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Edward F. Markquart

Do you see what I see?

Christmas Eve     Luke 2:22-33

Listening to Christmas carols is a wonderful during this time of year, and we all have our favorite carols.  I think a favorite of almost everyone is the Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” composed in 1818, by Moore and Gruber.  It is a beautiful Christmas carol, and only 180 years old.  This carol is so sacred and so reverent, you might have thought that “Silent Night” was actually written at the time of Jesus’ birth and has been sung for centuries.  That is not true.  Silent Night is only 180 years old.  Only 180 years old.

Another favorite carol is “Away in a Manger” and it was composed in 1865. It first appeared in a small Lutheran book of worship.  Shortly thereafter, the name of Martin Luther was put on the bottom of the page, and so many people erroneously thought that Martin Luther composed it.  But Luther couldn’t have composed it because he had died two hundred years before Away in a Manger was written.  But for more than a hundred years, not very long by any means, this hymn has been deeply loved. 

There is still another carol written in 1962, only thirty-six years ago, and this carol has become a favorite already.  The hymn is so new; it is only an infant. I was only twenty-two when it was written.   I am convinced that as the years, decades and centuries go by, this carol will become another favorite like Silent Night or Away in a Manger.  It is the Christmas carol, “Do You See What I see?” You probably recognize the melody with the words:  “Do see what I see, said the night wind to the little lamb?”  It was composed by Regney and Stein.

The story of the carol goes like this.  It is a wonderful, wonderful story, and easy to remember.  There is the night wind.  It begins with the night wind, and the night wind sees what Christmas is all about.  So the night wind tells the little lamb, and then the little lamb sees what Christmas is all about, and goes to the shepherd boy.  The little shepherd boy sees the meaning of Christmas, and he goes to the mighty king and he says to the mighty king, “Do you know what I know?”  Then the mighty king says to everyone, everywhere, in a deep, gruff  voice,  “Listen to what I say?”  That’s what kings always declare, “Listen to what I say!” The king announces to his kingdom:  “A child, a child, will bring you goodness and light.”

Do you see what I see? (sung)  When you look into the manger and see the Christ child, do you … see?

It is with this mood that we approach the story of old Simeon in the Gospel lesson for tonight.  Old Simeon had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, before he died.  He had been promised to see the Christ, before he was buried in a grave.  God had promised the old man that gift.  This is the story of the way it happened.    As you may know, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  That is, Jesus’ parents had come to Jerusalem, the capital city, to be taxed, and there was no room for them in the big city of Jerusalem, so the pregnant couple went to the little town of Bethlehem, two miles away, and there Jesus was born.  Many people are convinced that Jesus was born, not in a stable, but in a cave.  I, too, am convinced of that.  That is, if you go to Bethlehem today, you will find a massive cathedral.  To get into that cathedral, the door is very low, like only 36 inches high.  You have to stoop to get into the door.  You have to be humble to get into the door.  You then wander through this cathedral, through the maze of hallways deep into the catacombs of the church, and you will finally find a cave.  It is located at the very bottom of this cathedral.  In that cave, beginning one hundred years after Jesus was born, there is a rock that pilgrims came for centuries to kiss. That rock has been worn smooth by kisses over the centuries.  You can still touch that smooth rock.  In that cave, in the early 300s, was a man by the name of Jerome who translated the Bible from Greek into Latin.  His Latin Bible ruled the church for more than a thousand years.  When you think of the Roman Catholic version of the Bible, it is the Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome.  And where did St. Jerome translate it?  In that cave!!!  In that cave, Jerome lived.  In that cave where Jesus was born, he translated the Bible.  In that cave, pilgrims have come for centuries, to kiss the rock and wear it smooth through human touch.  I, too, was there.  I, too, believed that Christ was born there. … And so Jesus’ father and mother came to the capital city of Jerusalem that was very massive sprawling city, and they couldn’t find a room, so they traveled two more miles to the little town of Bethlehem.  There they found a cave, and Jesus was born in a cave where the animals were kept.

