How can we have faithfulness and trust?
All of us celebrate significant moments in our lives such as births, deaths, new relationships, and new beginnings. We gather together and say specially prepared words, make special movements, or do special things to mark the occasion. After the birth of Jesus, his parents, Joseph and Mary, travelled from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem to complete a ceremony, and in doing so, demonstrated they were serious about their religion and obedience to God.
Although, today, we are not living under a religious law and do not have to participate in such religious ceremonies, we can find them helpful, however it is not the format or the style of the ritual, but our hearts that matter, and Joseph’s and Mary’s hearts were in the right place.
Living in Jerusalem was a devout Jewish believer called Simeon. He was waiting for the fulfilment of the promise that had been made to Abraham, and spoken of by the prophets — that God would deliver Israel, however Simeon was also waiting for the personal promise that God had made to him — that he would see God’s ‘anointed one’ — the Christ or Messiah – before he died. And so, one day, he felt a prompting to go to the temple to pray, and while he was there he saw Joseph and Mary going through their religious ceremony and presenting Jesus. Even though Simeon was old, he trusted God’s promise.
Listening and being sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit is something that Christians try to do, and in my experience, as we grow in our relationship with God, we learn to recognise God’s voice. It is a bit like tuning-in to an old-fashioned radio — once you recognise the voice of God, it is easier to tune in, and God’s Spirit can speak to us in different ways, for example, through our thoughts, through the Bible, through our feelings, or through other people. We do not know how Simeon heard the Spirit that day, or how Simeon recognised Jesus as the one he had been waiting for, but he did. The point is that he was close to God, and, like Simeon, if we expect to hear God’s voice, then we need to stay close to God too.
When Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he was so thrilled that he burst into song, declaring that he could now die in peace. He sang that Jesus was going to be the glory of Israel and the saviour of the world, and at the end of Simeon’s life, seeing Jesus gave him peace. In the same way, despite our busy and fast-paced culture, Jesus can bring us that same peace, and the peace of Jesus is available to you and to me.
After making his wonderful declaration, Simeon turned to Mary and made it clear that it was not all good news, for Jesus was going to expose people’s hearts. This meant that Jesus was going to reveal how people really were on the inside, and when he did this, some were going to get hostile. Not everyone was going to accept Jesus — not even those that belonged to the Jewish nation, and Jesus would face ridicule, rejection, and hostility.
Sadly, there was even worse news for Mary — that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. Simeon did not mean that a sword would literally pierce her heart, but it was another way of saying that Jesus would be the source of a broken-heart for Mary. Of all the days to share this information, Simeon told this to Mary on a day when she was celebrating her new baby. Simeon predicted her son’s death — the most heart-piercing thing that could happen to a mother.
All of us hear bad news from time to time, for example, news of loss, illness, broken relationships, financial ruin, or job redundancy. Christians are not spared pain and suffering, and even though being a Christian is a great thing, not even Mary, the mother of Jesus was spared. Did she give up and throw in the towel? No, she supported Jesus throughout this life and ministry, and was there, by his side on the day he was crucified.
Finally, there in the temple, Jesus’ parents encountered Anna, an 84-year old widow, who was in the temple, day and night, fasting and praying. She too was waiting to see the liberation of Israel at the hands of the Messiah.
Widows get mentioned often in the Hebrew scriptures because God knows that widows are often left out or forgotten by society, yet we discover that in God’s kingdom no-one is left out, for God’s heart is for the poor, broken, bereaved, and marginalised.
In our culture, older people are often marginalised, younger people do not really want to hear what old people have to say, and many old people live away from their families in retirement homes or sheltered accommodation, and yet, there is no room for exclusivity in Luke’s gospel. It is for everyone, and God affirms that everyone, no matter what gender or age, has a role to play, can fulfil a ministry, and join in with God’s mission in the world. Everyone.
This week, may you be reminded that like the parents of Jesus, it is your heart that matters, like Simeon, that you trust and find peace in God, like Mary, that you stay strong and help others, and alongside Anna, remember that everyone has a role to play in God’s kingdom, including you.