Vinyl records are back! Did you hear about that?
On the news yesterday, I heard about it.
Do you also remember how it was thought vinyl record discs were going completely to disappear with the advent of digital recordings and online streaming?
Well they were wrong.
I also heard on the radio some weeks ago an interesting statistic about the sale of pens and sticky notes – that the sale of these items over the last couple of years was actually up!
Especially the fountain pen – the old-fashioned fountain pen – more and more people were buying these things!
Contrary to what me might think given the predominance of email, and touch screens, keyboards and lap tops – the appeal of hand-writing a note or letter on an actual piece of paper, with an actual pen in hand, hasn’t gone away!
This co-incides with yet another interesting observation I’ve had.
I know a group of 13 year olds who absolutely love reading from paper or hard-cover books.
Imagine that! And these are completely computer-savvy and technology-adept teenagers!
When presented with the option either of reading a novel on a tablet or e-reader, verses reading that same novel in a paperback or hardcover book, they would choose the latter any day.
There’s something about the tangible feel of the book’s pages, the smell of the book, the feel of its weight and size in one’s hands that lends itself so positively to the reading experience.
What is it about fountain pens, vinyl records and paper books?
I think that which is real and tangible, that which we can see and feel and grasp in our own hands, will always have value.
These Christmas festive days when many of us are visiting family and friends living close by or far away, we’re finding ourselves in the actual physical presence of our loved ones – actually being able to hug and hold our mother’s hands, to embrace our aging fathers, to hold in our arms our newborn niece, or to hear the sound of our brother’s or sister’s voice, to feel the comforting hug of a friend …
There’s that in-the-flesh, tangible reality of physically being in someone’s presence that holds so much value … especially in the context of our virtual, online, computer-screen world.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have two people in the Jerusalem Temple – Simeon and Anna – who with outstretched arms, take hold of the baby Jesus from the arms of Mary and Joseph, embrace Jesus, and affirm him with love and blessing, as God’s anointed one.
This scene is depicted in the painting up here in the dome of our sanctuary.
Mary and Joseph, following Jewish custom, present their newborn baby before God at the Temple in Jerusalem, with the expected offerings.
And as they do, they meet two devout people of the Temple – Simeon and Anna – who receive them and baby Jesus with joy.
This Biblical scene – where Jesus is held and embraced and affirmed by Simeon and Anna as one in whom God dwells and through whom God will bless others – is rich with the joy of genuine and authentic human encounter.
Simeon and Anna had been waiting for this moment for a long time… waiting to see and behold God’s anointed One … and finally this meeting, this encounter came to be.
Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple with a sacrificial offering of two turtledoves as was the custom.
But it is an offering made by those who could not afford a lamb.
A lamb was the typical preferred offering to God by those with some means.
But Mary and Joseph, of course, were not “people of means.”
Jesus was born to parents of humble circumstances; born in a stable among animals, and laid in a feeding trough.
Jesus was raised in a small town on the fringes of a great empire, raised in the home of ordinary workers.
And as Jesus grew up, he worked with his own hands to earn his bread. And later on, as an adult, Jesus began his ministry preaching these words: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”
I’m reminded again of the crux of the Christmas story – which is all about the real, tangible encounter between God and us, in all of our ordinary, humble and poor circumstances.
God isn’t merely some virtual, distant, arms-length deity somewhere up in the sky, but someone we can now see and feel and touch and hold in our arms … Jesus … God-in-the-flesh.
As we study and read and learn about the life and ministry of Jesus from the scriptures – that he healed, and fed, and forgave and showed fairness and compassion — we can say we know what the character and purposes of God are all about.
Wherever forgiveness, peace, and compassionate justice is made real – between peoples and nations and in families and communities – this is where God is! This is where the presence of the living Christ shows up.
And the realness of God shows up in those circumstances we’d hardly expect: in the darkness of grief, in the despair of deep disappointments, in the frustrations of injustice and unfairness, in places of poverty and want.
Simeon’s song that Jesus is a “light to reveal God to the nations” reminds us how God’s light shines in the darkness of our world, driving back the darkness, and making it a better place, even in a little way.
As the Persian proverb puts it: “The candle says to the darkness: I beg to differ.”
It’s into the darkness, craziness and chaos of our lives and world, God shines light.
I was reading someone’s attempts to try to define and describe “mercy” – what it means, and looks like in real life.
I like what he said. He ended up describing mercy as “entering into the chaos of another” …
… and he went on to say about Christmas: “Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God, who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate.”
The mercy of God, who enters the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus.
If we’re honest we can admit that there is – at least a little bit of – chaos in our lives, and in the lives of others.
And God calls us to enter that chaos in our hearts, with Jesus, and into the chaos of others,
… to follow Jesus into hospitals and nursing homes, into the difficult places of poverty, addiction and hunger in our communities and around the world…
… to bring our very presence and being to others, and sharing that comfort and encouragement that naturally comes from just being there, being in the physical presence of another …
We are pulled out of ourselves, to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to us.
As we continue to celebrate Christmas in this festive season, we’re invited to be the “face of mercy”, to be the outstretched arms of grace and compassion for others.
To be Christ to one another, clothed in kindness, humility and patience.
The greatest gift of Christmas.