Scripture: Luke 2:21-32
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
There is a trite saying: good things come in small packages. You may have even thought that this Christmas with a package or gift under the tree that may not have looked like much but was actually very meaningful or valuable.
In a society that mistakenly believes that “bigger is better” in just about everything, we often times miss the importance of “little things”. It is exactly here that this morning’s story begins.
- Story of a Car
I grew up on the south side of Indianapolis and my family attended a “Methodist” church, yes Methodist because this was before merger. We regularly went to worship and Sunday school and it was a rare Sunday morning we weren’t in church. My mom and dad’s Sunday school class had a tradition of a Christmas party and gift exchange every year held at church. Everyone brought a gift either male, female, boy, or girl and a random number was placed on each gift for the appropriate category. These gifts could be either new or like-new or in many cases unopened gifts which would be re-gifted.
As an 8 year old, this was an exciting party. Not because of the pitch-in food, lots of adults talking, or even the singing of Christmas carols, but there was going to be a present at the end. So, myself and several of the other children were scoping out the large brightly wrapped packages under the tree. Literally, we could not wait for the gift drawing to begin. Finally, at long last, the time came. Names and numbers were drawn and packages were opened. Parents, adults, and other friends all had their name/number called and still nothing for me. To my dismay, some of the brighter, bigger, fancier wrapped packages were gone. Then, my name/number was drawn and with great anticipation I went to get my present. But, something was wrong, the lady handed me the smallest package under the tree with a cheery Merry Christmas. I was as disappointed as I had ever been in my life. I could not hold back the tears. I could not say “thank you” nor “Merry Christmas”. I simply ran off into another room and cried.
My dad came and got me and in no uncertain of terms explained that we didn’t act like that and I needed to return, apologize, and thank the person who brought the present. Begrudgingly, I did all three. It seems the present was given by one of the adult males who volunteered to bring an extra boy present since there would be an uneven number of boys.
What was it, you ask? It was a small MG Matchbox Car in an old box. To be completely honest with you, I abused and mistreated that car. Left it outside in the weather, left it in the sandbox, cashed bigger cars into it constantly, and eventually, I have no idea where it ended up.
“Good things come in small packages”: here is the rest of that story. This was given by a gentleman who had received this car as a gift when he was a boy. He had never opened it or played with it. He simply left it sitting on a shelf. Evidently it was a limited production car made by Matchbox and was probably worth $10 or so when I received it. About 40 years later while going to a collector show with Sean and Kyle (looking at baseball cards) I discovered that same little Matchbox car with a price tag of $500. This fine gentleman had shared a special little gift with me which I never appreciated.
III. Story of a Congregation
This morning’s story continues and talks about a congregation we served. When I started in ministry back in the mid-1970’s, there was no such thing as Clergy Appreciation Month held in October. In 1994, the American Christian organization Focus on the Family began promoting Clergy Appreciation Month as a national month of observance. In highlighting Clergy Appreciation Month, Focus on the Family sought to encourage the faithful to outwardly show their appreciation for religious leaders on a national level.
Because it was a fairly new idea, churches I served usually did something for this but mostly it was ignored. But, one church went over the top with “little things”. They decided to do something small for us each day of the month of October and they enlisted 31 families to participate. So, for clergy appreciation we received something every day during October from the congregation.
And, the things varied. We received a card with a little note showing appreciation for our ministry. Several families invited us to their homes for a meal. Several families took us out to a local restaurant. One family had pizza delivered. One family volunteered their daughter to babysit the kids while Paula and I got to have a night out. Baked goodies came during the week several times. Well, you get the idea. There was never anything huge, just daily little things showing appreciation for our ministry.
Don’t get me wrong, other churches had very kind and generous things as well, but the coordinated effort and genuine love was kind of overwhelming. It was the nicest thing that any church had ever done for us. Truly, good things come in small packages.
- Story of Simeon
Our story continues back to the days immediately following the birth of Jesus. Scripture tells us that on the eighth day, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to perform the required rituals and officially name the child.
Then, the scripture continues the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus returning to the temple for the rite of Purification and made their offering of two turtle doves. While they were in the Temple area for these rituals, they encounter Simeon.
Who is Simeon? Great question! The honest answer is that we don’t really know much about him. We don’t have any history of him before or after this Luke 2 story. The scripture tells us that he is righteous (adheres to the law) and devout (practices his faith), his hope was for the consolation or comfort for Israel, and that the Holy Spirit rested upon him. I would add that he was obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit because the story tells us that he was led by the Holy Spirit to the temple the day he encountered Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. But, when he takes tiny, little Jesus into his arms he makes some amazing claims.
Namely, he prays to God that he can know depart in peace, he can die, because he has seen and held the “salvation of Israel”. Salvation is in Jesus, not only for Israel, but of the Gentiles as well.
Simeon makes this claim based upon seeing the tiny 40 day old child Jesus. I can imagine that others who were standing around in the temple, debating scripture, complaining about the Roman occupation, or other events of the day might have heard Simeon’s claims but dismissed them because while they were expecting salvation and consolation to come, it was going to come in a bigger, brighter, more powerful and extravagant a manner. Not, though, as a little child. But, little things come in small packages!
What about us?
What small things or people in our lives have we discarded, ignored, or didn’t think significant enough for our attention?
When have we been looking for the big and impressive but missed the most important things in front of our eyes?
When have we missed the chance to forgive a minor slight which might have made a world of difference to a friend, family member, or colleague?
Since Christmas is “over” will be box up the little things, including Jesus, until next year?
Here these selected words from an anonymous poem entitled:
Little Things Mean A Lot
Far too many times we let
Unimportant things get in our mind
And by then it’s usually too late
To see what made us blind
So be sure that you let people know
How much they mean to you
Take the time to say the words
Before your time is through
Be sure that you appreciate
Everything you’ve got
And be thankful for the little things
In life that mean a lot!
The phase may seem trite, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true: Little things come in small packages!