A little ditty about Simeon and Anna

Second Sunday in Christmas - January 3, 2021
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

"A little ditty about Simeon and Anna"

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

I first want to note that if you are a church nerd, you will notice that today’s lessons are not the correct lessons appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas.  John 1 should be the gospel and not Luke 2:22-40.  However, I already preached on John and I rarely ever get to preach on the lessons appointed for the first Sunday after Christmas.  Typically, I am so exhausted from Christmas that I usually take the Sunday off, like I did last week, and have some of our very talented Lay Leaders take over.  Since I already preached on John 1 on Christmas Day (you can go over to our YouTube page to watch that message), so let’s talk about this little ditty about Simeon and Anna.

Most of us know the story of Simeon.  If not, we at least know the song he sings:  “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace…your word has been fulfilled.”  Also called the Nunc Dimittius which is latin for “Now you dismiss…” I remember learning this story in Sunday school…Simeon picking the baby Jesus in his arms, so excited that now he could finally die...Or something like that.  When I read this story today, it is hard for me to imagine any parent willingly allowing a complete stranger to hold their newly born son in their arms without a mask on. 

Anna rarely gets any mention.  She doesn’t sing a memorable song like Simeon.  Luke tells us that she is a prophet, of advanced aged, a widow after 70 years of marriage.  She sits and worships in the temple (slow) NIGHT and DAY.  That is a strange phrase…night and day… How do you normally say that phrase?  Day and night, right?  Did you also catch a similar thing that Simeon says?  “This child is destined for the FALLING and the RISING of many in Israel…” Again, how do you say that phrase?  Rising and falling, right?  Had this been any other gospel, I probably would have glanced over this very minor variant.  Had this been Mark, I probably would have just said he was writing to quick to care that he made a mistake.  But Luke is different.  Luke is careful about his word choice.  He tells us this in the very first few lines of the gospel:  I have set down to write an orderly account.  So, why did he reverse these two phrases?  

What is Luke trying to accomplish by telling us that Jesus, on the day he is presented in the temple, is met by these two strangers who speak of their baby as being more than just a baby, but declare him To be the salvation of the world?  We already know what Simeon says to be true.  Mary already sang about Jesus and his role in saving humanity during her magnificat.  And notice what Mary sings?  Again it is a reversal.  The rich sent away empty.  The powerful taken down from their thrones.  Luke is using Simeon as a way to reinforce this idea that God is reversing the way things have always done.  But Simeon takes it one step further.  “Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce” her soul (her psyche). She will experience great pain, thorough agony, and the madness of those who witness injustice and are unable to stop it. When we who live on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection hear Simeon’s words, we have a way to know something of what Mary endures watching her son die. Or maybe we can never know; at least we honor the torment. She is the mother of all the disappeared and oppressed, the imprisoned and tortured protesters throughout history. She stands beside his cross. She watches. Before the rising is the falling. Before the glory of God is the cross.”  Simeon might very well be reinforcing this reversal concept that Luke is using, but we also get a glimpse into the heart of Mary—a mother will one day watch her son die on the cross to save billions of people she will never even know their names.  

Then there is Anna.  She again is reinforcing this reversal, but she takes it to the next level as well.  “We first learn that she is up all night and only then do we learn that she is also in prayer all day. She is keeping vigil at all hours, waiting for the arrival of the one who will redeem Israel. Mirroring the order—down before up, cross before triumph—is the fasting and praying Anna practiced “night and day.” These two prophets know what God is about: salvation comes through confrontation. The sign of the Messiah is opposition. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. There is no unbinding without the binding. That the hard reality of repentance precedes forgiveness tells us plainly that there is no forgiveness where there is no fault.”

“The fact of injustice, pain, hurt, denigration, want, and death mean that God is eternally at work to bring healing to all facets of our lives. The Lord is at work in the world just as Mary sings about it when the angel announces God’s favor on her. She gives thanks that God brings down the powerful, lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry, and sends “the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). All these powerful actions mean to reverse normal worldly expectations. Not in spite of, but because of struggle and destruction, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, brings consolation and deliverance. The Holy Spirit guides the faithful to meet the Messiah in order to take on the same mission: to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. Just as the Spirit “rested” on Simeon, the Spirit rests on the baptized in every age, compelling prayer and fasting, urging us to righteous deeds, calling us to see through or within our failures a pathway to the good. The Lord uses the wicked ways of all creation in order to bring about what nurtures and creates peace, and thus is Simeon able to sing of a peace which has come to him because he has seen the savior.”

God is all about doing the unthinkable.  You know, when I was younger, I had a speech problem.  I saw a speech therapist until I was in the 8th grade.  I had some learning disabilities growing up.  A few years ago, I went back and read  some of those reports from school counselors.  I doubt that, at the time, any of my counselors or speech therapist could have ever imagined that I would have went on to receive a Master’s degree and have a job where I get paid to give speeches.  Yet, here I am.  God called 12 of the strangest characters to be his disciples.  One betrayed.  One denied him.  They all abandoned him at the cross.  Yet, look at what God did?  From 12, to over a billion and still going strong.  Not ever a pandemic has stopped us from proclaiming the good news about this babe of Bethlehem.  

Simeon’s song and Anna’s joy lives on today.  Though they are long gone, we still sing of the mysteries we have beheld at the altar.  We leave worship  with joy in our hearts just as Anna had joy in her heart after seeing the salvation of the world wrapped up flesh and blood.  And even though we might not be able to gather around this table and sing Simeon’s song as we have before, “we still receive through God’s Word the promise of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness”—which is exactly what Simeon is proclaiming.  Even in these times when church and worship just don’t feel right, because God’s word is proclaimed, we still witness the salvation.  Despite not being able to receive the sacrament where we are promised to hold Jesus in the palms of our hands just like Simeon held Jesus in his, we still can behold the salvation for all people.  The gospel is salvation for all people and it is why we have never shutdown as a church.  Our work is needed now more than ever.  People need to hear the good news that God knows a thing or two about reversing things—that our God knows how to turn things around.  

Simeon and Anna died a long time ago, yet the world needs people like them.  The world needs people willing to proclaim the good news like Simeon did. The Good news which also includes the harsh truth that we sometimes do not hear—things will get worse before they better.  The world needs more Annas who are willing to keep vigil night and day in the temple as we await the return of our Lord. The spirit of God is at work this day, my brothers and sisters.  Can you feel the Spirit?  Can you hear the Spirit?  This little ditty about Simeon and Anna is actually about you as well.  Preach the gospel with truth and honesty, never stop holding vigil for our Lord’s return, and may God’s favor rest upon you as well. 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

 

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