31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 10, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
2020 began as many years do – with resolutions to eat better, work out, learn something new. Resolutions quickly turned into a year of hitting reload on our computers and devices as we attended zoom meetings, tried to stream worship, and looked for updates on where deliveries might be. All in all, 2020 was a year we regret, a year we wish we could redo, a year we definitely do not want to repeat!
How about a fresh start? A refresh?
Lent is usually the season for reflection, and Easter the season for renewal; however I feel like we really need both right now. After this really long year that has been filled with uncertainty and anxiety, I feel like my heart, my soul, and my mind need to be refreshed, renewed. So in this month when many are resolving to improve their lives, in this church season of Epiphany when the Church of Jesus Christ is called to let Christ’s light shine in the world through us, I invite you to join me on a journey of reflection, a journey to renew our lives.
Over the next six weeks, we will hear stories from Jesus’ life, like the one we heard this morning, and I pray that as we hear these lessons from Jesus’ life to ours, they will help us take stock of our lives, how they have changed and what will never change. I hope these lessons from Jesus’ life will continue to ground us solidly in God who is our rock and our redeemer and also renew and refresh us because after what we have been through, 2021 seems a great time for a restart.
Many are familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth. Not as many people are familiar with the story we heard this morning. The writer of the gospel of Luke is the only one to include this story of Mary and Joseph taking their infant son to be dedicated in the Temple.
In much the same way that our sacrament of baptism does, Jesus’ circumcision, naming, and dedication in the temple established Jesus’ place within the covenantal community, that he belonged to this community of faith, this community of God’s people. That’s an important detail to know about Jesus’ life; however I think the gospel writer also wanted us to meet Simeon and Anna. We don’t hear of them before or after this story; however for this moment, Simeon and Anna’s life and faith journeys intersected with Jesus’. In this moment, we see and hear the blessings that come when we are open to God’s unexpected wisdom.
I imagine there were many righteous and devout men (and women) living in Jerusalem. Simeon was particularly open to God’s Holy Spirit. Three times, the gospel writer references the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit rested on [Simeon]. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. [so] Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple” (Luke 2:25-27).
The Holy Spirit rested on him; the Holy Spirit revealed to him; the Holy Spirit guided him; and Simeon faithfully listened. Simeon was open to how God was working through him, and it led him to being in the right place at the right time – to see and hold God’s Messiah, the one who would save his people from their sins, which is what Jesus’ name means. (Matthew 1:21)
The prophet Anna did not have to be guided by the Spirit to the Temple. She was always there, worshipping, fasting, praying day and night. During Advent, I shared that prophets are people who come really close to God and God comes really close to them so they know what is important to God. Prophets spend lots and lots of time with God, day and night kind of time with God, so they are open to God’s Wisdom and God’s Holy Spirit.
Anna was one of those prophets. I find the translation from The Message a bit clearer in describing Anna’s behavior. “At the very time Simeon was praying, [Anna] showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38 The Message)
After all of the unexpected messengers God had already sent into their lives, the angel Gabriel, a band of shepherds, and some far traveling magi, you would think that Mary and Joseph would cease to be surprised at the unexpected people God brought into theirs and Jesus’ lives. You would think that they would be in a constant state of being open to God’s spirit and wisdom – in whatever form it came – and certainly when it came in the form of two such faithful elders.
Perhaps they were – and yet…. imagine things from their perspective. After journeying to Jerusalem, with an infant, it had to be overwhelming to enter the Temple, “an immense structure of cream-colored limestone adorned with marble colonnades, golden gates, and multicolored hangings” (Reader’s Digest Jesus and His Times, pg 27). The hustle and bustle of hundreds of Temple priests and musicians, worshippers, and all of the various people engaged in selling animals and changing money for worship, must have felt like arriving in Grand Central Station during rush hour.
As every seasoned traveler knows, you have to focus when you are confronted with a busy train station, airport, or rest stop. Eyes on the prize. As faithful people, observant Jews, and good parents, Mary and Joseph had their eyes on the prize. They came to the Temple to present Jesus to the Lord. They came to do what was customary under the law of Moses. (Luke 2:22, 27)
And the plan changed. The plan changed when Simeon, a faithful man and yet still a stranger, approached them and took their child into his arms, and began praising God:
“Master, now you are dismissing your
servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the
presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
And then Anna joined them and also began to praise God and tell anyone who would listen about this special child and the coming healing, redemption of Israel.
And Mary and Joseph were amazed. I wonder if the right word was “surprised” because it is hard to always be open and accepting of God’s Spirit and wisdom – especially when it comes in unexpected moments. It is easier to be focused on our own journeys. Some days I think it is the only way I survive, and yet, if we focus only on ‘the plan’, on getting it all done, on getting through, we can miss God’s still speaking voice, we can miss God’s wisdom, as it comes in unexpected moments and from unexpected people.
A lesson we can certainly take away from this story about Anna and Simeon is to listen to God’s wisdom as shared with us by our elders. Time and again throughout this past year, I have remembered stories of the challenges some of our seniors have lived through and overcome, and that wisdom has given me perspective and helped me navigate my own challenges.
And having spent years doing youth and children’s ministry, I can attest to the fact that God’s wisdom often comes through our children and teenagers. Someone I know is a new grandmother. Their grandchild has had many health difficulties in their four months of life, and as the grandmother was playing with the baby the other day, the little one was babbling “Yaya. Yaya.” At first the grandmother was thrilled and thought, ‘ok, I won’t be Grandma, I’ll be Yaya’. And then, because the grandmother is someone who is very open to God’s Spirit and God’s wisdom, she thought – or is this little one saying “Yahweh”, the Jewish name for God. Often, it is the very youngest in our community that is the closest to God – if we would only listen.
We have months to go before we can even begin to imagine what our new normal will look like; we have much to learn. One of the lessons we can learn from Jesus’ life for ours though is to cultivate a spirit of listening, cultivate a spirit of openness, to be ready for God’s wisdom in whatever surprising, unexpected form or moment it comes.