1st Sunday of Christmas
1 January 2012
Luke 2: 22-40
Waiting. It seems that no matter how much we hate to wait, our lives are often about waiting.
I remember looking out the window of my internship office on the last Thursday of the month to see the line forming in the parking lot. Most mornings it began about 8:30 with the Russian grandmothers. The Northwest Food house on our property had a delivery of fresh vegetables and fruit from the Food Bank that day. It was always first come, first served, and by the time the truck came at 11:00 the line snaked around the lot.
This morning we meet two people who are experts at waiting. Both Anna and Simeon have been waiting a lifetime for the coming of God’s salvation, the presence of the promised Messiah. As they meet the new baby and his parents, the story turns from one of waiting to one of faithfulness.
Mary and Joseph are faithful to their tradition as they come to the temple in Jerusalem for Mary’s purification ritual and the dedication of their son. Another trip so soon. We can see their financial situation from the story: they could not afford the sacrifice of a lamb as the scripture prescribes, so they offer two turtledoves. They will raise their son in the fullness of his tradition, observing the festivals and making the proper sacrifices, and teaching him the scriptures.
Anna is faithful. She has been a widow most of her adult life. She is 84, a remarkable age even in our day let alone Jesus’ day when people often died before 50. She is in the temple day and night praising God. Amazing. She could so easily have been bitter and miserly after having lived on her own for so long, but there she is waiting at God’s house for whatever comes, and living her gratitude for it. She is identified as a prophet, from a long line of prophets. She becomes one of the first believers in Jesus as Immanuel, God with us.
And Simeon: We are told that God promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Talk about waiting. Simeon’s song has been part of Church liturgy since the very beginning: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation you have prepared before the face of every people. A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” We used to sing it at the end of communion, and in the monastery, they sing it at compline, the last prayers before going to bed at night. It is easy to imagine the amazement of these young parents, coming to do their duty to God and to their son, and meeting these two elders who praise God with them and lift up their work as the parents of God.
I’d like to take a few things away from this story of Simeon and Anna and the trusting parents of this Baby who is God:
I’d like to take away the courage to wait with confidence and gratefulness. It’s so easy to be afraid when our plans and dreams seem to be so long in coming. I think of the waiting that is so present in our midst: waiting for opportunity, waiting for health to return, waiting for pain to subside. I think of our ministry, our renovation finished and our hopes high for new life in our new setting. We wait for God to move among us, to call us forward, to reward our work and enliven our dreams. As we begin to plan for the future of our ministry together here, I want to remember Simeon and Anna and their patience and graciousness as they wait to do God’s bidding.
I’d like to take away the kind of mingling of generations that only happens in church. Young families come to bring their babies to God, to be faithful and to learn how to teach their children in the tradition that honors God and what God loves. It is the work of elders to meet those families and lift up their work as caregivers and faithful believers. How will they learn how to train their children in faith, unless we elders guide and nourish their dreams for the next generation of believers?
I’d like to take away Simeon’s vision of salvation as being for all people. He is not waiting for Jesus to be his personal savior, to make him right with God. His vision is for a world that is healed from sin. The God who comes to us forgives us so we can forgive, opens his arms on the cross so that we can embrace the lost and the lonely. God comes personally to each of us, but God comes to a world in need of hope and peace and joy and love.
I’d like to take away the mystery and the amazement that God comes. All our faithfulness is in response to God’s faithfulness. God comes to ordinary people who struggle, who wait with longing for a better world, who sometimes wonder if God hears their worry and pain and fear at all. That’s us. We are the bearers of God’s story.
It has always been our trust in God’s love and mercy that saves us. And the story of Jesus tells us that God’s promises come true. They are worth waiting for. We live it the best we can, and we lean on each other for courage and hope when the light we wait for seems dim. May you begin to see yourself as those who wait with faith for the mystery that breaks upon us, as we bear it into the world we know.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.