Do you know how to make God laugh? It’s simple, just tell Him your plans. I learned that lesson again this week, when I woke up sicker than a dog Friday morning—my get-this-sermon-finished day. I ended up in the ER until 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, and felt totally whipped and uninspired most of the day. I’m feeling a lot better now but ask your patience with my words today.
For our opening hymn, I had considered singing “On Eagles Wings,” but I sure didn’t want to seem prejudiced toward Philadelphia in the Souper Bowl contest. I’m much more like Madeline on today’s bulletin cover—routing for the Clydesdales and for the hungry in our community who will be helped by our donations. Today is good fun, choosing our favored team for tonight’s victory, and I’m sure not going to judge anyone who supports the Patriots.
And if I’d bet money on the outcome of the Super Bowl, win or lose I could hear myself saying tomorrow, “If I had only known . . . .” If I’d known I’d win, I might have bet more heavily, and if I’d known I’d lose, I might have changed my bet or saved the money entirely. But in a serious sense, living our way to today and tomorrow’s answers requires living in faith—with a firm trust in God’s care and a realization that we are not alone in this journey called life, that God is still speaking and is always in relationship with us.
Two themes run through today’s Scripture: the hope and anticipation we have for the children we watch grow and try to help nurture and mature, and the role we play as we ourselves travel through life. So we have Jesus being presented as an infant in the Temple, and we have Simeon and Anna in their roles as elders. In this intergenerational episode, we also have Mary and Joseph, the parents inviting God into their Son’s life.
Is there a parallel between Jesus’ presentation in the Temple and our own gathering for worship at Emmanuel on Sundays? There sure are plenty of similarities—especially on a Sunday when we bring our offerings for the poor and recognize the Scouts who are committed to grow according to the principles embodied in the scouting experience. As an aside, I heard recently that the Scouts are now opening up the Eagle Scout program for girls. —Is this another sign for Philadelphia tonight?
I still have my Girl Scout holy card, with the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Laws. The laws seem like ideals toward which I could still strive today:
- A Girl Scout’s honor is to be trusted.
- A Girl Scout is loyal.
- A Girl Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
- A Girl Scout is a friend to all and a sister to every other Girl Scout.
- A Girl Scout is courteous.
- A Girl Scout is a friend to animals.
- A Girl Scout obeys orders.
- A Girl Scout is cheerful.
- A Girl Scout is thrifty.
- A Girl Scout is clean in thought, word, and deed.
To these I might add #11: A Girl Scout makes the world a better place by selling cookies every year, especially thin mints.
In Luke’s account of the presentation, Simeon had heard God’s promise that he will see the Messiah. But he also sees and knows that Jesus’ mother will have her soul pierced with a sword—something every mother of an eight-day-old infant both knows and fears. We look at our youth—be they the Scouts we honor today or our own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews—and we hope they will find a way to grow into the people God means for them to be. We know there will be heartache as they struggle along the way, but we know it is these struggles that will help form them as they mature. We are told that at Jesus’ birth, Mary treasured in her heart, all the wonderful angelic mystery and glory. I hear that same treasuring in my great-niece’s Facebook entries about her first child, a beautiful baby girl who is now nearly three weeks old.
If only my niece could spare her daughter the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”; if only Mary could have spared the sword that would piece her heart as she walked with her son toward his destiny.
But Simeon sees the potential of Jesus, as we do with our own youth here at Emmanuel. Anna, the 84-year-old widow, spends her days in service to God in the Temple. She, too, has looked upon the infant Jesus and seen glory of God. I believe we are being asked to see that spark of the eternal within everyone we meet. Being part of our Temple community helps me do this, and helps me in my journey of faith and growth.
We hear in the Scriptures—especially in Luke—the stories of healing throughout Jesus’ ministry. These stories inspire us and give us the courage to ask God for healing in our own lives. But a story we rarely focus on is the one in Mark 8 with the blind man near Bethsaida.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when He had laid His hands on him He asked him, “Can you see anything?” The man looked up and said, “I can see people but they look like trees, walking.” The Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and he saw everything clearly.
What this shows me is that healing is a process—an ongoing growth as we mature in our faith and in our relationships. We are called as a community to support one another and to carry God’s message of love out into the world. And if we feel inadequate to do this, as surely we all do at times, I would turn again to the meditation offered by the late Jesuit priest from India, Anthony De Mello, His book is entitled Wellsprings, and this passage is called “The Advent.” We used it at our Holly Brunch in December, but for me it seemed appropriate again today, as we explore the parallels between Jesus’ presentation and our own.
The events of history were controlled
for my coming to this world
no less than for the coming of the Savior.
The time had to be ripe,
the place just right,
the circumstances ready,
before I could be born.
God chose the parents of his Son
and endowed them with the personality they needed
for the child that would be born.
I speak to God about the man and woman that he chose
to be my parents
until I see that they had to be
the kind of human beings they were
if I was to become
what God meant me to be.
The Christ child comes, like every other child,
to give the world a message.
What message have I come to give?
I seek guidance from the Lord to express it
in a word
Christ comes into this world
to walk a certain path,
fulfill a certain destiny.
He consciously fulfilled what had been “written” for him.
As I look back I see in wonder what was “written”
and has thus far been fulfilled
in my own life,
and for each part of that script,
I say, “Thanks”
to make it holy with my gratitude.
I look with expectation
at all that is to come
and, like the Christ,
I say, “Yes. Let it be done.”
Finally I recall the song the angels sang
when Christ was born.
They sang of the peace and joy
that give God glory.
Have I ever heard the song the angels sang
when I was born?
I see with joy what has been done through me
to make the world a better place
and I join those angels
in the song they sang
to celebrate my birth.
I gladly celebrate each of you and our faith community and encourage you to continue following Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.
And when the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the
Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord—observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord—also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit Simeon came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God; and Simeon said:
“Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.”
As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “You see this child; he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected—and a sword will pierce your own soul too—so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”
There was a prophetess, also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favor was with him.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.