The story goes on to say that Jesus was circumcised at eight days, and then at thirty-one days of age, something happened to Jesus.  This is the story for tonight.  Baby Jesus was brought back to the capital city, two miles away, to the temple in Jerusalem.  It only happened to a first-born male.  This experience didn’t happen to a second, third or fourth-born male.  It did not happen to infant girls.  This experience happened only to the first-born boy.  Mary and Joseph brought their first-born boy to the temple to be dedicated to God.  So this was a once in a lifetime experience for the family.  Only once, in their whole lifetime, would the family have this experience.  This was a very sacred moment for the family, filled with awe and reverence.    The temple was tall and gorgeous in those days, one hundred and fifty feet high, of new construction.  It had been built by Herod the Great; Herod, the builder of Israel; Herod who had built the palace by Caesarea by the Sea; Herod who had built the palace up on the Sea of Galilee; Herod who had built this temple.  This temple was brand new; it was only thirty years old.  This temple was the most magnificent structure that had ever been seen in Israel, and so Mary and Joseph came this day to this wonderful, glorious building.  For them, it was the most spectacular building on earth, and they came into this new temple to bring their oldest son for a once in a lifetime experience.  I can see in my mind, Mary and Joseph, coming into the temple, walking forward to dedicate their first-born son to the Lord. 

As they came in, in my mind, I can see old Simeon slowly, ever so slowly, getting up, and something happened within old Simeon’s heart.  Simeon knew that this was the one. I can image the baby bundled ever so tightly, and the old man inching up to them and asking to see the child.  The mother unwraps the baby so the old man can see, and the old man looks into the baby’s eyes and he says these very famous words:  “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.  Now let your servant die, for my eyes have…seen.  I have seen your salvation that you have prepared for all people, for those who are Jews and for those who are not Jews.  Lord God, I can depart in peace for my eyes have finally seen.”

Do you see what I see, said the night wind to the little lamb?” (sung) 

When Simeon look at this baby Jesus, he didn’t see just brown hair and brown eyes and brown skin of a little baby.  He didn’t see just a man and a woman with a baby child.  He saw.  He saw that this child was going to be the Messiah, the one who was going to save all people from their sins.

Tonight, Simeon asks of us the question:  Do you see?  Do you see?  What do you see? What do you see when you see the Christ child?  Do you see just another little Jewish baby?  Or what do you see when Jesus grew up and became a man?  What do you see? The father of the Christian religion? The man from the New Testament who teaches all the little children to be nice to each other?  Or…do you perceive that Jesus is the very presence of God on earth?  Do you perceive this evening that Jesus Christ is here in this room, all around you?  Do you perceive the presence of Christ with us and in us and around us at this moment?  Do you see?  Do you see that Jesus is the answer to all of your life’s complexities and riddles and insoluable problems?  Do you see who Jesus really is? Do you see that Jesus can revolutionize your life and turn it upside down and pull the self-centeredness out of you so you finally can love other people? Do you see that about him?

Do you see what I see, said the night wind to the little lamb? (sung)

This evening I would like to talk with you about the word, see.  There are two words in the Greek language for see.  The first word is the word, blepo.  I see you.  I see the poinsettias.  I see the manger scene.  I see the Christmas tree.  I see the red carpet and the red pews.  I see. I see. I see.  That is one Greek word for the word, see.  But there is a second word in the Greek language for the word, see, and it is the word, horao, and horao, means to see deeply.  It is not sight, but insight.

Let me give you some examples of this Greek word.  Michelangelo, the famous sculpture, when he was in Florence, Italy, saw an enormous piece of granite that no one knew what to do with.  Everyone would walk by and notice that big piece of granite, but Michelangelo, with his eyes, saw into the granite, and he saw the possibility of the creation of his famous sculpture, David.  He went to work with his tools, and by the time he was finished, he had created the most beautiful sculpture this earth has ever seen, and it stands today in a cathedral in Florence, Italy.  Do you see?  Do you really see? It is the depth of sight.

Or, some years ago, down at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, Washington, there was a man by the name of Dr. Ernst Schwidder, who was chairman of the art department at PLU.  There was a large hunk of wood there, some 18 inches by 18 inches by 15 feet. And students would walk by and ask:  “What is in there in that big chunk of wood?”  The students didn’t see, but Dr. Schwidder saw.  He saw in that chunk of wood a Christ figure, with a hand holding a cup of wine and another hand stretching gently out to touch the world.  The artist could see deeply into the wood, and he could see the possibility which now graces our sanctuary tonight.  Do you see?

Or, some years ago, when Jan and I were married and living down in Eugene, Oregon, back in the years that we label, B.C., before children.  On Mondays, our day off, we would always go for hikes in the woods.  We would go down to the Lowell Ranger Station, where Al Lang was the forest ranger.  We would visit the Lowell Ranger Station and Al would tell the best hike available for the day.  But, sometimes, ever so occasionally, Al would come with us.  What Al, the forest ranger,  would see in the woods as we walked was absolutely incredible.  He saw so much more than we ever thought of seeing.  The mushrooms. The types of trees.  The types of leaves.  His eyes were dancing at all that he saw, for he not only would merely see, but he perceived so much more than we did.  It was the difference between sight and insight, between blepo and horao. 

