Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Sermon preached on the Feast of the Presentation, February 2,2014 at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Luke 2:22-40
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…Anna began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call this story “The Meeting.” It is the meeting of Mary, Joseph and Jesus with Simeon and Anna in the Temple. It is the meeting of the new with the old. It is the meeting when the old recognizes the new in such a way that nothing will ever be the same.
As a meeting, it feels a bit like any time a newborn is presented for the first time to relatives or friends. I love to be present when such a meeting happens. Who doesn’t feel for a moment that the future of the whole world is in your arms? Power comes out from that child, the power of birth, the power of love, the power of hope.
All those things Simeon must have felt when Mary handed over her child to him. There clearly was a kind of immensity in that child for him and the glory of God that was no longer a dream, but a present, weighty reality. Simeon had long waited for the appearance of one who would set things right, and here he was. How, he did not know. It had not been a baby for which he had been waiting.
But his sense that it was indeed this baby was confirmed in the eyes of this girl, his mother, hardly old enough to be a mother, but with wisdom that went deep into her soul. This was the one who later generations would dare to call Theotokos, “God bearer.” And those same people would remember him, Simeon, as having represented all of humanity as Theodokos. “God receiver.”
I love in this story how traditional gender roles are blurred. Simeon, God-receiver, plays the spiritual mid-wife in the story. His compatriot, Anna, is the messenger, the prophet, who announces what has happened to anyone who will listen. The implication is that those will listen who long for something more, who know that Jerusalem, and all it represents, is in need of redemption.
I like this title “The Meeting,” because it is a word that occasionally gets used for church and there is a sense in which this is the first meeting of the church. Jesus’ life-giving, challenging, transformative presence is acknowledged, praise is given, and testimony, and parents trying to do the right thing by their children and their God.
And one of the things I want to say is that everyone in this story belongs and plays a critical part. I’m getting more and more tired of the narrative we have spun about the impending death of the church, having a lot to do with the aging of the church and how all we need is some young people come and save the day. It’s an example of how little bits of reality can develop into a story that begins to define who we are.
The truth is we need everybody and the church’s future does not depend on anyone coming to our rescue. It depends upon our faithfulness, our ability to continue to be God-receivers and prophetic tellers of the story of good news to the world. Young people are essential to that story, but so are elders.
The Meeting needs everybody if it is going to be redemptive.
The second thing I have to say about this Meeting is what preceded it that was absolutely essential to its occurrence. Simeon, it is said, “Was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” Anna had spent an age in the Temple waiting and was ready to speak to all those who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Simeon and Anna were two faithful people who understood the vital importance of longing, longing for consolation, redemption, liberation, shalom, peace. They knew that things were not right and they knew they needed a Savior.
This was not waiting as a passive acceptance of the status quo until somebody else comes along to fix it. No, it is active waiting, imaginative waiting that uses every tool it can to build the kingdom for which it waits.
But in that active waiting there is the reality that everything is not all right, that there are plenty of swords to pierce our souls, to cause suffering and threaten despair, but the waiting, the steadfast waiting, always trumps the darkness, because we all, like Simeon, can sing
Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised, for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior…
And perhaps that is where our storytelling might begin. When have you had a Simeon and Anna moment, a glimpse of your Savior, your liberation, in such a way that you can trust it and keep on longing for more?