May Christ, who was presented before Simeon and Anna in the temple, be the light and life of our lives. Amen
My beloved wife Christine is very good at choosing Christmas presents. She loves doing it. However, there is a problem. She doesn’t always think about buying presents for herself and she really doesn’t trust me to buy anything for her. So it gets to a week or so before Christmas and all she has from me is a mug and some wine gums, and a packet of laundry soap pods. Of course, I do try by asking, but often she sees this as another form of nagging so it doesn’t go very far. In fact, I wondered if I should try the ruse of the man in the London Drugs advert where the wife is in tears when she opens a box which says inside ... IOU your favourite perfume. I did wonder about IKEA gift cards, but that was also likely to be regarded as unhelpful and would require me to attend that store and try and look interested. Oh yes and I just remembered we did go to the Body Shop one day recently, so there was also something from there. But all in all, it was a little light on the side of generous gift-giving, but what is a man to do.
As faithful Jews, Mary and Joseph, brought their just born child to Jerusalem, a few days after the birth to ‘present him to the Lord’. This was the practice for all firstborn males, who were designated holy. At the time of the presentation (or offering), a couple would make a sacrifice, either a pair of turtle-doves or for those with less means (like Mary and Joseph) a pair of young pigeons.
At the Temple were two venerable elders, Simeon and Anna. Simeon, already of advanced years, Simeon understood he was to see the Messiah in his lifetime. When Simeon came to the Temple and encountered Jesus with his parents, he believed this vision had been fulfilled. He spoke the words which we now call the Nunc Dimittis (a canticle we use at funerals, at Compline and Evening Prayer) …
‘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.’
Simeon also foretold that Jesus would be ‘destined for the failing and rising of many in Israel’ and to be a sign that [would] be opposed’. He also spoke of a sword that would pierce the soul of Mary and Joseph, which might be taken to mean Mary would see the death of her son.
Anna, another elder at the Temple, and of great age, the text suggests 84. This is perhaps a symbolic age using the key numbers of Jewish tradition, 7 times 12 = 84. We are told that Anna never left the Temple, but worshipped there day and night with fasting and prayer. Many of us have met women Anna, who dedicate themselves to the life of the Church, through prayer and worship. I think of the woman from the Chaldean community who come to Rosary three times a week and who have had to pray at home for the last nine months. I think of many women who have attended Epiphany over the years who pray without ceasing and have dedicated their lives to prayer, day in, day out, quietly at home or at church, praying for the community, for the world and their families.
Anna and Simeon as faithful followers of God gave their lives to God in their service in the Temple. Our call is likewise, to be dedicated to the Church (the body of Christ and the people of God) in loving and supporting one another in prayer and service.
At the turn of the year, it seems appropriate to reflect on the year that is about to end and think ahead to the year to come. Many of already said good riddance to 2020 as we remember all that has happened to our world since March and the reality that the life we led before March is a long way off still. It has affected all our lives and some people much more than others, especially those separated from their loved ones or spending too much time alone.
It seems that the light of Christ coming into the world this Christmas is more important than usual this year. Of course, a few of us here do remember the Second World War, and how it took six years for the death and destruction of that conflict to end. However, in our individual lives, we often face dislocation and the loss of loved ones which makes a profound difference to our lives. Our grief in these circumstances is always gradual and personal and often different from the grief of others.
To be part of the church means that we are not alone because we are always together in God. So when we feel lonely or alone we know that we are part of a community that loves and cares for us. One of the great things people sometimes have said to me, when we were in church for our services: I didn’t want to come today, but I’m glad I did.
This is the realization that some days we are down and coming to church, even on-line or on the phone, is more than we can face. Yet our experience is often, that when we meet others, even remotely by Zoom, we feel connected, we feel part of something, something bigger than ourselves. A reading strikes us or a hymn jogs a memory, or a prayer inspires us to come out and be able to face the world and our own lives once more. For God intended us to live life as part of a community, and Jesus gave us the church to allow us to worship God and provide direction and purpose for our lives.
And this community of Epiphany is now wider than it is was, as we no longer need to physically come to a building to be part of worship and events. All we need is the willingness to show up. Of course, we miss being together and we long for that to be part of our routine once more, but we can gather from far and wide including on Christmas Eve from Australia.
One of my daughters is fonder of shopping than the other. A week or so before Christmas the one less fond went to the stores with her mum. They came home with a coat, a warm, winter coat, so I hope we have more snow. My daughter saved my bacon by encouraging her mother that she should buy this coat. The only problem with this very lovely coat is the colour … black. The thing is Christine will say to me: where is my black coat and I won’t know if she wants this one or her rain jacket or her old black jacket. But I guess that‘s life.
Today as we recall the presentation of Jesus to God in the presence of Anna and Simeon, let us be inspired by the spirituality of our seniors, those who have to be faithful to God through the many challenges and sadness of their lives. Let us be hopeful for the New Year ahead, knowing that there will be setbacks and disappointments, but always knowing we live our lives for God in the service and in the care of others. Let us never be lonely when we have the joy of being part of this community, which when it is gathered by Zoom, bears and rejoices in the name of Christ, our Saviour.