Today’s reading from Luke 2:22-40 narrates adoration of Jesus by two elderly persons, Anna and Simeon, who were wrapping Jesus in great expectations.
Speaking of Great Expectations, that’s the title of Charles Dickens’ hallowed, 1861 novel, whose central character is an orphan child named “Pip.” Jesus and Pip have something in common, including an adventurous life amid many colorful characters and situations. In some similar sense, Anna and Simeon in the biblical text remind people of faith how wonderful can be the great expectations of God’s blessings, which can bring joy to faithful people of all ages (and despite the hardship of age and fragility).
The setting for Anna’s and Simeon’s encounter is Jesus’ religious initiation at the Jerusalem Temple. As Jesus’ parents Mary and Joseph entered the scene, Simeon cried with joy as he witnessed God’s living promise in the Christ child. We can imagine the tears of relief as that elderly saint saw Jesus’ sweet face. Simeon had been promised not to see death until he had held “the consolation of Israel.” Do you feel consoled by God’s presence? You’re never too old or too young to experience the embrace of the Almighty.
The next visitor to celebrate the little Jesus was an elderly woman named Anna, who is described as a prophetess. This is highly unusual in any form of Judaism, that a woman would carry such a noble title. Like Simeon, Anna lived an exemplary life of holiness and was rewarded by God’s special graciousness. Anna exclaimed over the wondrous glories of the Christ child. She realized the majesty and promise of the little Jesus, whose significance many of her contemporaries failed to grasp.
A lesson from Simeon and Anna’s encounter is how they both were rewarded for spirit-guided lives. God blessed them to witness Jesus, whom they perceived as the Messiah and redeemer of all generations. Although Simeon and Anna were of advanced age, they now knew more than ever how God’s prophecy was being fulfilled through spiritual renewal.
An additional lesson from Simeon’s and Anna’s encounter is that we’re never too old to embrace God’s promises. Fast-forward almost two-thousand years and we can cultivate a similar sense of wonder at God’s redemptive plan. Simeon and Anna’s attitude teach us that we are the trustees of God’s work on earth, and that we must encourage and welcome a new generation with exuberance. Our mission is therefore ageless and timeless. Moreover, we can derive purpose and meaning as we nurture those whom we’re preparing to come after us.
Jesus was at the center of Simeon and Anna’s joy. Both young and seasoned, God’s people form a complete faith family, spiritually united in receiving and sharing God’s love and truth. Recall our St. John rubric of “Both/And,” which helps us realize that God ministers to everyone, Both established And new, regardless of how old or young is a person. The special privilege and responsibility we have as seasoned members of God’s Kingdom challenges us to provide for all ages, wages and stages. When we make sacrifices for a new generation God blesses us with reassuring peace. What God provides more than compensates for what we’re sharing with those who come after us.
What promise and possibility does Christ hold for you in 2018? Will you welcome the New Year with great expectations? Let us encourage one another to discern God’s highest and best in the coming year. Hunker-down and get to those new projects, those rejuvenating attitudes and behaviors that will make 2018 the best year yet. Happy New Year!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey