Lessons for the Feast of the Presentation: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; and, Luke 2:22-40.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
In the season of Christmas, we relished in the story of the nativity of Jesus, the Word made flesh. At Epiphany, we celebrated as the magi journeyed from the east to make Jesus known, the anointed king and priest, who would also be the sacrifice. Now, we have come upon the third of the winter feasts of light, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. We are half-way through winter in the northern hemisphere and ready for spring, with the new life that it brings. At once, then, this feast is a great opportunity to look back on what has happened and to look forward to what we await. It is also a great time for us to dwell in the present, to look for and see what is happening now.
In the narrative from Luke’s gospel, we see Mary and Joseph going to the Temple for the rites of purification and to present Jesus to the Lord, “as it is written in the law of the Lord.” Over the past few months, we have recalled how Mary and Joseph journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, gave birth to a newborn son, and welcomed shepherds. They might be ready to slow things down a bit by now. They are young and weary parents whose newborn baby is certainly not yet sleeping through the night. If I were them, I would want to be going home, to settle into life in Nazareth. And that seems to be where they are heading.
But, before they go home, they first come to the temple to fulfill all righteousness, faithful in their religious duties to dedicate this child, “this thing that has come to pass” (Luke 2:15). While at the Temple, Mary and Joseph encounter two people who know a lot about faithfulness, especially the kind of faithfulness found in expectation and waiting. As Luke tells us, Mary and Joseph encounter Simeon, who was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to go to the temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation. Simeon had been “looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him,” having been told that he “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:25-26). Simeon was expecting and waiting. looking forward to seeing the Lord’s anointed.
Mary and Joseph then met Anna, an eighty-four year old prophet who, since the death of her husband after seven years of marriage, had “never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37). Anna was “looking for the redemption of Israel,” and when Jesus was presented she “began to praise God and speak about the child” (Luke 2:38).
Simeon and Anna were two grandparent-like characters, who had been waiting a lifetime to see the Messiah. They had nurtured the art of seeing over their long lives, vigilant and watchful, ready to receive the Messiah for whom they were looking. These two, having known their God and listened to the divine word, expected, waited, and looked for the Lord’s anointed, recognized Jesus as Messiah. Simeon and Anna had no angels heralding or stars leading them, but instead had discerning minds and faithful hearts guiding them. They spent long years expecting God’s saving grace and looking for the Messiah, and, because they were ready, they recognized the promise fulfilled in the newborn baby. They are present, poised to see God’s redemptive work in the world.
Simeon and Anna were just ordinary and everyday people. Indeed, they were faithful, discerning, expectant, and patient! But, in the end, they were just ordinary and everyday people, faithfully keeping watch for God. While both Simeon and Anna are nearer the end of their life’s journey than the beginning, this is a new beginning for each, a new beginning of God’s work in the child they hold – Messiah, God-with-us, Emmanuel.
As the narratives of the patriarchs and matriarchs and of Exodus demonstrate, as the prophets make clear, and as the wisdom of Israel proclaims, the kind of hope that God brings forth is hope not just for kings and the powerful. No! The hope brought forth is hope in and for carpenters; it is hope in and for old people who pray even when the hope is running thin; it is hope in and for confused young women and men as they struggle to raise their children; and, it is hope in and for the working poor. The hope brought forth is hope in and for those barely hanging on and in and for those “who are wearied by the changes changes and chances of this life” (BCP 133). It is the hope of a hope bearing child – Messiah, God-with-us, Emmanuel.
If nothing else, Simeon and Anna remind us that we can endure, and that God still intervenes in the common and the ordinary. God shows up! Jesus offers new life! God is at work in places and people we too often look past or take no notice of or dismiss. Simeon and Anna remind us of the eyes of faith that trust in the expectation of God’s promise, especially when the tragedies and strife of the world loom large over us – like Rome loomed large of Israel.
Simeon and Anna have become an archetype – figures in the bible who live in our present. Do you have a Simeon or an Anna in your life? Do you have those figures who recognize God’s presence, God’s closeness to us, and God’s salvation when we cannot see it ourselves. I think that we really do need them – the Simeons and the Annas in our lives. We sometimes need others to recognize God’s presence, to keep watch for God for us when things get disorienting or misty or when we see as in a mirror (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). And on this side of the mortal life, we need their example of waiting and watching and witnessing because, like Mary and Joseph, we sometimes get too tired and weary. The Simeons and Annas in our lives are the prophets and seers who witness hope and faithfulness when we are short on it. They keep watch for the holy when we are doing our best to just show up. Often it is only through and in their waiting and watching and witness, that Emmanuel, God with us, Messiah is made known.
I imagine that we all have moments when we need someone to point to Jesus, to say with no ambiguity, “Here is Jesus! Right here, right now, is the saving work of God! Right where you are standing, as close as breath, is Emmanuel, God with us, hope bearing Messiah.”
And sometimes we might even be needed as a Simeon or Anna. Even without heralding angels or bright stars to guide us, God is at work and we must tell those stories! We must proclaim the good news of God in our midst, the good news of Emmanuel, God with us, Messiah. Like Simeon and Anna, we too can be people who point out God’s redeeming work among us and we too can tell the good news of salvation for the Marys and Josephs of the world – those who so need hope and blessing in weariness and uncertainty. Even if we don’t see God’s kingdom fully come on earth and it is in heaven, we so see glimpses of it, so we should bless those stories and share that hope.
After being blessed in the temple that day, Mary and Joseph “returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:39-40). They returned to the ordinary, that liminal place where most of us spend most of our days. We are reminded that we would be wise to attend to the ordinary and mundane, to the everyday places and people, for surely there are some among us who need to hear Simeon’s song and Anna’s testimony. For when we give witness like Simeon and Anna, to where we have seen God’s salvific work, and been changed by it, we point to Emmanuel, God with us, Messiah.
Thanks be to God for Emmanuel, God with us, hope bearing Messiah. And thanks be to God for the Simeons and the Annas of our world. Amen.