December 31, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
In our Gospel reading today, Luke speaks of Jesus’ presentation in the temple. In Luke’s story, his parents bring the infant Jesus to the temple that day to fulfill the Law of Moses. They make the offering of a poor family. In the temple, the family is greeted by two people of great age, Simeon and Anna, elders who have devoted their lives to worshipping God and praying for the people of Israel. Let us pray, “Gracious and loving God, be with us this Christmas Season as we stand with Simeon and Anna as they envision the amazing and spectacular future for your Son…and for all of us.” Amen.
I would like to share a story I heard years ago from a colleague and dear friend, Dan Ponsetto, who served with me as a Chaplain at Boston College. We were on a retreat with a group of students and several of us were going to present on different topics over the weekend. Dan was a great storyteller and this is the story he shared that day which still has a special place in my memory each year at Christmas time. Dan’s sons, Julian and Joey… snapping turtle, put him in bucket, “I wish I could become small and get into that bucket and talk turtle talk to that little turtle and tell him not to be afraid..”
For this is a simple story of the Incarnation, isn’t it? God sent Jesus to tell us not to be afraid…and whenever Jesus encountered his friends, he would say to them, “don’t be afraid; I bring you Peace”
And so, in this story of Simeon and Anna when they first meet the baby Jesus, they have a vision of whom he will come to be for our world. Luke shares the story of when Mary and Joseph go to the Temple to present their Son with special offerings to God. When Anna and Simeon have a chance meeting with a seemingly ordinary and poor child, both of them recognize a fulfillment of their prayers, and evidence of God’s salvation present in their midst. They recognize in Jesus God’s future reign breaking in among them.
As Mary and Joseph present their child with great gratitude, there is a wonderful connection made with Anna and Simeon, who want to spend time with this new family. They interact in interesting ways, blessing and receiving blessings in return. Past and present meet together, and behold in faith a future in God which looks quite different than anything they could have imagined.
The emotions and feelings expressed by this profound intergenerational group are full. The parents exhibit surprise, pride, wonder, gratitude, faithfulness and awe. Simeon and Anna, in the midst of being faithful, are filled with peace, insight, vision, relief and good news to offer others who share important concerns. Jesus, while young, will experience growth and increasing strength. As he grows in age and wisdom, he becomes aware of the favor of God on himself.
We may wonder what it was that Simeon and Anna saw in this baby at the temple. There would likely have been lots of babies at the temple and over the years that they worshipped there. His parents are bringing their offering, which the Bible describes as what you have to bring if you are poor. There is nothing special on the outside about Mary, Joseph, or Jesus. Yet, both Simeon and Anna, these people of faith and wisdom, see the man Jesus is going to become when they look at the baby. Time for them becomes fluid; they can see past, present and future all at one time. That doesn’t happen too often for most of us. As parents, we try all the time to imagine what our children will become as they grow up, but they constantly surprise us with changes we couldn’t possibly imagine.
One of the key messages of this passage is that God has hopes and dreams for us, beyond anything we can imagine for ourselves. We often talk about how God has hopes and dreams for us when we are children, but in this passage it is clear that God has plans for all of us. Simeon and Anna were both at the end of their lives, and from the sounds of it, they had done wonderful things in the community all their lives. Yet God still had things for them to do. Jesus’ parents on earth had work to do. They had already done all of the things we talked about during Advent and on Christmas, but now they have a little baby to raise. And although we don’t read much in scripture about that part of Jesus’s life, they must have done a good job, because all that Simeon and Anna see in that baby comes true in the life of Jesus when he begins his ministry.
We know that Jesus does not want us to be afraid. We know that our God sent Jesus to us so that we might best hear his message, in human form, and to one day speak of peace and unconditional love and to inspire us to live lives faithful to that message. Certainly Anna and Simeon were faithful servants of God and they invite us to share their vision this day…Let’s practice using our Simeon/Anna vision. In the coming weeks, when you look at people, whether they are young or old, try to imagine what God has planned for them. Then, find a small quiet place and think about what God may hope and dream for you.