In our reading this morning, you may have caught the mention of the two turtledoves that Joseph and Mary offer at the Temple as a way of dedicating their first-born son.
If you go by the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” this morning, we are on technically on the third day, which is when our true love is supposed to give us three French hens.
I’ve never been entirely clear if that means I’m also supposed to be getting two more turtle doves and a third partridge in a pear tree today, or if each day is meant to be its own thing, but no matter.
Some of you may be aware that since 1984, PNC bank (which I think is in Pittsburgh) has maintained what it calls the “Christmas Price Index,” an economic indicator that graphs the cost of the items listed in the song, cumulatively, through the 364 items to be delivered on the twelfth day.
Business school graduates, fear not.
The index takes into account that all the people mentioned are, of course, independent contractors, presumably filing some version of a 1099.
In fact, along those lines, you will be glad to know that this year, according to the Christmas Price Index, the cost of the twelve days is down an eye-popping 58.5%.
This is because all the live performances are out – this year, no lords leaping, ladies dancing, pipers piping, drummers drumming, or maids milking (to me, that last one was always more on the performance art side, anyway).
Your true love is going to be saving a bundle.
And yet, of course, as I suspect the folks at PNC bank know full well, who can really put a price on Christmas?
The whole point is that it represents something beyond calculation.
It asks us to see the world in a very different way.
This is what Ebeneezer Scrooge could never understand before his conversion.
It’s something we are in danger of forgetting, ourselves.
For us, just barely on the other side of Christmas, calculation in its various forms is the way of a world that’s poised to come roaring back as early as our first Zoom call tomorrow, like the Red Sea roared back into place as soon as Moses lowered his arms, unaware of whom it would drown.
It’s the world that roars back every Monday morning.
If we take the story of Jesus seriously, it seems hard to believe that there is so much detail about his arrival, and then nothing after his dedication in the Temple a short time later.
There was that star in the sky.
It set astronomers from foreign lands in motion for months.
It terrified Herod and all Jerusalem with him, eliciting ancient prophecies about the true king of Israel—even a protracted, armed house to house search for the child through Bethlehem.
It led shepherds to abandon their flocks and to come into town, bearing accounts of angel choruses bursting into song.
All these powerful testimonies. This big deal stuff.
Then, at least as far as Scripture is concerned, nobody mentions it ever again.
How could that be?
The answer is Monday. Another Monday came.
Just as it will tomorrow.
And even with everything that’s happened, the calculating world roars back to life, and though they paused and gazed at that star for a moment, after that moment, most people simply move on.
One month later, when Joseph and Mary bring the baby Jesus to the Temple for his dedication, you might think that Herod would have the place on high alert, but you’d be wrong.
To most of the people there, baby Jesus is just another little peanut in a blankie, brought by parents doing their religious duty. Nothing to notice, one way or the other.
A savior might be born, but Visa’s still going to be due in a couple of weeks, I can’t work at home and run school at my kitchen table for two kids, and my mom still has no business driving that car. That’s my focus.
It’s going to be a while before that savior gets around to saving me.
Well, we all know Monday.
Except that some do see. Some hearts are changed.
In our story this morning, Simeon and Anna, these old and faithful denizens of the Temple, see that particular peanut come through the gate, and they know immediately.
For them, waiting for a savior has not been the passive thing it is for most of us.
It has been the focus of their attention, literally, for years.
For these two, there is no calculating “Monday world” that always seems to come roaring back—for them, what always roars back is the hope they find in God.
For them, every day was the day before Christmas.
And then at long last, Christmas arrives, as they had hoped and dreamed it would for so long.
The story comes to us from the Gospel of Luke.
Bear in mind also that Luke wrote his gospel around 85 A.D., in a world that was already very different from the world into which Jesus had been born.
By the time Luke wrote, Jesus was long gone. Most of the apostles were long gone. Certainly, Simeon and Anna were long gone. Even the Temple itself was gone, and Jerusalem in ruins.
For Luke’s first listeners, this vision of dedicating a first-born son by bringing him to the Jerusalem Temple was like gazing at a sepia-toned photograph of your great grandmother as a young girl.
A vision of a world that used to be.
But those listeners knew about waiting, too.
Waiting for Jesus to return was already taking so much longer and asking so much more than anyone had ever expected.
Those things he had said about taking up the cross to follow him were not exaggerations.
Yet it was possible to wait with joy and hope.
The Apostle Paul had learned how, as, indeed, Simeon and Anna had learned how while they awaited the Messiah’s first coming.
They knew how to keep ahold of Christmas.
What sustained them into Monday and beyond?
Some would shrug and remind us that these are the saints, people God chose to love exceptionally well and to grace with exceptional clarity of vision.
By that logic, of course they’re hopeful.
They were built that way.
I don’t think so.
To me, that makes it sound more like exceptional luck than exceptional faith.
I believe they understood that love and care, attention and devotion are not things we squeeze in between appointments or save for the weekend.
I think they understood that holiness, like life itself, is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
They were able keep ahold of Christmas because, unlike so many of us, they never stuck it back in a box and took it back down to the basement until next year.
They didn’t let that happen.
What price will we put on Christmas?
The Christmas Price Index is one way to answer the question.
The love and attention of a lifetime is another.
May we remember it today, and especially tomorrow, and for all the Mondays to come.