Sermon Feb 2 2020 St Ambrose
Our reading today is very multi-generational isn’t it? We have a young family with a new baby, coming to the temple for the rites of purification according to their religion. But we also have not one but two elderly saints featured in the story. Sometimes it’s easy to feel overlooked when we are older, especially in a society which favours the young and glamorous, rather than the old and wrinkly. This is a great story to think about if you reckon you are too old to be of any use in the church. None of you here seem to be slowed down much by age though!
Let’s look at the two older people. There is Simeon, who has been told by God that in his own lifetime he would see the Messiah. Imagine hearing that sort of message! I wonder how many years it had been, looking intently at every child that was brought to him to bless, wondering if this was the one. Many people would have lost heart if the wait was long, and stopped looking, but Simeon kept trusting that God would fulfil the word he had received, even if he had to wait till he was as old as Methuselah to see it.
This would have been a normal day at the temple. A family with a baby, a mother to be purified after childbirth, a sacrifice to be received. But the day changed when Simeon knew who he held in his arms. What an immense privilege to hold the future of the human race in a cuddle!
The words Simeon spoke used to be a well-loved part of the evensong service, and many beautiful choral settings were made. Not many churches have evensong these days, so we may not be so familiar with Simeon’s words.
“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.”
Mary and Joseph already knew who Jesus was, who he would grow up to be.
But the gospel account says that they were amazed at what Simeon said.
I wonder if they talked about it much, or whether it was one of those things that they just kept to themselves.
Maybe the word about Jesus being a light to the Gentiles was what stood out for them. They were hearing that he would have a wider ministry than Messiah to the Jews, which in itself is huge.
It was not all a wonderful future that Simeon was speaking over the infant Jesus though.
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
This would be another of those things that Mary would ponder in her heart.
After Simeon had spoken, Anna came along. She too was very old, a prophetess, well-respected in the temple as a devout woman of God. She too had a special word for Jesus – she knew that he was the one who would redeem Israel.
What a future! It would have been very hard for Mary and Joseph to get their heads around all the things that were spoken over their child, but I’m sure that they came to God in prayer for guidance.
We don’t hear anything about his childhood after that, until he was twelve, just that he grew strong and filled with wisdom, and that the favour of God was upon him. This is very vague in many ways. Was he an exceptional child, that everyone expected would go far? Or were his gifts hidden away until the time for his public ministry came?
We cannot know, but God knew what was hidden in this child.
Every tiny baby has potential when they are born. There are innate characteristics, and nurture has a big part to play in the growth to their full destiny.
As Christians we are like little children when we come to faith. We have potential, but if we are to grow up, we need nurturing too. This means being fed on the word, easy bits at first, just like milk is the only thing a little baby can digest. As a baby grows it can handle more solid food, and as we grow as Christians, we can handle more difficult teaching, more complex ethical issues. Christianity is not a black-and -white thing – the Bible is not an instruction manual for our lives. Unfortunately. Imagine if it were easy to look up the page about fixing a broken heart, like fixing a flat tyre on your car. It doesn’t work that way.
Becoming a mature member of the Christian community needs us to stretch ourselves. Otherwise we can stagnate, and stay where we were ten years ago.
Bishop Victoria used to say that she could often tell when a Priest had been ordained by the books on their shelf. Her implication was that they stopped buying and reading new books about growing their faith when they were ordained, and she urged all clergy to keep growing.
This is about discipleship, about all of us growing in the faith. How is your growth? Are you exposing yourself to new material, new arguments, new ideas? Are you shining the light of scripture on these ideas?
In New Zealand there are always contentious issues to think about. The main one this year I believe is the referendum on euthanasia which is part of our general election in September. We have quite a few months to think about this issue. If we are going to react as Christians with a responsibility to spread the kingdom of heaven in our country, we need to take time to think about this issue, to hear all the arguments, and hold them up against what we know of the character of God. And not only to do this work for ourselves, but to discuss it with others. If Christians want to have a voice in the public forum, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to speak out.
Growing as a disciple is like a child growing. We can start off with the easy things, and progress to the ones that take more chewing and digesting.
Simeon and Anna recognised the kingdom of heaven in their midst in the form of little baby Jesus.
May we pray that we too will be recognised as part of that kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.