Shepherds, sheep, wise men, and angels. We celebrate the large cast of players in the Christmas story with visual representations ranging from finely crafted Nativity sets to church pageants filled with children decked in bathrobes and homemade wings. So many different people who came to see the baby in a manger and give him glory. So many witnesses and testimonies. And Mary kept all this things and pondered them in her heart.
The story of Jesus’ presentation at the temple (Luke 2:22-40) is very different. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice as required in the law of the Lord. There is no crowd here, no heavenly chorus of angels singing. Just Simeon and Anna.
Simeon is described as righteous and devout, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” He knows that he will not see death until he has seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he comes to the temple in time to see Jesus and his parents. He praises God for been allowed to see his salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory to the people Israel.”
I find it a little surprising that, in spite of all they have already experienced, Mary and Joseph are, once more, “amazed” at what they are hearing.
Not only does Simeon predict that Jesus will be “a sign that will be opposed” but he goes on to prophesy that a sword will pierce Mary’s own soul as well.
Anna, a prophet “of a great age,” lives at the temple, fasting and praying. She also approaches the family and begins to praise God and speak about him to everyone who is looking for the redemption of Israel.
Simeon and Anna. Two ancient witnesses to God’s salvation and redemption.
I myself have aged into senior citizen territory. It worries me some time that when I look around at church on Sunday morning, I see mainly other folks in my age bracket. Coffee hour conversations center around shared physical ailments, retirement issues, and news of our children and grandchildren. Like many others, I would love to see young families in our pews and occasionally have the quiet service disrupted by crying babies and squirmy small children. It’s an easy jump to think that young adults and young families are what the church must have to be vibrant.
Perhaps it is good to remember the example of Simeon and Anna. Elderly, yes, but also faithful and devout. Waiting on the promises they had received and ultimately able to do their part to confer a blessing on these parents and their young child. Where can I see Simeon and Anna in the faces of the elderly in our congregation? How can I strive to follow their example in faithfulness and devotion?
The Collect for Epiphany 3 asks for grace so that we may:
So what is Jesus calling us to do?
In the Gospel reading, we have the familiar story of Jesus’ call to his fishermen disciples: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Before that, in the same passage, Jesus began to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Both ideas are pretty amazing.
When Jesus calls to Simon, Andrew, James, and John, they respond by immediately leaving their boat and nets, business and family to follow Jesus. As one who has spent her life struggling with the question of vocation, I am always struck in this passage by the irresistible pull this call provoked. No question of weighing options, counting the costs, determining the safest route. Jesus called and they responded.
So, what about the other call?
When I hear the word “Repent” I invariably think of that familiar cartoon prophet. You know the one–long beard, white robe, carrying a big sign that says “Repent! The End is near!”
Only, in this case, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.
The kingdom of heaven has come near.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
For those who sat in the shadow of death, light has dawned.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
This is the Good News we are called to proclaim–living new lives in the light, repenting of all the ways we have acquiesced to living in darkness. The kingdom of heaven is near. Even now. Even to us. In spite of all the gloom we see in this year of political strife, natural disasters, tragic stories on every side.
The Kingdom of heaven is near. Even now. Even to us. This is the Good News we are called to proclaim.
Thanks be to God.
Jan 26, 2020
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the long season of Pentecost and the final celebration of our liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin a new year, a new season, as we start our Advent journey toward Christmas. Today we celebrate the kingship of Christ with hymns about royalty, power, and heavenly courts–all of this right before we begin a quiet, contemplative season’s journey to Bethlehem. We talk about Jesus as King today but soon the church and even the secular world around us will be focused on Christ the tiny baby in a manger. Read More
Pentecost 16 (Luke 14:25-33)
Some of us here today have come out of faith traditions that included the practice of an altar call. (If you are a cradle Episcopalian, this may be a somewhat foreign concept to you.) As I remember it, the altar call was a part of the worship service, generally after the sermon and just before the close of the service. The congregation would sing a quiet hymn (i.e. Just as I Am) several times over and anyone who wanted to come to the altar to profess his/her faith could do so. It was a quiet time of prayer where, surrounded by supportive members of the congregation and a welcoming pastor down front, you could almost hear Jesus himself say: “Come unto me.” Read More
Are you a Mary or a Martha? That’s the choice we generally get when faced with today’s Gospel reading–the moral of the story usually being that we should all try to honor our spiritual side and become more like Mary (and by default less like Martha). Or, at the very least, that we should concentrate on being less “worried and distracted” in a world which seems determined to keep us very worried and very distracted. (Again, less like Martha.) Read More
Pentecost 3 (1 Kings 17:8-24 & Luke 7:11-17)
Today we have heard two stories of resurrection. Two widowed mothers who have lost their only sons. Two sons who are restored miraculously and given back to their mothers. Two stories of redemption. Two stories (Old & New Testament) that seem surprisingly alike. And yet two stories with some important differences. Read More
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the title of a lovely little book by a young Japanese author. Currently on the bestseller lists, Marie Kondo’s premise for organizing a household is simple: keep what brings you joy and release the rest.
It’s a great principle for sorting out t-shirts and old books but a little more difficult for me in my current project at the Chapel Center. I am taking advantage of the slow summer months and trying to tackle multiple boxes and file drawers of accumulated paper clutter, some of it kept for the fifty plus years of St Anselm’s existence. Read More
I have really wanted to get a closer look at the little one but I didn’t want to alarm the parents.
Or irritate them, for that matter. I’m not sure that anything really alarms these slow moving birds, but I’ve heard they can get pretty aggressive. Read More
Our society usually tends to view campus life just a bit idealistically. Perhaps that is due to the somewhat fuzzy memory of those of us who attended college more than a few years ago. Perhaps it is because college students are generally portrayed in stereotypes in our movies and TV shows. For whatever the reason, we tend to view college life as a time of football games and heavy duty partying, punctuated only by the occasional all night study sessions to cram for a final exam and passing grade. All the privileges and freedoms of adult life without any of the responsibilities and obligations.
A brief survey of campus statistics paints a different picture: Read More