She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2:37).
At Christmas time the food comes out. It comes in the mail: fruit, cookies, and cake can show up at your door on any given day. Of course, food is usually present in abundance at Christmas parties. Your plate may be small, but there’s no shortage of food and no limits to your freedom to graze. And then there’s the family gatherings, assembly line meals where everyone brings something and you end up with far more than the clan can eat.
Most of that we expect. However the food that always ambushes my self discipline is the food that shows up around the office. All morning long I’ve found myself wandering down the hall for just one more handful of caramel popcorn. Earlier someone had set out a plate of little chocolate éclairs that went along perfectly with my coffee.
For most of us, the season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s incarnation among us, is a season of fullness. Our calendars are full, our stomachs are full, stockings over the fireplace and the tree in the living room are likewise full. At Christmas we do not know emptiness. In fact, at Christmas we are often glutted.
And yet, when the apostle Paul looked for words to describe what it is we celebrate, he chose a text that used the word “empty.” He reminded the believers in Philippi that Christ didn’t cling to his position of equality with God, but he emptied himself and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Christmas is best seen and known in emptiness.
Having lingered this week with Simeon and his temple encounter with Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus, we turn our attention now to another who also recognized this child as the hope of a nation. An elderly woman by the name of Anna was a constant presence in the temple. She had married as a young woman, but after seven years her husband had died and she had remained a widow. Now, at age 84, she too was blessed with a moment of recognition.
That moment of recognition was defined by a devout life. Luke tells us that she didn’t merely hang out at the temple. She was there day and night, worshiping, fasting and praying.
The fasting should hold our attention. She was there in emptiness, and in emptiness she recognized the work of God in the infant Jesus. The young mother had sung a similar theme before Jesus’ birth. Mary knew that God sends the full away empty and the empty he fills with good things (Luke 1:53).
Most of us get to Christmas full and then look back on it feeling empty. Those who truly encounter Jesus come to Christmas empty, and thus experience its fullness.
For some of you this could be the best Christmas ever. News reports will not tell you this. The condition of our economy has everyone bracing for a disappointing season. That’s because we are addicted to fullness. But maybe this year you’re coming to Christmas somewhat empty. Maybe, like Anna, you are fasting from too many gifts, too much debt, too much activity.
Listen to Mary. Learn from Anna. The empty find themselves filled with good things. That just might be what God wants to do in your life this Christmas.
Lord God, help us to embrace emptiness this Christmas season. Give us strength of will to make space for you by doing less, buying less, eating less. Meet us in those empty spaces and grant the gift of your fullness, we pray. Amen.