph make their way to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate their first son to the Lord, according to Jewish law. There they are met by Simeon, a devout Israelite, who takes the child in his hands and breaks into ecstatic prayer. He is joined by Anna, a prophetess, who adds her praise and also informs the astonished passers-by of the significance of this child.
Yesterday, the priest who gave the homily based on this scripture reading, mentioned that this startling event happens in the course of Mary and Joseph fulfilling the normal obligations of any young parents in their culture. It is precisely when they are doing what the traditions of their faith prescribe, that God once again breaks on the scene with new revelation.
Earlier in the morning I had read a poem by W. H. Auden, posted on Better Living Through Beowulf, which, as regular readers know, is a rich mine of literature and commentary by my friend, Robin Bates. (You can read the entire post here.) In the poem, a segment from a larger work entitled "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio," Auden muses on how to fill the time between Christmas and Lent, this "ordinary time,' when "The Christmas feast is already a fading memory" and the passion and power of Good Friday is still months away.
Auden concludes by affirming the work of the Spirit, even during the quiet times, who is busy "practicing his scales of rejoicing" while the will of God continues to move forward. The final chorus exhorts the faithful with these stirring words:
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
This has been the story so far of Mary and Joseph, navigating between the "ordinary" and transcendent. They continue to move forward with what they know to do, obediently and maybe even with a sense of expectation; it has been, after all, an amazing 9 months. Who knows what God has in store?
And what of us, who commit to walk the path laid out in front of us, seeking to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life? Could be that the ordinary will suddenly burst into flame, transmuted from iron to gold? Might we see rare beasts and have unique adventures? It is a distinct possibility! Certainly we are on our way to a city that is expecting our return, and a marriage feast in which all of us shall dance for joy.