We wait for Christmas and a baby. We wait for the baby that came more than 2000 years ago to transform and change the world. Simeon and Anna recognized that child.
Simeon was knew his scriptures well. He was waiting for the messiah to come in the future. And while he waited for the messiah he hoped and prayed and read scripture. Simeon knew that God was always active in the human world. Through his reading of scripture Simeon remembered the story of how God worked through Moses to bring the people out of Egypt. Simeon remembered that even during war and exile, during the destruction of the temple, God was present and somehow always managed to be a saving presence. Between the writing of the scriptures that Simeon is reading and the writing of Luke, the temple has been destroyed again. And yet Simeon hangs on to the belief that the Messiah will come in the future. In the midst of destruction, Simeon believed that God had not abandoned the people and that God would continue to provide salvation to the people. The writer of Luke would have been referencing the Hebrew Bible and in the Hebrew, salvation related to rescuing in a very real, physical sense—like rescuing from an enemy during war. So Simeon has this image of God as a rescuer as his reference point when he is looking for the Messiah. Simeon’s hope is for the future and the way in which God will continue to be at work.
The Christmas story so often seems stuck in time. It is a story that we turn to for warm fuzzies. At Christmas we pray for peace and hope that everyone will be fed, have a place to live, be surrounded by family and friends. But I’m not sure we really believe these things are possible. We donate to the food bank, say “it’s such a shame” and then everything carries on as it has before. We might remember the story from World War 1 where the fighting stopped for a few hours on Christmas Eve and then resumed. Life goes back to the norm of poverty and violence.
Simeon recognized that God was going to do something amazing through Jesus. He had a moment when he experienced God. That one moment of experience was enough to sustain his hope, to put into perspective everything he had longed for in his life and to recognize that God isn’t dead but living amongst the people.
We sometimes get caught in believing that God came in Jesus in history and forget that God continues to come among us in the present and the future. I sometimes look at the world and wonder where God is. I wonder whether God can exist in the midst of all the horror, pain and brokenness of the world. And then I see glimpses of God in the good things that happen around me. If we believe with all our heart and soul and mind that Jesus continues to be among us we might be able to sustain our love and compassion for the hurt and brokenness in the world.
God is not dead but alive in flesh and blood. I see the suffering and brokenness around me and at times it can be overwhelming. Part of what Simeon is reminding us is that it is not up to us to fix everything that is wrong in the world but that God continues to work through many people to mend the world.
Simeon says to Mary “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many. . . and to be a sign that will be opposed.” Later in the book of Luke we find Jesus speaking about the way in which the world will be transformed.
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep. (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25)
Those who struggle now will find abundant life. Those who have more than enough will find they no longer have the place of privilege. The world is transformed when God becomes embodied in human form. And that transformation will be opposed and resisted by many. It means that those of us who live with privilege will have to give up some of our privilege. We might have to let go of our power, let go of our excess. It is easier for us to simply say that the world is as it is and there is nothing to be done that can change it forever. But if we believe in God’s ability to transform the world throughout history then God must continue to be active in the present just as Simeon believed.
And just as Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart, we need a sword to pierce our own. We need to cut through all the ways in which we lie to ourselves, the facades that we present to the world, the ways in which we intentionally and unintentionally hurt others. We need to ask forgiveness of others when we have caused hurt. We need to let go of all the burdens we carry so that our hearts can be transformed. There needs to be a death in our way of life so that a new and abundant life can grow within us.
And from my own experience, the letting go of an old way can be painful and scary. When I had an experience of God that pierced my own heart, everything changed. The way in which I viewed the world, the way in which I interacted with other people, the way in which I viewed myself all changed. And in place of the heaviness I carried was a sense of abundance and God’s presence around me. That doesn’t mean that everything is life is always perfect. It doesn’t mean that I always feel like God is on my side. But on rough days I can go back in my mind to that experience and remind myself that I am not alone, that God works through me and others and that transformation of the world is possible.
Once Simeon has offered his blessing to Jesus and Mary and Joseph the story shifts to Anna. Anna was an 84 year old widow. She was only married for seven years and her presence in the temple where she fasts and prays is a sign that she is in mourning. Holly Hearon suggests that the mourning is not for her husband but for God’s people because as soon as she saw the baby Jesus she switched from mourning to praising God.
Anna has spent her life mourning the state of the world around her, praying for redemption, praying that God will come and rescue the people and now she recognizes that God is alive and active in the world. And as soon as she recognizes God in the infant she tells everyone who crosses her path. She tells everyone that God is present and alive.
It seems to me that as Christians and people of faith, one of our tasks needs to be to remind people that God is not dead. God is alive and present among us. God continues to come amongst us every day. God’s work in the world is not finished nor relegated to ancient history but as both Simeon and Anna remind us, the God of history is the God of the present and the future. We can share that story in words and conversation. We can share that story in our actions and life. But it cannot be only a story of the past. It must be of the present and the future.