Yesterday was our parish Annual Meeting, but of course, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple takes precedence …
Simeon said, “Now I can die happy.” Anna had been waiting eighty-four years – now she was running around like a spring lamb telling everyone that she had seen the redemption of Jerusalem; she should know, since she was a prophet.
What they had witnessed, these two faithful devotees, was one small family among many, coming to the Temple as so many did, to circumcise their firstborn son, to sacrifice turtle doves of thanksgiving for his safe delivery and survival, which then as now was not to be taken for granted.
The baby who squalled and screamed as they “[did] for him what was customary under the law” would soon return to Galilee and its backwaters. It would be twelve years before he was heard from again in the Temple. Anna would most likely be dead; Simeon maybe too.
It would be more than thirty years before Jesus returned as a man on a mission, cleansing the Temple of corrupt dealers and dirt, paving the way for his own destruction, his criminal crucifixion, setting himself up for the fall.
Certainly Anna, and probably Simeon, would not live to see the day of Resurrection, nor gather with the disciples of this babe in the Temple as, weary and confused, they heard the rumours of an empty tomb, a garden encounter, the promise of their Messiah fulfilled.
Within another generation, the Temple itself would be razed by the Romans, its rubble to this day the matter of archaeologists more than priests and prophets, the subject of conflict and the object of desire, but rarely associated with peace.
And yet on this morning, thousands of years ago, the prophet proclaimed the redemption of Jerusalem, and the prayerful man, drawn to the Temple and the child by the Spirit, prayed, “Now I can die happy.”
The genius of Simeon and of Anna, I think, was that they were able to see hope without seeing the whole story, the whole blueprint. They saw Jesus, and he was enough to inspire them with the firm and secure knowledge that in the midst of occupation and strife, God was still with them. They saw Jesus and knew that eighty-four years of widowhood, or however long it had been for Anna, were not empty, but that love had never left her. They saw Jesus and knew that whatever the other cares and caveats of life, in this moment of sacrifice, of flesh, blood, and Spirit, life made sense, as it was offered back to God in thanksgiving, and returned to the child and his parents as a promise.
They saw Jesus, and they knew God.
Waiting is hard. I am the last person to pretend that it isn’t. I do not have the patience of the saints. Waiting, for good news or for bad, takes its toll on a person’s spirit, even on their faith, if we are not careful.
Some of you may be waiting for health news, or for healing, for test results, or for treatment plans.
Some of you may be learning the new, slow life of widowhood, or the empty nest, or waiting for a new home or relationship to feel normal, or hoping that it never does.
Some of us may be waiting for the world to stop fighting itself, for the country to stop dividing itself, for the realm of God to replace the imperfect, fallen systems of governance that we try to prop up as best we can.
Some of us may be waiting for the restoration of the Temple, the rebuilding of the church, the rebirth of bustling Sunday School classes and bursting pews.
It can feel sometimes as though Jesus has withdrawn to the backwaters of Galilee, , and we do not know when we will see him again, nor whether he will come with whips and cords to clean out the temples of power, or even our own house; or whether he will come in chains, bowed down by the burdens of the principalities that still oppose the reign of God, its justice, its mercy, its peace; or whether he will come in glory, a light to shine the world toward salvation.
But Simeon, and perhaps especially Anna, the prophet, show us that we do not need to see the end of the story to know, in its beginnings, in our first encounters with Jesus, however incomplete and inarticulate and inchoate they may be; Simeon and Anna show us that if we allow our hearts to be melted by the love of God borne into the world, we will know the peace that passes understanding, and endures beyond the moment of pause, and silences the rabbling, quarrelling chaos of the world with its cry of flesh and blood and Spirit, the covenant of God with God’s children, the promise of God’s enduring and surviving grace.
Anna and Simeon found the love of God, after all, in the simple, everyday act of parents, and step-parents, doing what was required and customary for their child, and giving thanks for his survival. Anna, long-widowed and childless, was generous of spirit to take solace in the joy of others, even though it might have pierced her, too.
Simeon and Anna found the love of God even under the knife, something I find hard to understand or accept; but that might, after all, without too much of a stretch, remind me of the love of God guiding the hand of a surgeon, and the comfort and healing touch of the theatre nurse in the recovery room; for the presence of God even in pain.
Anna and Simeon found the love of God while witnessing another’s act of faith, of sacrifice, of prayer, and it sustained them.
Most immediately, they found the love of God in Jesus. They knew, when they encountered him, that the promises of God, Emmanuel, God with us were true, and that even if they saw nothing else, never knew how the story of this child would grow and how many peoples would know it, if they saw no more of the story, they knew that they had seen the salvation of God, the mercy of the Creator manifest in creation, the coming of the reign of God, slow but unstoppable.
We meet today for our Annual Meeting, of course, and we wonder what God has in store for us as we continue the mission and meetings of our founders in this place, in a setting and situation they could not have imagined even ninety-some years ago. So much has changed; and yet we meet as Christians always have, to witness the coming of Christ among us, as Word and Sacrament, to give thanks for the enduring life of the child born to give light to the nations, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
We come with our burdens of grief, of suspense, of disappointment. We come with our gifts of faith, hope, and love. We come not knowing how this story will end, but here at the altar, Jesus is present, and in his presence, may we find, if not what we are looking for, then instead what we most need, and what God most longs for us, to see.
Image: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Sarum Missal c. 1310-1320, National Library of Wales [CC0], via wikimedia commons