(Luke 2:21-40) – J G White
11 am, Xmas 1, Sun, Dec 30, 2018 – UBC Digby
We looked forward to Christmas. Now what? New Year? 2 days away. Looking forward to spring? About 80 days. Christmas? 360 days from now!
So many dates and timelines and moments are things we have created to celebrate; a bit artificial.
It is December 30th. Time to look back, of course. Time to celebrate now, yes. And time to look forward. To plan. To prepare. To get reoriented.
The early stories of Jesus continue, today. Joseph and Mary dedicate their child in Jerusalem. “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” This was a worship sacrifice for those unable to afford the usual.
What does looking forward mean to those who are poor? Poor in things? Is looking forward simply about survival: hoping and planning to survive another year? Wishing for some windfall, some luck, some unlikely blessing to come along? Sharon and I watched a 1938 film version of A Christmas Carol the other day. The story is told over and over of the Cratchits, the working poor: how they live, how they hope, how they survive.
Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted.” What could Christ have for an unwanted person to look forward to in a new year?
What about for those poor in health? What does it mean to be forward looking when you might be in your last years of life? Less able to do many things?
Let me tell again the story of Doug and Gertrude. Seniors, in their little house in Wolfville, thirty years ago. Looking around their living room, Gertrude says, “I think we could use a chair right here. We should get a chair.”
“Just how long do you think we are going to live?” asks Doug.
“I don’t know,” says Gertrude, “But I know this: I’m going to live as long as I live!”
She took the advice of Jonathan Swift: “May you live all the days of your life.” Such is the attitude of those who look forward. Life built upon the past, growing into the future.
The future is, of course, uncertain for everyone. Yet what we do today, in the now, inspires and helps many people, not just ourselves.
If found quite a few poignant moments in our Christmas music here this past week. Jean Brittain joins the Ladies Ensemble to sing, amid her cancer treatments. Bonne and Pete and Linda reunite to sing together, with as great a spirit, and volume, and harmony as ever. Peter Dickie comes forward to offer a solo, taking off his gloves and mask, and putting a new, germ-free, foam cover on the microphone.
And then, as a counterpoint, quiet little Mason clings to his grandmother Margo as she sings a solo.
The people who are seniors, and the people who are children, each has an unknown future, but with great joy and beauty to give today, and with a measure of hopefulness. Each one, inspiring us.
Speaking of a little one brightening life for us, we heard those stories of infant Jesus brought to the Temple of Jerusalem. At that time, a complete stranger comes forward. Simeon, a man who was looking forward to the Christ, the Messiah… ‘the consolation of Israel.’ Perhaps, two thousand years ago, there were as many ideas about what the Messiah would be like, among the Jews, as there are Biblical theories about Jesus coming the second time, among Christians in the world now.
Whatever he expected, this man in Jerusalem is drawn to Joseph and Mary & the Child. Traditionally Simeon is thought of as an old man, though he was not necessarily so.
Our text tells us he was Spirit guided. Promised to see the Anointed One before his death. Then, he recognized this one child as the One. How the Spirit and Simeon did these two things we are not told. We simply find this future-oriented man appearing on the scene in Luke chapter 2.
Gazing at the Simeon story, I think about this: the Spirit-filled life as a way of looking forward. Makes sense. Be closely in touch with God, and get pointed into the future. It’s not about living in the future. And Simeon does not live thirty more years to hear Jesus preach, see him heal, or be sacrificed and raised up. Glimpsing the Saviour is enough.
Simeon speaks a poetic blessing.
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word.
For my eyes have seen your salvation…
It gets called the Song of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis. Simeon’s song gets recited (or sung) in evening services by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and many other groups.
Anna was there too, and speaks prophetically. She is old: 84. She speaks of the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Notice that of her we are told she was devoted to prayer and fasting. She spent her life this way. Many years. We get this brief glimpse of her in Luke 2. We see spiritual discipline as a path to looking forward and having a message to share.
Bible people like Anna inspire me to take up things like prayer, meditation, worship, fasting, Bible memorization. For instance, I believe in adults memorizing Bible verses. Hence our monthly practice of learning scripture verses. Getting the Word ingrained in us as a way to open a door for the Spirit. For the Spirit of God to do more with us. To point us to the real and true future.
On the cusp of a New Year, a friend, who will be turning fifty years old, has decided to memorize fifty poems. Talk about a New Year’s resolution! Hmmm. What goals could I have in 2019? Sharon and I talked about this quite a bit last week. I could try the same as my friend, fifty poems. But what about something else? I could memorize twelve chapters of the Bible over the next twelve months.
A radio program on spirituality played an interesting song the other day, the song of a musician and comedian I’d never heard of before. A strong critic of religion, he sang:
I don’t go in for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ‘cause ideas are tenacious
it means they are worthy
(Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun)
Me, I am hooked on some ancient wisdom. I do go in for it. Certainly this Bible. Memorizing some good-sized chunks of it can help me on the path to, well, being on the right path.
A spiritual discipline, a focal practice, whatever you call it: what might U take time for next year that will make a difference to you, to God, to the world?
Anna and Simeon, a couple very minor Bible characters. Their cameo appearances inspire. Of course, you go to church, you meet the real churchy people. You go to temple two thousand years ago, you meet the most devout Jews of all, this man and this woman who are there every day the doors are open, so to speak.
There are other days we meet the people out there who guide us. John the Baptist, say, who left the life of city and temple and priesthood for the wildness of the palestinian desert. John was all about acting now for an important future. Prepare the way.
I’m also looking forward to meeting those sorts of people.