They looked just like any other couple. A slightly older man with a younger wife, carrying a new baby boy, about six weeks old.
Just like hundreds of other faithful Jewish couples at the Temple in Jerusalem, following Jewish law by presenting their first born son to God 40 days after his birth.
Nothing outwardly set this couple apart. Certainly not their wealth. There were always couples dressed in obviously new, fine clothes, showing off their riches by sacrificing much more than the lamb and pigeon the law proscribed, making sure everyone noticed them and their baby
Even a lamb and a pigeon were beyond this couple’s means. A glance at their clothing suggested that just traveling to Jerusalem and offering two turtledoves to sacrifice was a stretch.
Most people wouldn’t give them a second look as they offered thanks for their first born son, dedicating him to God, like so many others had done before them. Certainly they did nothing to call attention to themselves.
But Joseph, Mary, and their baby did not go unnoticed that day.
Suddenly an ancient man approached them. Simeon was righteous and devout, filled with the Holy Spirit, which honestly made him look a little crazy. The Spirit had told him he would not die until he had seen the long-promised Messiah.
Some inner voice told Simeon to go into the Temple that day, and when he walked in he immediately saw Mary, Joseph, and the child.
They must have been a little taken aback when the old man grabbed their baby boy and began to proclaim:
“Lord, you now have set your servant free,
“to go in peace as you have promised.
“For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior
“whom you have prepared for all the world to see.
“A light to enlighten the nations
“and the glory of your people Israel.”
And then Simeon blessed the family, but his blessing came with a warning; that this child would be opposed by many, and a sword would pierce his mother’s soul. And then he was gone.
Before Mary and Joseph could even take in what had just happened, another old person approached them.
Anna, a widow for decades, all but lived at the Temple. She was known as a prophet, and prophets were usually thought to be a little crazy.
She, too, became excited when she saw the infant Jesus, praising God and telling anyone who would listen, which probably weren’t many, that this child would bring redemption to Israel.
I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought of these blessings and warnings, to hear these two ancient, faithful, holy souls proclaim that their child would be the light of the world.
And then to hear that he would be opposed by those who preferred the cover of darkness, that his ethic of love and justice would not be seen as good news by many, and that opposition would be like a sword piercing his mother’s heart.
I wonder how often Mary came back to those words in the coming years, her amazement as she watched people flock to her son, watched him heal and teach, watched him challenge the status quo and those in authority.
But all of that is in the future. On this day, Mary and Joseph present their child to God in thanksgiving, and receive the blessings and warnings of Simeon and Anna, blessings and warnings that will stay with them for years to come.
By happy coincidence, on this day that we celebrate the baby Jesus being presented at the Temple, we have our own presentation of a new baby.
In a few minutes, Justin and Mike Camara will come forward to present their new daughter, Amelia Ann, to God and to us.
We won’t require any animal sacrifices from them, but in many ways the intent of these faithful parents is the same as Mary and Joseph before them – to give thanks to God for this new life which has been entrusted to their care, and to seek God’s blessing for their family.
As far as I know we don’t have any Simeons or Annas here ready to pronounce that baby Amelia is the savior of the world, but we are a congregation of people, old and young, who will look at her, as we look at all our children, and see hope for the future.
We see hope in Mike and Justin’s act of bringing Amelia to be presented at church, an act that continues the faith that has been passed down to them and to us and now will be passed on to a new generation in Amelia and her big brother Lucas.
And we have hope that Amelia, and all the children of this parish, will grow into people who will bring light to the world, who are more filled with love than hate, who are willing to break down the walls that separate us, to reach out to those on the margins, to move the world closer to the way God would have us live.
Today we give this new family our blessing.
But this blessing also comes with a warning.
Sometimes, Mike and Justin, it will feel like a sword has pierced your hearts. Every parent has experienced that.
Another child will be mean to Amelia at school or on the playground. You’ll hold her in your arms as she cries. She will encounter difficulties that you will not be able to fix, and it will break your heart, just as these things have broken the hearts of every parent before you.
At those times remember the blessings you receive today from God and from this congregation, and remember that your family is surrounded by love, the love of God, and that love made incarnate in this community.
Today we give God thanks for the blessing that God has bestowed upon you by giving you this child. And as our prayer books says, we pray that God also gives you calm strength and patient wisdom as you seek to bring Amelia and Lucas to love all that is true and noble, just and pure, lovable and gracious, excellent and admirable, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.