A sermon based on Luke 2:21-38, Jesus being presented at the temple.
Jesus is taken to the temple as a boy, and Simeon and Anna are there, and when they see baby Jesus, wow, do they ever nail it.
When they were holding Jesus, they used words like salvation, redemption of Israel, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of your people, and I can now die in peace.
My youngest child is 5 months old, and the most used words Ash and I use around him are us fighting about whose turn it is to change his diaper or put him back to bed. “It’s your turn.” “No it’s your turn.” “I have to work tomorrow.” “I gave birth to him.” I somehow always seem to lose this one. His sleep patterns are more likely to cause the ruin of one of us than the salvation of God’s people.
We’ll be reading through the gospel of Luke for the next few months, and there are two things worth pointing out at this point (shout out to Sheila Klassen-Wiebe at Canadian Mennonite University for these).
The first is that Luke sees the story of Jesus as a fulfilling of God’s larger plans and purposes as read in the Old Testament.
We often make the mistake of assuming that our stories have a definitive starting point.
As Mennonites, we sometimes forget that there is 1500 years of church history before the Protestant Reformation and then Menno Simons.
As Canadians, we forget that the history of this land didn’t start in 1867, or didn’t start when white people showed up in the 16th century, but that there’s this history involving First Nations of people that goes thousands of years back.
So when we read the gospel of Luke, the author works really hard to show his readers that this story of Jesus is part of a much larger plan that didn’t start when Jesus was born, and didn’t end with Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s a really important piece, and for those of us who identify as Anabaptist we can say it’s the most important part, but it’s not the only part of the story. So when Luke tells us of Jesus being brought to the temple, of Jewish priests and prophets saying great things about him, when Jesus is described as the glory of Israel and redemption of Israel, Luke is reminding his readers that Jesus is part of God’s ongoing work in our world, that Jesus is God’s fulfillment.
The other piece that we need to know about Luke as we go forward is that he keeps using the word “Salvation.” Of all the gospels, Luke uses this word the most.
But when we read the word salvation, he’s not talking about us getting tickets to go to heaven when we die. Rather, the word is so much bigger and deeper and better that that. Salvation is about how we live now and into the future, about how we right any part of our life that is not as God intends it to be. This can include physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social… Salvation is about all of it. It’s about how we participate in the Reign of God. It’s about how we live, and how we live together.
And so when the righteous and devout Simeon sees Jesus and says that he has now seen God’s salvation, Luke is telling his readers: “Hey! Pay attention to this Jesus kid! He’s going to show you how to live!” And when the Jewish prophet Anna says that this child is going to be the redemption of Jerusalem, Luke is telling his readers: “Hey! Pay attention to this Jesus kid! He’s going to how you how to live!”
As I was pondering the story of Simeon and Anna praising Jesus as the salvation of not only the Jewish people, but all peoples, I kept coming back to one word.
Anna and Simeon were open.
Anna and Simeon were open to God. To salvation. To new ways of looking at faith and life.
Simeon and Anna were open to Jesus. To redemption. To being part of God’s big story.
Anna and Simeon were open to the Spirit. To God’s glory. To something out of the ordinary showing up.
Kind of like us on January 1st, where we look ahead to the new year with a sense of hope for the best, with openness to what the year will bring, wondering how we’re going to be part of God’s big story, pondering what salvation means for us and our world.
Okay, connecting the story of Anna and Simeon to New Years might be a bit of a stretch, but I keep coming back to the word Open, wondering if we’re open to God… wondering how we’re open to God’s salvation this year.
I’m going to offer three ways that I think we can make ourselves more open to God’s salvation, or something out of the ordinary showing up. And all three of them involve us showing up.
Show up to Places – My first observation is that Anna and Simeon weren’t at home watching Hockey Night in Canada (I know that criticizing Canada’s second religion is dangerous, but I just want to be sure to name that while I like HNIC, realistically the only enlightenment we should expect from HNIC is how inconsistent the Jets are). They showed up and met Jesus at the temple. Especially Anna, who apparently never left the temple but worshiped day and night. Which is pretty intense.
But to be open to God breaking into our world, to be open to seeing God in new ways, to be open to seeing a different aspect of God’s salvation, I’m going to venture to say that showing up to places is part of the journey. I know I’m preaching to the choir as we’re the ones who are here on New Year’s Day, but when we live and work and play in different places, we are apt to have little less sense of control, and be a bit more open to the unexpected.
To quote Cheryl Strayed from the book and movie Wild, “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day, and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Show up to People – Secondly, Anna and Simeon showed up and were present to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, even though they were strangers. They left their comfort zones, invested in the people around them, and were able to speak words of hope and reality and truth.
Now, on the introvert/extrovert scale, I’m on the extreme end of extrovert, so talking to new people is as easy to me as tying my shoe. But I know that’s not all of us. But no matter where we find ourselves on that spectrum, we can still ask ourselves “How do we add value to those around us?” So maybe part of us showing up and being present to the people around us means saying “Hi” to the person we don’t know sitting beside on Sundays. Or maybe it means during coffee breaks at work to intentionally ask co-workers how they’re week was, and maybe even ask some follow up questions. Or maybe it means sending a card to someone thanking them for something. Are we open to adding value to people’s lives?
I that that when we’re open to the people around us, we might be a bit more open to the unexpected.
Show up to Prayer
Luke made sure to write down how righteous and devout and prayerful Anna and Simeon were… That they’re lives were filled with and shaped by their praying.
I came back from Sabbatical with a deeper appreciation for prayer, specifically contemplative prayer, and its necessity for some form of sanity in my life and in my faith and in our world.
I also came back from Sabbatical with a deeper appreciation for how hard contemplative prayer can, how it’s sometimes hard to understand, how hard it is to carve out time, how frustrating it can be.
When I say contemplative prayer, I simply mean prayer practices that include some sort of silence, stillness, or solitude. Some people call it mediation, some people call it mindfulness. I like calling it contemplative prayer, because those of us who find ourselves in a faith tradition have been praying for thousands of years. But contemplative prayer isn’t us praying to God asking for things, but rather us learning to wait, to listen, to ponder, and to let go as we seek union with God.
So I truly believe that if we want to be open to what God is doing in our lives, we need to carve our space and time for contemplative prayer. When I was on sabbatical with almost nothing to do but change diapers and read books and build a canoe, I was amazed at how if I didn’t intentionally create time for contemplation, it simply didn’t happen. At least when I go to church once a week I know that I’ll have some time to pray there, but when I didn’t go for 3 months… I would be lying to you if I said that praying was easy.
But the good news for us today is that I’m not just going to tell you to go and pray more. We’ve already done it!
We’ve already had some contemplative prayer time this morning through Lectio Divina, and we will be doing Lectio for the month of January. And if you’re interested in praying at home, there are nice little prayer cards from the Gravity Center that we put out in the foyer for you to take home.
If we want to be open to God’s salvation and being a part of God’s reconciling work in this world, I am becoming more and more convinced that that showing up for prayer is a necessity.
And, some more good news for us this morning: “A rule in contemplative prayer is that everyone who shows up gets an A+” (Ian Morgon Cron). It’s like participation trophies for everyone!
If we want to be open to God’s salvation both for us and for the world, and do our best to love God and love our neighbours, then we should do our best to show up to places, show up to people, and show up to prayer.