The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke the 2nd Chapter
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It
I’m a pastor. For a little while I thought maybe I wasn’t a pastor and started making haddock sandwiches for a living, but just over a year ago now, it became clear to me again that what I really was... was a pastor. I’ve KNOWN it now for over a year, but I’m still waiting to BE it again full time. My wife, Kelly, is a flight attendant. She left being a flight attendant to follow me out here to Maine and thought maybe being a flight attendant was “just another job” for her. It isn’t. She too has KNOWN that for over a year now, but has also been waiting for things to work out so she could BE it again. Waiting is never any fun. Waiting for mundane things or important things... either way, waiting is hard. Waiting for God to clear the path ahead in your life or in your congregation’s life or in the world seems to add another level of “hard” to waiting.
Today’s Gospel features Simeon and Anna. The story doesn’t tell us how long Simeon had been waiting or how old he was but it does tell us that the Holy Spirit told Simeon he would not see death until he met the Messiah. Since that encounter with the Holy Spirit, Simeon had been looking forward to... ‘waiting for’ the “consolation of Israel.” Anna, we know from the text is 84. She’s been in the Temple day and night for around the last 60 years praying and fasting... otherwise known as ‘waiting for’, the “Redemption of Jerusalem.”
Those two things, the “Consolation of Israel” and the “Redemption of Jerusalem” are two terms for basically the same thing. They meant freedom from the occupation and oppression of the Roman Empire and justice for all the people of Israel. Justice, here and throughout the Bible, isn’t quite like we think of justice these days; it’s not punishing people for crimes. Instead, justice in the Bible is transforming the world so it works the way God wants it to work. Mary sang about it in the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke... The proud are scattered, the powerful are brought down, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty. It’s a social and economic shift in the world so that everyone has enough; enough food, enough shelter, enough worth, enough dignity, enough meaning in their lives. Simeon and Anna knew their world was out of balance from the way God intended it to be and were waiting for God to set it right.
It was into their waiting that Jesus came. So what did Jesus say to them? He didn’t say anything did he? He’s just a baby. What does Jesus do there in the Temple? Miracles? Some water into wine, maybe? Healings maybe? No, none of that... Jesus is a baby, he is simply “there.” With Jesus just “there” what difference does that make? Does the Roman Empire pack up and move out? No. Does society change so the poor and hungry and homeless aren’t seen as parasites and are lifted up and given what they need; food, shelter, dignity, worth? No, that doesn’t happen either. Even after Jesus grows up, lives his life, dies and is raised from the dead those things don’t happen. So why was Jesus’ visit as a baby so powerful to Anna and Simeon?
I think Jesus’ simple presence did something life changing for them… it gave them hope. It showed Anna and Simeon that God had not forgotten them. It was something... someone who was physical, touchable and seeable that showed them God was still active and working and transforming the world around them even as they stood there waiting day after day, year after year in the Temple.
Waiting is so very hard but even the smallest sign of hope can be incredibly powerful. I’ve been asked to be the part time interim at Prince of Peace in Augusta. It’s not a full time, permanent position, but it’s a sign of hope. Kelly got a call from Jetblue Airlines inviting her to interview and just that phone call was an amazingly powerful sign of hope. Waiting is very hard. Feeling forgotten and feeling like there is no hope makes the waiting so much worse.
You know, together, you and I are called The Body of Christ. It isn’t just a name though... it’s our calling. Together we are called by God to continue to do what Jesus did. Together we are called to transform the world, to bring about God’s Justice, to bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry and send the rich away empty. Together we are called to bring about the Consolation of Israel and the Redemption of Jerusalem, to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
Does all of that sound slightly overwhelming? Maybe more than slightly overwhelming? Overwhelmingly overwhelming? Before you start to panic, look again at today’s story. What powerful sermon did Jesus preach in this story? What amazing supernatural actions did Jesus do in this story? What clever Scriptural reference did Jesus make in this story? What change did Jesus accomplish in the Roman Empire? What economic transformation did Jesus facilitate? He didn’t say anything or do any of those things. The only thing Jesus did in today’s story was BE THERE. But look at what being there meant to Anna... she couldn’t stop talking about it to everyone she saw. Look at what being there meant to Simeon... it literally made him sing!
You and I are called to bring God’s Kingdom to the Earth and make God’s Justice a reality, but you and I are called to start doing that in exactly the same way Jesus started... by simply BEING THERE for someone who needs to know God has not forgotten them... for someone who needs just a glimmer of hope as they wait.
Who in the congregation needs to be shown they haven’t been forgotten? Who in the community needs a visit to be reminded that they are remembered? Who do you know that might just need a glimmer of hope brought by their home or work or school? You don’t need to bring them sermons or prayers or words or miracles or Scripture verses and you don't need to fix their problems or change their world... just stop in this week and BE THERE with them for a little while. Then, as you sit there, look them in the eye. It wouldn't surprise me if somewhere in there deep inside, you didn't see a part of them begin to sing. Amen.