December 27, 2023

Rag Doll Wisdom
Luke 2:1-41

Rag Dolls
Photo by David Lopez

There are people among us who have wisdom that we don’t know, accept, or embrace. They don’t reside in the halls of Congress, or on Wall Street, or work at the Chicago Board of Trade. They are not famous, rich, or even important. They are virtually unknown, the kind of people easily ignored. In our world where everybody tries so hard to be somebody, these wisdom carriers are nobody.

So, when the first Christmas happened, not much was made of it. No one noticed in the seats of power or the temples of religion. Back in the early 19th century, in the hills of Kentucky, a woman asked a man, “Has anything important happened?” The man replied, “No, but Nancy Lincoln had a baby, named him Abraham.”

Abraham Lincoln
Photo by pexels-pixabay

The first Christmas was overlooked: a peasant couple, a borrowed barn, a baby born. Shepherds went to an angel choir’s cantata. Later mysterious magic men from the East saw a new star. Then there was the hurry to get out of town: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus hightailing it to Egypt to escape a brutal ruler – refugees. The killing of innocent children in Bethlehem. Mothers weeping, Rachel refusing to be comforted – all fleeing violence.

Wisdom from Nobodies

We could use some wisdom from the people that matter. Mother Wisdom has been calling to us for so long. 

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.

The wisdom of the church has been there all along even in the midst of all our unfaithfulness and compromises. The prayers, songs, sermons, and sacraments have served us well and serve us still.

“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.” 

It’s hard to find people of wisdom who know that the peace of the world depends upon Jesus “in whom all of the world coheres, sticks together. Two of these wisdom carriers are here in Luke’s story: Simeon and Anna.

Old Man Simeon Blesses the Baby

Simeon: Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. Let’s stop and dwell there for a moment. To hold a newborn baby, what a delight, what a joy. It connects us to a sense of eternity. Simeon, holding the baby, holding the connection between heaven and hell, is moved by the Holy Spirit to speak the language of wisdom: saying,
29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

The Prophetess Anna Evangelical Witness of Praise

Then there’s Anna a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. Harsh reality: She couldn’t leave the Temple because she had no home, no place, no way to make a living. She was depending on the Temple, the people of God, like the widow who threw her last two coins in the offering plate. The Scripture tells us that we live in a world that “devours widow’s homes,” so take a look at Anna in the temple. “At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

That’s what Simeon and Anna saw in the baby – the kind of wisdom that brings peace rather than fear and violence. Simeon was an old priest not a member of the Sanhedrin, not a graduate of the best seminary, not the high priest, not the pastor of a mega-church. Simeon was one of God’s nobodies. I’m telling you not to discount God’s nobodies. They carry the seeds of wisdom that will allow the next generation to thrive. Don’t make fun of God’s nobodies.

Don’t Trash God’s Rag Dolls

Ian Pit-Watson, in a sermon, talked about rag dolls. Have any of you a child who loves a doll or a stuffed animal? Once we referred to them as rag dolls. For the rest of us, there’s no value in rag dolls. We don’t love rag dolls. As young parents there’s a lot of angst when the ragdoll that helps our daughter go to sleep at night is missing. I know a couple that scoured the internet trying to find a replacement ragdoll when their daughter lost hers. The fake rag doll didn’t pass the eye test or the smell test or the hug test and the little girl threw it at her parents. That’s not mine she cried. Children create value through their love. You know how it is with rag dolls. Soon the rag doll becomes more and more rag and less and less doll. It also becomes dirtier. If you try to clean the rag doll, it becomes more ragged still. And if you don’t try to clean the rag doll, it becomes dirtier still.

The sensible thing to do: trash the rag doll. But that is unthinkable for anyone who loves their child. If you love the child, you love the rag doll–it was part of the package. “If anyone says ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar,” (I John 4:20). “Love me, love my rag dolls,” says God, “including the one you see when you look in the mirror. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Don’t trash God’s rag dolls. Don’t!

I’m concerned that we are on a mission in the USA to get rid of those deemed rag dolls. I think it is a mistake to value people for money, power, success, because all that glitters is not gold. I think if you start throwing out the rag dolls, you will make tragic mistakes and you will throw out people like Simeon and Anna – nobodies who carry the pearls of wisdom.

God’s nobodies have been telling us the story of wisdom for centuries. Jesus has come to bring peace and good will to all creation. James Autry in Nights Under a Tin Roof says that every year in the little Mississippi Baptist Church where we grew up, the pastor would ask the congregation to make every day just like Christmas and he said, “We would bow our heads and promise to try.” And we meant it at the time but that Christmas spirit wears thin by the day after Christmas and life kicks back in and Christmas is a distant memory. It finally dawned on me that Christmas is a precarious thing and so is its promised peace. There are contingencies, emergencies, unexpected crises, there’s life! Precarious like our knees, backs, hips, and hearts!

Pearls of Christmas Wisdom

Christmas, and this is still Christmas, is a good time to allow some little pearls of wisdom to seep into our skeptical, hardened minds, and awaken us to newness. Here a pearl, there a pearl, everywhere a pearl:

“Blessed are the peacemakers!”

This next year let’s be more powerful peacemakers and stop violating the dignity of others just because we are the more powerful. After all peace is the purpose of God promised to us by a choir of angels:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

If we are not careful, we might think that those whom God favors means us and that we are God’s favorites. Christian nationalism is idolatry my brothers and sisters. We don’t worship the flag, or money, or politicians. We worship God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Patriotism of a certain kind can become the enemy of peace. It would be a mistake not to know that God loves all creation:

“For God so loved the world!”

God’s purposes are peace and praise! Peace depends upon our praise, worship, and practices of faithfulness. The church has always known this:

O gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun
And our eyes behold the vesper light,
We sing your praise, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
And to be glorified through all the worlds

Book of Common Prayer
Photo by thirdman

Christmas is a good time for selling everything we have and going in search of pearls of wisdom. At Christmas our minds and hearts still have enough residual capacity to be more in tune the ways of peace. But it will require courage. The task of making peace “inspires endless departures and returns, as David Bentley Hart, the Orthodox theologian puts it.

We can find enough pearls to string together a necklace of peace to keep us company during the rough times ahead.

“Peace be still!” “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace! Peace! Peace! Peace!

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