February 2, 2014
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
The Presentation of the LORD
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today offers us the account of Mary and Joseph, who according to the law of Moses, presented Jesus and themselves at the temple, and then subsequently heard a surprising prophetic word from Simeon and Anna.
Mary and Joseph's attendance at the temple was required of the Law, not only to have Jesus circumcised (Leviticus 12:3), but to deliver their firstborn to GOD (Exodus 13:2,12), and then thirty-three days after Mary had given birth to Jesus, she, Joseph and Jesus would bring an offering for her cleansing after childbirth. (Leviticus 12:1-8).
But, it is here that the routine and the expected becomes the unusual and the extraordinary. As the family fulfills their obligations, the Lord, GOD, offers them a prophetic word from not one but two people, an event that amazes Joseph and Mary. How this must have amazed the couple.
First, was Simeon, who said of Jesus when he saw him:
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
And, then Anna, a godly woman who lived night and day in the temple:
And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
There is so much here upon which to feast this morning, that we are forced to limit ourselves to just three openings into the text:
THE LONG WAIT
INTIMACY WITH THE LORD
THE LONG WAIT
Clearly, one major theme found in the combination story of Simeon and Anna is their willingness to wait in faith for GOD's work to blossom. The basis of this willing-wait was their understanding to be, as the elect of GOD, in one long story.
You see, promises had been made; GOD promised that he would become King. They believed the Father would renew his people and return them to the land, in reality -- no occupying powers (Rome), no idolatrous kings (Herod) -- either by raising up a man like David, or by appearing at the temple himself to vindicate the chosen people.
Simeon and Anna waited for that day. In fact, GOD had promised Simeon that he would not die until he saw the LORD's anointed:
"the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."
In this event, therefore, both Anna and Simeon were greatly blessed. To see your hopes and dreams realized, who experiences this grace in this life? Not many.
Here I am reminded what the writer of the Hebrews says about Abraham and the Patriarchs:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.[e] 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-16)
Notice the words of verse 13:
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.
I bring this up to say, wether we receive the promises of GOD in our lifetimes, or not, we are called to believe his promises any how.
Think about it in the way: No doubt, there were many in the land at the time of Simeon and Anna who were waiting for the promises of GOD to be fulfilled, but only a few saw the truth. Why only a few? Perhaps they had eyes to see and ears to hear? Perhaps it was merely the freedom of GOD. We will unpack Simeon and Anna’s spiritual intimacy with the LORD in a moment, but before we go there, we must first think about how their life of faith led the to finish well.
How can we go about saying this? Both Simeon and Anna were…well…old! They were, as we say, time-worn and advanced.
This must be a sin, huh? Aging, at least in this youth-mad culture must be tossed out, for their usefulness is finished. In our culture the emphasis is on tight skin and beautiful faces, and therefore we have no use for the ugly, the old or the young. Where is the profit in them?
But, there is more. Older people have a tendency to believe since they are in the golden years (and whoever coined that phrase was a young nincompoop) they have already served the LORD, thanks you very much. They tend to believe that they have served their time (like discipleship is a prison sentence) and it is now their opportunity to find rest!
Well, on both counts Simeon and Anna would defy the assertions. Anna and Simeon are examples of the beauty of the aged, for there is such a great dignity in these long-term servants of the LORD. And they are examples of the how to finish well the race given to them from the hand of the LORD.
We must see in…ah…I guess I must say, you younger ones must see in we older ones the beauty of GOD's creation, flourishing. And we older ones must see in the younger ones the opportunity to share wisdom. Young people can’t make all the mistakes we have made, for they simply don’t have the time! Therefore, we must share what we know, but, remember, the wisdom about which I speak here is decidedly not spoken but rather it is lived out as example. And, what an example is Anna, night and day at the temple, no less!
Said differently, our work for the LORD is never done. Even from a sick bed there are prayers to pray and there is ministry to be accomplished so that the world may know that Jesus came.
Again, my older Brother and Sister, remember what the writer of the Hebrews wrote:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[b] the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
INTIMACY WITH THE LORD
Finally, this leads us to the heart of the matter concerning Simeon and Anna. Namely, their intimacy with the LORD. Notice what was said of Simeon:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
And, notice what was said of Anna:
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Both of them found a deep intimacy with the LORD, but this intimacy does not occur apart from grace, and it also does not occur apart from diligent, persistent prayer.
Think about intimacy with GOD in this way: The loving Father pursues us with calls to prayer, with moment by moment prayer reminders. And, this entreaty from the Father is constant but subtle. Then, it is we who must respond. It is we who must clear out time for the Father from our lives. And, it is in this sustained time alone with GOD, and time in the discipleship community at prayer (which is both worship and ministry) that intimacy with the Father is born.
From the perspective of the world both Anna and Simeon's lives were a waste. They offered no wealth at the end, and not much of a name for others to revere. Just two little people who in a brief moment are touched by the hand of GOD. Hmmm, come to think of it, that’s not so bad, really...