When the time came

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2020

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By Charles Qualls

We were good kids, my brother and me. That’s important to establish before I tell you the other thing I’m about to tell you in a minute. We were boring country boys. Our most colorful and exciting, daring and mischievous stories would hardly move the needle compared with stories that truly mischievous people might tell.

Still, it’s been funny to get together over the years with our parents and my aunt and uncle down in Florida. Because when the whole clan gets together and the stories start flying, inevitably some of the older generation will say, “I never KNEW about that!” Or, they’ll say, “Did y’all really DO that?!” Eventually, someone will say, “I’m glad I didn’t know about that.” Thankfully, we’ve all reached an age where I suppose a statute of limitations, of some sort, has kicked in.

This story we have from Luke 2: 22-40 has a double-meaning embedded in it. It says these things occurred “…when the time came for their purification.” If we’re only engaging this story on its surface, then we quickly realize that this is about Mary and the baby both presenting themselves before the priests for their purification rituals.

Except it isn’t just about their purification. By the time this was over, Mary had probably heard some things at the Temple that she might have wished she’d never heard. Us, too. You and me, as part of humanity. It was time for our purification, also, as this story unfolded.

We do well to wonder what Mary heard here at Jesus’ dedication that she probably wishes she didn’t know. But we know that the whole story of Jesus is precisely as the prophecy here said. So, there is a moment of pain, along with the energy, excitement and joy. Now Mary was going to have to wait decades to see this fulfilled.

Simeon has done a lot of waiting. If we’ve paid attention, there is actually a lot of waiting in the Bible and in Christian life. Take Anna, as well. She is called a “prophet” in some translations. When the Messiah broke into her life, she broke out in a message to the people around her. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. It’s what they did. It’s what we do, too.

What you wait for may be a little like what I wait for. What you’re watching for might be like what I’m watching for. Maybe we differ a bit. But we share a hope that God will act in ways that God has promised. Jesus Christ was about to walk into our lives and begin the purification of humanity.

Jesus Christ was born into a world that had been waiting. Waiting for God to speak, move or in some ways even be seen. He was born unto a people who felt oppressed, exiled and controlled. They had lost so much of their unique identity and heritage, not to mention their autonomy. They were also being taken advantage of by their own. Injustice was rampant within the church, with the poor and even the average living underneath two layers of sadness and disillusionment.

It feels like winter is a time of dormancy and waiting. The cold has its benefits in nature. But most of us tolerate it, and the cold sometimes hurts. We wait winter out, I think, most of us. It’s cold, it’s dark and the days seem so short of useful time. Did you know that a week ago we already had the shortest day of the new season? The winter solstice was last Monday. The day with the least sunlight has already passed.

What we had ramped down to, we now begin to ramp back up out of. Oh, we won’t even notice day-by-day. But it’s happening. Our wait for longer days will be rewarded now. What the world had ramped down into, Jesus Christ showed up at the Temple to begin its march as it ramped back upward. God in Christ began our purification, our movement back toward what God has always had in mind. But for people of faith, we will be a waiting people.

It’s winter now. But the purifying hope of other seasons to come is already among us. The Christ child cries out in the temple of our spirits. The old man with vision and the faithful woman, they can see it right there in the arms of Mary and Joseph. God is at work in our world and in our lives.


THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.