Here we are, forty-one days after the hype of Christmas and just beginning another year at kinder or school. We are a group of lovely ordinary people with lots of children among us, and we are gathered tonight to worship God and receive a blessing, just as, two thousand years ago, like every other ordinary Jewish family, Mary and Joseph went to the Temple forty days after their firstborn son’s birth to worship God and receive a blessing.
What happened next? An old man, Simeon, glanced at this ordinary young couple’s ordinary-looking baby, and saw in him God’s liberation of the world. And an old woman, Anna, praised God and told everyone who was hoping for freedom all about Jesus. And then everyone went home, and Jesus grew big and strong, and grew in wisdom, and was filled with God’s grace.
We have here a picture of both ends of life. At one end, we see a young baby, Jesus, who has begun to participate in the rites and rituals of his religious tradition: circumcision at eight days and, for a firstborn son, presentation at the Temple at forty days. It tells us that he has been born into a faithful home, to parents who are raising him in the ways of faith.
At the other end, we see the elderly Simeon and Anna. Simeon is righteous and devout. This means that he has spent years praying, studying the Scriptures, and living accordingly. The Holy Spirit is upon him; and he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and speaks prophetic words over him. Meanwhile, Anna has lived at the Temple for many years. She has participated in the daily prayers and devotions, and it has sharpened her sight: she sees the hope and freedom embodied in this child.
Both Simeon and Anna have been practising their faith for decades: and this regular practice has opened their eyes to what is going on beneath the surface of ordinary life. Their story suggests that, while faith is a gift, seeing with the eyes of faith and perceiving God’s activity in the world is something that takes practice. And that practice includes praying regularly, and reading the Scriptures regularly, and gathering regularly with other faithful people to worship God and bless God and one another.
Here we are, another group of people committed to the practices of faith. We have gathered together as we so often do to pray, and listen to the Scriptures, and worship God, and bless God and one another. Simply by doing so, we are training our young people in some of the practices of our faith. We hope that these practices will last them a lifetime and give them clear sight into God’s activity in the world and God’s hope for all creation.
At home, we engage in other practices: prayer and Bible reading, yes, but also economic choices, relational choices and decisions about how we approach study, work and play. And our kindergartens and schools provide wonderful training grounds for our young people to practice their faith as they explore their creativity; learn all about God’s world; think about justice; befriend people who are very different to them; and try to love their enemies and forgive those who wrong them in the classroom, on the sports field, and in the playground.
So let us pray that school and home and church together can help our young people grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and people. Let us pray also that each young person will develop clear sight into God’s activity and God’s hope for this world. To help them on their way, in a moment we will bless our children and young people for the school year, and invite them to bless us in return. But first, we will stand and sing; and then I will ask that all children and young people go and stand with an adult—mum, dad, or someone else—so that the blessings can begin! Ω
A reflection on Luke 2:21-40 given to Sanctuary, 3 February 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Image credit: Cornelis de Vos. Mysteries of the Rosary. Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
Further note on image: Yes, I know Jesus and his milieu weren’t fat and jolly white European aristocrats, but this is the only image I could find where anyone looks remotely cheerful! Simeon has just announced that he can die happy, because he has now set eyes on God’s salvation for the whole world, yet most images of this scene have everyone looking miserable as bandicoots. Sure, Simeon’s prophecy is not entirely happy-happy-joy-joy … but there is some joy, some delight, some sense of fullness and completion here: a little eye crinkle wouldn’t go astray. Artists: take note!
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