Simeon, Anna, Jesus, and Aidan
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘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.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘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.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The story I want to share with you this morning is one of those things I’ve “filed away” in my list of things I thought – when I read it – might be cool to share in a sermon some time. And today – because of Simeon and Anna – it seems like the time has come.
I heard, a few years ago, about a tribe in Africa that marks the birth of a child, not from the day of they are born, or even from the day of their conception, but from the day that the child becomes a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she’s going to have a child, she does a curious and amazing thing. She goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to be born. And after she’s heard the song of her child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and she teaches the child’s song to him. And then, while actually making love, they sing the child’s song together, as a way of inviting the child to be conceived.
And then, when the mother is pregnant, she teaches the child’s song to her midwives and to the older women in the village, so that when the baby is born, the elders and midwives, gathered around, singing the child’s song to welcome the new baby into the world, as the baby is literally coming into the world.
And then, as the child grows, other villagers are taught that child’s song. And if the child ever gets hurt – falls down, skins a knee, bumps his head, all the things a child does that require soothing and comfort – someone picks him up and sings him his song. And it works the other way, too. When the child does something good, or when the child goes through the rites of puberty, the people of the village sing the child’s song as a way of celebrating and honoring him or her.
And then, if at any time during the child’s life he/she commits a crime or does something wrong in the eyes of the tribe, he/she is called to the center of the village and the people of the community form a circle around them and they sing them their song. The point of it is that the tribe knows the correction for bad behavior isn’t punishment, it is love and a recalling of one’s identity. When you recognize your own song – they might say – you have no desire or need to do wrong, or to do anything that would harm yourself or hurt somebody else. (That’s a whole other sermon, I’m saving for yet another day.)
And this goes on throughout their life, in this tribe. In marriage, the songs of the bride and groom are sung together. And on a person’s death bed, ready to breathe their last, the family and the villagers sing – for the last time – each person’s very own song.
How great would it be to have your very own song? What a mighty gift it would be to be known for… or by… or in connection with a song for all the milestones and stepping stones and rites of passage over the course of your life. How great to be sung into and out of this world to the music of the same holy tune, created from the depths of your mother’s heart of hearts. Can you see why this story stuck with me?
Now, there’s no evidence that Simeon, in this morning’s Gospel story, or Anna, for that matter, were actually singing songs when they met up with Jesus, and Joseph and Mary, in the temple. But since they were “in the temple,” and since both were said to be “praising God,” I couldn’t help but remember this story about the custom in this African tribe.
See, Simeon and Anna, these aged, wise, devout, faith-filled, spirit-led souls had been around for awhile. They had heard of the Messiah’s coming. They had waited for the fulfillment of God’s salvation. They had hoped for and prayed about and expected God to deliver on the promise of it all. And when they saw Jesus, I kinda, sorta think they were seeing the fulfillment of the song they – and their holy tribe of Jews, if you will – had been singing for generations.
Their hopes were realized, their faith was fulfilled, their salvation had come, their fears were relieved. With all of Simeon’s talk about “seeing God’s salvation,” and “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” and “glory to your people Israel;” and with all of Anna’s talk, to whoever would listen, about Jesus and the redemption of Israel, it seems to me they were continuing to sing the song that Mary had sung when the angel appeared to her, announcing that she was going to have a son, and that she would name him Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. It it sounds like the same sort of song the angels had sung to the shepherds on the hillside in the days before Christmas, about “Glory to God in the highest” and “Peace to those whom he favors.” In addition to all of that, Joseph and Mary now heard that their baby boy was “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,” and so much more.
And that’s kind of the big picture of this as far as I see it, just one Sunday after Christmas. The song of Jesus has always been and will always be, meant to remind us and the world that the light of this gift shows up to shine in the darkness and that the darkness did not, does not, cannot, will not – ever – overcome it.
Simeon and Anna, faithful ones who’d been singing the song for a lifetime, see just how mighty and powerful and full of hope and salvation this baby boy was for them and for the world – in spite of and in the face of all the death and darkness into which he was born. And like nothing less than so many faithful prophets before them, they aren’t shy about letting everyone know what they know.
And that’s our calling, too, in these days after “the Big Day”: to keep singing the song of Jesus and to know it’s a song of light in the darkness; redemption for the sinner; hope for the despairing; love for the neglected; healing for the sick; and new life for the dead and dying.
I got a call yesterday from a friend of mine from High School. His wife, Shay, who’s about my age, has been struggling and suffering with a strange form of cancer for something like 10 years now. I knew things were bad for Shay, early last week, she died the day after Christmas, and I’m going to Atlanta on Tuesday to preside at her funeral.
One of the main reasons I agreed to do this (besides the fact that my wife wouldn’t let me NOT do this), is that in 2005, we baptized Shay’s baby boy, Aidan, right here at Cross of Grace. Like so many of my friends out there in the world, I’m fairly certain they haven’t been to too many church services, nor have they been connected with a faith community in any significant way since that baptism. I don’t say that with judgment, I just know that’s how it is for so many.
So when I go to preside at Aidan’s mother’s funeral – Aidan is 9 years old – I will do my best to sing something of the song we – together, as the body of Christ – started singing for him so many years ago, when we poured water onto his little head, baptized him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and promised him all sorts of things about forgiveness, love and life everlasting. And I will pray he hears it this time, in a way he couldn’t have heard it before, for himself and on behalf of his mother.
We haven’t welcomed the gift of this Jesus into our midst just so we can keep him to ourselves. We welcome this Jesus into our lives so that we can share his good news –all of his forgiveness, grace, mercy and hope – with a world waiting to receive him, still. We welcome the light of this child into whatever darkness surrounds us so that we can become a light for the nations, hope for the world, and peace for God’s people in whatever way we can manage to sing his song.
Amen. Merry Christmas.