January 2, 2024
Jesus was 8 days old. The parents, in keeping with tradition, went up to the temple. Simeon and Anna, two devout people at the temple, fawn over the baby.
Jesus is only 8 days old, and 2 old folks already see the promise and peril that are to come.
Simeon’s name means “to hear,” “to be heard,” and “reputation.” Names have meaning, always pay attention to the names. The Holy Spirit promises him that he will not die before seeing the Messiah. Simeon sings about being dismissed in peace. He tells Mary that the child will be the rising and falling of many in Israel and that her own heart will be pierced.
Anna is daughter of Phanuel of the Tribe of Asher. Aννα and the Hebrew name Hannah mean “favor”, “grace”, and “beautiful”. Phanuel means “Face of God” and the Tribe of Asher was noted for its prosperity and good food. Asher means “’happiness.” So Anna saw the beautiful face of God and was happy.
Two old folks, steeped in the tradition… saw the future. And they rejoiced!
When I get old, I want to be one who is grateful and happy. Who rejoices over everyone. I think of longtime church member Jim Thornburg who died this year. He gave blessing to everyone in his path. He was grateful for his life. He loved his wife Jean and dearly missed her but looked forward to being reunited with her. His daughter Sue was the apple of his eye. He was so proud of her. He loved his church. He thought I was the “best pastor I’ve known” which is a lovely thing to say and keeps me going on hard days. What a gift!
He could have been bitter. That makes a lot of sense to me. The misery of an aging body that can’t do a quarter of what it used to. A memory that isn’t quite as sharp. Having to care for Jean as her health and memory deteriorated. Friends dying. A constant barrage of change you don’t understand and don’t want to. Bitter makes a lot of sense.
I don’t know why some folks are bitter and some folks are grateful at any age. It might be a choice. It might be an immutable orientation of personality. If it is a choice, and I’m hoping it is… let’s take a quick survey. Hold up your hand which number… one or two.. for what statement you’d rather hear from someone else…
1 “I am so disappointed in you.” Or 2. “I am so proud of you.”
1 “You could be so much better.” Or 2. “You are just the best!”
1 “This used to be so much better.” Or 2. “You’re going to make the world a better place.”
I hope we all answered 2. Sometimes my brain tries to tell me #1. I try to keep voices like Jim’s… “You’re the best pastor” in my ears. Keep those #2 voices close of your friends, family, coaches, teachers, mentors, and all who loved you into being.
I would like to think most of us are doing our best. We’re trying to make it through the day, improving things where we can. I think that’s what brings us all here. We’re looking to do that. We’re looking for inspiration to get us through a week or even the day. To be recharged and sent out into our work trying to leave things better than we’ve found it. We long to hear words that reassure us that we’ve tried to the right thing and while we might have missed the mark on what we were really aiming for… we’re closer than we were.
We all know some real stinkers in the world who seem to be actively trying to make things worse. Thankfully, the holy family didn’t encounter them on this trip to the temple. Instead, they encounter Simeon and Anna. They both tell of the beautiful face of God that they see in this 8-day old infant Jesus which makes them so happy.
Mary treasures their words in her heart.
Sometimes we can lament that things weren’t like they were. Sometimes we unknowingly commit the sin of nostalgia. Nostalgia is longing to return to a time that never happened. We might long for the Christmases of childhood, forgetting we had exams and stress even then. We might forget the pain we carried then because of the pain we’re focused on now. Our younger selves might have been just as anxious back then as we are now. Maybe more so because we didn’t know how things would turn out. We know that now. The problem with life said Christian existentialist Soren Kirkegaard is that “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
We must listen to our gracious Simeons and Annas who saw what was coming. They held no quarter for nostalgia. They rejoiced at the possibility! They understood what God was doing. They rejoiced over this poor, unassuming couple. Remember, we know Mary and Joseph were poor because they could only afford to bring two turtledoves to the temple with them.
Simeon and Anna teach us several spiritual lessons. They teach us to keep praying. They teach us to have faith that God’s timing is not our timing. They teach us to have trust even if God’s promise is taking longer than we’d like… sometimes having faith that lasts beyond our lifetime.
For those of us here at this church… I would like to see us continue a culture of Simeon and Anna. Traditions we value will eventually need to be handed over to others. Current leaders should ever be on the lookout for folks to bless and nurture and sing praises over.
We also know that nostalgia is a temptation. We are tempted to be bitter by what’s passing us by. Listen… Meghan is at teen church, so she doesn’t know what I’m about to say. When we were hiring her, I had the choice to be bitter or to celebrate. I want to celebrate her. She is so much more gifted than I was when I started out. So much more polished and further along. I love working with her. She makes me better. I try to mentor and give her room to try and do her thing. Offer my opinion when asked. Tell of happy memories and lessons learned.
I think we have that culture here. I am just preaching today to encourage it. I’m so very thankful to be your pastor. I think we’re doing great! As we approach the new year, may we resolve to be more like Simeon and Anna: prayerfully patient, celebrating God’s gift in others, and trusting God’s timing in all things. That way, all may grow and become strong and full of wisdom and know God’s grace is upon them. Thanks be to God. Amen.