Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
My wife and I enjoyed watching the personality of our newest granddaughter Emaline emerge as she begins school. She was born four years ago and soon will approach her fifth birthday. She joins her two sisters, Isla and Maline, in an active and noisy home life.
Any time a child is born and brought home to a family an extended period of physical, social and mental adjustment takes place. For instance, fathers and mothers and sibling all go through great change. The couple, bringing a child, home must outfit a nursery, including the purchase of furniture, clothing and other necessities required for infant care.
The actual birth of a baby leads to a lifetime of continuing adjustments for parents and family. Over the holidays, Brad Morrison, a friend of mine who owns Riverbend Signworks on Facebook shared pictures taken at their daughter’s wedding. That wedding reminds of changes that continues to unfold twenty or thirty years after a child’s birth.
Our Gospel for this Sunday follows Mary and Joseph immediately after the birth of Jesus. We read they brought their infant son to the temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice, according to Jewish custom and law. Mary underwent the religious rite of purification required of her.
Mary and Joseph remind us of our families who come to church for baptism, following a baby’s birth. These rites mark the passage of the child into its religious tradition and identity.
Interestingly, the presentation of our Lord and the purification of Mary, while ordinary in one sense, turn out to be extraordinary in another way. When Mary and Joseph arrive at the temple, they meet Simeon, who is described this way, “This man was righteous and devote, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him.” He was the very image of a profoundly pious individual.
Simeon’s life serves God’s purpose. We read, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” He has an important role to play in the life of Jesus. Scripture describes what happens next. “Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God by reciting what we now refer to liturgically, as the “Nunc Dimittis,” sung to this day in Christian churches, after bread and wine have been received at Holy Communion.
Let us recall again the exclamation of Simeon, when he sees the Christ child, “Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to you word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” How often have we sung these words, during Holy Communion, and not stopped to reflect on their meaning?
The inclusion of the story of Simeon in the life of Jesus serves several important purposes. First, we have a snapshot of the family of Jesus, revealing them to be faithful adherents to God’s law. They are ordinary people swept up by God’s salvation purpose. They want to do good and lead a purposeful life. Second, the Gospel of Luke shows this event to be consistent with God’s intention. The prophet Malachi offered this messianic prophesy. He said: “Lord, I am sending to you a messenger to preparer a way before me. And the Lord to you seek will suddenly enter his temple.” There it is. Simeon announces the Lord has entered his temple. The pieces of the puzzle fall into place. God sent his son to dwell among us and bring redemption.
Finally, Simeon makes a blockbuster announcement. Salvation has been prepared for all people. The coming messiah will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Now this is news. For centuries, the Gentiles have been on the outside looking in. Salvation was for a chosen few. You had to be born into the salvation club. Simeon upsets that applecart, saying even the Gentiles will be saved through Jesus Christ. God has big intentions. He will redeem all humanity.
A second prophet named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, seconds Simeon’s motion. She too believes Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. The Bible requires two witnesses to testify to truth. Simeon and Anna are those witnesses.
Together Simeon and Anna remind us the triumph of God’s purpose in Jesus Christ will be no piece of cake. Simeon says: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.” We take for granted good triumphs over evil, failing to recall the struggle involved to achieve that end.
If I gave a title to this Sunday’s Gospel, it would be “Great Expectations.” The Biblical prophets never minced words about problems that lie ahead. They believed; however, God will triumph, and that triumph means great things for His people.
Human beings are hard wired to be hopeful. For instance, recently I read a study, concerning people living in the Ukraine. That country endured great misery for years. A revolution and invasion by Russia led to the death of thousands of people. Reports indicate some elderly have starved to death. Yet throughout this tragedy, people remain hopeful for the future.
Martin Luther King expressed this hopefulness in the face of tragedy, during the American Civil Rights struggle, he said, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty Free at Last.”
In King’s declaration we hear echo the hopefulness of Simeon. God will accomplish his purpose; our great expectations will be realized. May the hopefulness of Simeon and Anna continue to inspire our own great expectation revealed in and expressed through the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.