Epiphany 5 – The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
Grace to you and peace, from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
I like to think of this story about Simeon and Anna as the Gospel according to the Grandparents. Simeon was a righteous and devout old man who was waiting to see the Messiah before he died. He was led by the spirit to the Temple that day. Anna had been a widow for decades and she seems to have lived in the Temple. Mary and Joseph came to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their baby to God and to make the sacrifice of two turtledoves or two young pigeons. They too were faithful and devout and were observing the rituals for the birth of their child.
In every culture, there are special rituals at the time of birth—rituals for safe delivery of the baby and mother, rituals for showing the newborn to the community, rituals for naming the child and for blessing the child’s life and asking for God’s protection.
In some African tribes, babies are marked with a facial scar on the cheek to show membership in the community. Marking a child’s face makes the baby imperfect and less desirable to evil spirits. (myghanaroots.com) In Judaism and in Islam and in Coptic Christianity, male circumcision happens at 8 days after birth. The baby will bear on his body the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. In Native American cultures, children receive a spirit name in addition to their legal name. Traditionally, the grandparents prayed for the spirit name and bestowed it upon the child. (manataka.org) In the Greek Orthodox Church, babies a dunked in the font 3 times, head and feet in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. When Mary and Joseph come to the Temple to present their newborn to God, they are following the traditions of their faith.
Simeon has come to the Temple seeking the Messiah and the comfort of Israel that had been promised by the Prophet Isaiah. “Comfort, comfort my people says the Lord” in the Book of Isaiah. And Anna is praying for the redemption of Jerusalem. These two older people are devout and trust in God’s promises despite the difficulties of living under Roman rule. They believe that God will comfort his people and will ransom captive Israel.
Simeon is filled with hope and yet foresees a turbulent future for the baby and his mother. Simeon says: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel. This child will be a sign that will be opposed because the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And, Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Simeon and Anna are hope-filled people. They trust in God, they trust in God’s promises, yet they foresee a future that includes pain and suffering as well as comfort and redemption.
Isn’t this what all parents and grandparents see for their children? Don’t our hearts fill with great hope for our little ones and At the same time don’t we worry about what might befall them? When we Christians present our children to God, we baptize them with water and the Spirit. We anoint them with oil and mark them with the sign of the cross on their foreheads to show that they are Christ’s own forever. And on their behalf, we take vows to resist evil and sinful desires and to respect the dignity of every human being.
It feels important in these turbulent days that we are living through to remind ourselves that we have been presented to God. Parents and godparents presented you to God when you were a baby or an adult. The celebrant said, Name this child, and your name was spoken before the Christian community. A pastor poured holy water on your head and marked you with the sign of the cross. We bear that invisible sign on our foreheads, and it is engraved in our hearts. We follow Jesus and the spiritual path that he set before us.
In these days of unrest and uncertainty, it is tempting to fall into despair and feel hopeless. And there may be events happening in our personal lives that can also cause despair. In the last two months, I have been taking lessons in hope at Shepherd Spinal Center. My friend for 50 years was in a car accident when a young person who was texting and driving crashed into her. She suffered a spinal injury that left her without the use of her legs or arms or hands. Fortunately, she was able to get into Shepherd Spinal Center where she has been living and going through rehab since early December. I visit her frequently and marvel at her progress. The staff and volunteers at Shepherd are absolutely committed to hopefulness. With great effort, my friend is regaining the use of her legs and her arms and her hands. She is grateful for all the good people, including the other patients, that she comes into contact with every day, and she maintains a hopeful attitude even though her life has been changed forever.
There are other people who are beacons of hope right here at St. Dunstan’s. We have parishioners here who are recovering from illnesses and accidents. We have a parishioner who is working hard to establish his own business. We have a parishioner who regained his freedom after being sent to a detention center for months. As Christians, we pray for each other and our prayers are filled with hope for each other.
Hope is not naïve optimism. Hope is an attitude grounded in reality. Hope is grounded in our faith in God’s presence in our lives. Hope is a commitment to spiritual resilience.
We are the baptized, and hope is part of our Christian responsibility. We are to have hope and confidence in God’s love. As Christians, we are to share that hope and spiritual resilience with others, especially those whose hope has been taken away. We see so many whose hope has been snatched away from them—refugees trying to escape war and hunger and to make a new life for their families. Others fall into hopelessness when they lose their jobs and have no other skills to make a living. Some feel hopeless when natural catastrophe wipes away everything they own.
As Christians, our responsibility is to proclaim Good News like Simeon and Anna. We proclaim God’s comfort and redemption even when a sword of fear pierces our hearts. Over and over, we Christians are called upon to bring hope to others. Hope arises when the practicalities of life are provided like food, shelter, jobs, money. And hope arises from spiritual gifts like resilience, compassion, steadfastness, honesty. Find that invisible cross on your forehead. Remember, you have been marked as Christ’s own forever and you have the gift of hope to give to a hurting world.