2008 will in part be remembered at this church as a year in which three beloved members-–Clara Welder, Jere Bruner, and Enid Buckland–-all passed on to be with the Lord. All were in their 80’s; all were unique individuals with their own lengthy earthly struggles, whether physical or emotional. Each has shown us a glimpse of God in his or her own special way.
Perhaps it is with their collective memory in mind that my heart is drawn today to the story of Simeon and Anna, a prophet and a prophetess of advanced age. It is unclear in the original text whether Anna was 84 years old or had been a widow for 84 years. We don’t know Simeon’s age, but it is clear from our story that meeting his Maker is within the immediate grasp of his vision.
Peggy Malone has worked a great deal with people in hospice who are nearing the end of their lives. She tells us that there often is one person they must see or one thing they must do before releasing this life. It may be reconciling with that estranged sibling, or seeing that prodigal son who has been their heart’s agony. Simeon, like many, has that ‘one person to see’ before meeting his Maker. For him it is the Christ child, the babe born in Bethlehem.
Both Anna and Simeon spend a lot of time in the Temple. We don’t know anything about their earlier years, but we do know that they devote their later years to worshiping, praying, and waiting on God. As they serve God in the Temple, they listen attentively for a word from God.
Mary receives an angel visitant. Zechariah is struck dumb for a season. The shepherds receive an unexpected birth announcement from an angelic choir. But Simeon and Anna? They worship, fast, and pray in the Temple, faithfully, day by day, year by year. They park their hearts in the sanctuary of God. In the fullness of time, into that opening of their spirits, comes an unveiling of the Divine Presence and purpose. The very constancy of their vigil strengthens their faith and confirms their hope.
I cannot help but think of our seniors’ group, the Lightbeams, at this point. If ever there was an appropriate name to describe a group of people, this is it. Simeon and Anna remind us of the gifts age, wisdom, and faithfulness wisdom offer the gathered community. The losses of the past year and the fragile health of many today underscore the incredible ways that the constancy and prayerful service of our seniors undergirds both the history and present ministry of this church.
In our nearly 30 years here, two people have provided Communion Bread and faithfully prepared the elements we receive the first Sunday of the month, Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday. These two have been Bob Thomas and Mary Caroniti. Yes, there have been occasional substitutes, but for 30 years, month in and month out, these two seniors have performed this service in our Temple, the church, for God and for us. Waiting patiently, praying faithfully, loving constantly, they have quietly served. We may be separated from Simeon and Anna in time, but not in the richness of the gifts our older members lavish on both God and the people of God!
But, back to our story.
The day finally comes. Mary and Joseph present their infant son in the Temple, bringing along two young pigeons. This is the sacrifice poor folks offer after the birth of a firstborn son as required by the Law of Moses. Simeon’s final wish is met, and more. He not only sees the Child but holds him. Simeon cradles Jesus in his arms as he speaks words of both blessing and warning to the baby’s parents.
There must be both joy and agony in Simeon’s heart as he shares the wondrous yet heavy word from God that he has received for them. A light for the Gentiles as well as the Jews–astounding news! A sorrow that will pierce Mary’s soul like a sharp sword–agonizing news! Salvation and destruction, rise and fall, blessing and conflict–overwhelming news, so much for the young parents to take in! They were just coming to present the baby in the Temple and offer their sacrifices!
Anna enters during Simeon’s prayer. She, too, has been waiting for this moment for a long time. Instead of focusing on the parents as Simeon does, she turns toward the others in the Temple. With a heart filled with praise and thanksgiving, she proclaims the advent of the Messiah to all who are waiting for Jerusalem to become free. There is a deep collective groaning in this occupied land.
In tandem, Simeon and Anna proclaim God’s message. Their prophetic testimonies confirm one another. They joyously greet the unveiling of the child, the beginning of a new era in the long history of the Jewish people with God.
It is important to see the work of God in the Temple shortly after Jesus’ birth, because the Temple eventually becomes a symbol of Jesus’ adversaries. Shepherds, angels, and prophets proclaim his coming. The fields, the manger, and the Temple are all scenes of God’s revelation. The outsider and insider, heaven and earth shout out in praise. The Kingdom of God explodes outward in this newborn baby.
Anna and Simeon remind us what waiting looks like. It looks like patience and perseverance. It looks like listening and learning. It looks like worship and prayer. It looks like steadfastness over years and decades, even generations. Anna and Simeon don’t come to the Temple to make friends; they come to the Temple, first and foremost, to encounter God. That makes all the difference in what they find there.
As we continue the Advent journey, we have made a “fast forward” today to the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Yet we are still immersed in the Unveiling of the Promised One. The true gift of this season is the Christ Child, the One we our hearts yearn to know, to love, to follow, and to serve. He is our life. He is our peace. He is the hope of our redemption. Amen.