Do you see what I see, said the night wind to the little lamb?  (sung)  Do you … see?

When you came to church this evening, who did you see?  Did you see some old friends that you have known for decades, some good old people that you feel very comfortable with?  Did you see some new friends, that you have known for the past one, two or three years? Did you see a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Who did you see this evening?  Or, did you also see the royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart?  Did you see God’s people here this evening together in worship and then God’s people sent out into the world in love? Did you see God’s very own people here tonight, the hands and the heart and the feet of God living and acting in the world, to transform it and make it a better place to live? Did you see?  Did you…really see?

Do you see what I see? (sung)

Or when you come to Holy Communion, do you see just a little cracker, a thimble of wine, people walking to and from the altar rails to receive the bread and wine?  Or do you see…that all of your sins are truly forgiven. Do you see…that the sins of your husband or wife, your child, your friend, are forgiven?  Do you see…that your own sins are forgiven and you finally can forgive yourself and that may be the hardest thing in the world for you to actually do?  Do you see that you can finally forgive yourself?  That God has forgiven you? Do you see?  Do you truly see when you receive the Sacrament?

Do you see what I see?  (sung)

And when you go to work in a few days, and see all those people sitting at their desks, looking somewhat like you. When you are jammed in a traffic mess called a freeway and you are stuck, ever so stuck, in traffic.  When you are dodging shoppers with your shopping cart in a super mall and the lines are a mile long.  When you see the families and children around the globe on television and know how poor and starving they truly are.  Do you see?  Do you really see?

Do you see what I see?  (sung)

Ah, Christmas is a feast for the eyes.  What did you see this Christmas Eve when you saw those beautiful lights?  When we drove to the sanctuary this evening, we drove past all those homes with all those colored lights, laughing and shining and smiling at us.  We came into the sanctuary and saw all the candles brightly lit, twinkling in the darkness.  We will then go home later tonight, after the services, and we will walk into our living room and turn off all the lights except for the lights of the Christmas tree.  In all of this, did you see that all of the splendored lights point to Jesus Christ, the light of the world? Did you see that Christ is to be the guiding light of your life?  Did you see that when the world is darkness and when a loved-one is placed in a grave of darkness, that there is a light beckoning from the other side, inviting you and me to come and be absorbed into the divine light? Do you see the glorious light of God calling to us from the heavens?

Or how about Christmas presents?  How did you do this year?  How will you do this year?  I got some socks and underwear and golf balls and shirts and neckties, somewhat like every year, along with a certain special present.  Did you see that underneath all the presents that were exchanged this year; did you see the present of God himself for you?  Did you see the gift that Christ gave you?  Did you see that underneath all the presents that are exchanged this year is the reminder that Christ is always a gift, never earned, never deserved, but always freely given in love, like any present?  Did you see?  Or did you just see colorfully wrapped material presents?

Did you see that God has fulfilled his promises to you as he did to Simeon so many years ago?  God promised Simeon to see the Christ child before he died. God was faithful to old Simeon.  Has God been faithful to you? Has God fulfilled his promises to you?  Has God been faithful to you this day?  Has God been good to you, already this evening? Has God been faithful to you in all the suffering that you have experienced in this life?  Has God been faithful to you, like he was to old Simeon?  Do you see that?  Do you see that God is with you in all the circumstances of your life?  Do you see?

Do you see what I see?  (sung)

Then life moves on and we come to the very end of life, and there will be a funeral. And at the end of most funerals, you will hear those important words of Simeon, “O Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your promise.  For my eyes …have seen your salvation.”  There were two funerals in the life of our church this past week, a father of a long time member, another funeral of a Laotian immigrant that we resettled many years ago.  And as we came to the end of both funerals and as we come to the conclusion of every funeral and as someday we will come to the end of your funeral and mine, the words of the liturgy will be read, the famous words of Simeon when he said:  “O Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people.”  And when the inevitability of the end of your life comes, and when the inevitability of death comes to me, may the words of the liturgy declare truthfully about us:  Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for his eyes have seen, her eyes have …seen, the glory of the Lord.  Peace comes with seeing, with truly seeing that God is faithful to his promises of everlasting life.

I love that Christmas carol.  It is only some 36 years old.  Some old favorite carols were composed more than a hundred years ago.  But the words and music of this recent carol are now deeply imbedded within me: (sung)  “Do you see what I see, said the night wind to the little lamb.”  Amen.

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