Sunday, December 28, 2014

“Above Average” (Luke 2:22-40)

All of us who are parents have fallen into the trap.  It is one of the fallacies of parenthood.  It is that belief that when our children are born that they are among the most perfect and above average human beings to ever be born.  We have all fallen into that trap.  Unfortunately as they grow older those illusions quickly disappear and reality sets in . . . our children are no different than any other children.  They can’t be . . . the odds are against it.

Science has created what they call the “bell curve”.  On this “bell curve” there are three categories in which people are placed . . . “average”, “above average”, and “below average”.  Seventy-five percent of the people are in the “average” category . . . twelve-and-a-half percent are in the “above average” and “below average” categories . . . those categories are some pretty rarified designations.  Most of us, despite our ego, are firmly entrenched in the “average” category, and since the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree . . . so are our children.

That is the fallacy that gets destroyed as our children grow . . . they are pretty much like all the other children . . . they are pretty average.  But, hey!  That doesn’t mean we love them any less . . . that doesn’t mean that we don’t brag on them . . . that we don’t exaggerate.  We do, after all . . . they are our children and in our eyes they are “above average” no matter what the world or the “bell curve” tells us.  But the fact is, we know that they are average . . . they are just like everyone else.

Still it does not stop us from imagining and dreaming for our children.

I imagine that is why Garrison Keillor’s stories of the little town of Lake Wobegon are so popular on the radio show, Prairie Home Companion.  It is “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve”.  The town we all grew up in or wish we had grown up in.  In his stories we find our hearts and minds staunchly entrenched in the “myth” of those “good ol’ days” when life was simpler and easier to understand.  Lake Wobegon is that rarefied place in our hearts where everything and everyone seems to be in that top twelve-and-a-half percent of “above average”.  Even Garrison Keillor acknowledges that in the closing words of his monologue each week when he signs off with these words: “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

“Above average” . . . isn’t that what we wish for all our children?

From the candlelight of Christmas Eve in which we gathered around the manger in that little stable in Bethlehem, the Christmas story moves quickly.  It is now eight days after the birth.  The time has come for Mary and Joseph to take their first-born son to the temple to be purified and sanctified . . . a blessing of the child.  I imagine, like all new parents, that this is a time of great anxiety and excitement for the couple as they approach the temple . . . it is almost a sort of affirmation of the fact that they are now parents and now the adventure begins.  And, I imagine that in their minds and hearts that they keep looking down at that little bundle of perfection and see an “above average” child . . . the most perfect child ever born. 

Ironic as it is . . . and, despite all of the fanfare surrounding the birth . . . I think that Mary and Joseph are no different than any other parents at the birth of a child.  I think that they are scared to death at the prospect of what they have just gotten themselves into . . . parenthood.  They are as clueless as any other parents who walked out of the hospital and forgot to get that mythical parenting manual that doesn’t exist.  I think they are just hoping for the best for their child and themselves . . . God did not give them a “blue print” of how to raise this child despite all the hullabaloo surrounding him.  They are just bringing their child to be blessed so that they can get on with the rest of their lives.

The irony is that despite this idea of their child being perfect . . . being “above average” . . . deep down they do not think of him as being any different than any other baby.  Because of that, I think, they are amazed at the reaction their child gets as they enter into the temple.  First there is an old guy, Simeon, who rants and raves about their child.  He had spent his whole life in waiting . . . waiting for God to reveal the salvation of the people . . . and, he could not die until it was revealed to him.  It was revealed to him in the baby, Jesus.  So, he rants and raves to Mary, Joseph, and anyone who will listen that this is the salvation of the people . . . the Christ.

Then there is another . . . an old lady . . . a fixture in the temple . . . Anna.  Anna is a prophetess—one who sees into the future.  She, too, comes up to the couple with their child and starts making over them.  She proclaims, again to the couple and anyone who would listen, that this is the “one”.  She gives “thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”   

As Mac Davis used to sing: “Oh, Lord, it is hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”  Mary and Joseph were probably have a difficult time keeping the parental pride down to a minimum hearing all the acclamation about their kid . . . dashing their reality against the rocks and throwing their dreams to the forefront . . . maybe this kid was something extra-special after all.  Maybe this kid really was “above average”.  Maybe they had better fasten their seat belts for the ride . . . maybe, just maybe, everyone better fasten their seat belts.

As those cosmic tumblers aligned on that Christmas Eve to reveal the “gift” of God’s grace and love . . . to reveal the doorway to the kingdom . . . the world was called into the presence of something quite spectacular and special . . . something that was “above average”.  This “blessing ritual” we have read about has now taken it out of the heavenly realm and placed it smack dab into the reality of the world . . . put it out there for the people to see . . . this is no “average” child, this is the Christ.  It is one thing to have the heavenly realm proclaim it, but it is quite another to have the common people recognize and join in with the angelic choir.  If there were any doubts they are blown out of the water with the events that take place at the temple.

And, so, we are warned.  This is no “average” child that we are dealing with . . . this is the real McCoy . . . this is the Christ . . . the coming salvation for all . . . the restoration and establishment of the Kingdom of God . . . this is an “above average” child that we are in the presence of.  This kid is way off the “bell curve”.

And, like Simeon and Anna . . . like Mary and Joseph . . . all we can do is stand in awe at the “gift” that we have been privilege to receive.  It is a “gift” of grace and love.  It is a gift of salvation.  Like those in our reading this morning, we stand in the presence of this wondrous gift . . . we stand at the doorway of the adventure . . . we stand in the opportunity of realizing that we, too, have the ability to come into intimate relationship with God and one another to create our own perfect community . . . our own little heavenly Lake Wobegon.  All we have to do is to embrace the gift and live it through our lives on a daily basis.

That is all that we can do.  Mary and Joseph did not have, nor were they given a “game plan” in how they were to raise this “”above average” child.  All they could go and do was to embrace their child and raise him the best that they could . . . to live with him daily and to discover, just like the rest of us, the beauty of life in the presence of God.  They accepted their child . . . their “above average” child . . . and, loved him for the “gift” that he was.  We have been called to do likewise.  Each and every day we have been called to accept and love the “gift”.

And, they must have done okay.  Our reading tells us: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”  He changed the world . . . he changed us.  Let us receive the “gift” and allow it to move us . . . move us to that rarefied domain of “above average” . . . “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  Let us move into the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

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