Sunday Sermon – December 29, 2019
Eight days after his birth in Bethlehem Jesus’ parents took him to the Temple in Jerusalem where Mary participated in a “rite of purification” and Jesus was blessed by two of the regular worshipers at the Temple, Simeon and Anna. We don’t know much about these two and they don’t appear in the Scripture after this. It is likely that they died before Jesus visited the Temple again at age 12. They were most certainly gone before he began his public ministry at age 30.
The interchanges between Simeon and Anna and Mary, Joseph and Jesus are interesting enough and serve to give Luke’s readers a hint of what lies ahead for Jesus and family. They also appear to be Luke’s way of saying that the seniors in our midst, the elders in our community, need to be respected and listened to for they have something important to say.
Anna offers praise to God for living to see the hope of Israel in the flesh. Simeon, who speaks first, utters the memorable words “Master, let your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Then he blesses Mary and says something rather foreboding, “Your child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Wow. Simeon tells Mary that the path ahead for her child, the path ahead for her, will be full of controversy, opposition and suffering. I think we might understand if Mary had dismissed Simeon’s strange blessing with the words immortalized this year by the young politician from New Zealand, “OK Boomer.” “Ok Boomer,” a way of saying “Thanks for your thoughts old-timer. Next time keep them to yourself.”
In point of fact, Luke doesn’t tell us what Mary’s response was. However, she doesn’t seem like someone who would easily dismiss the words of an elder like Simeon, no matter how difficult his words were to hear. “Suffering awaits your child. Suffering awaits you as well.” What mother of an eight day old wants to hear words like these? For that matter, just four days after Christmas, who among us wants to be reminded of suffering to come?
Yet, we can’t deny them, ignore them, erase them or dispute them. We can’t render them irrelevant with a flippant “OK Boomer.” You see, we are people who know the rest of the story. We are people who know that road between Christmas and Easter is a very hard road. The words of the great preacher Lloyd Otis Moss ring true, “Not all suffering is liberating. Yet, there is no liberation without suffering.”
Here it is, a most difficult truth. Jesus is born in Bethlehem to save the world. To do so he must suffer. Suffer, not because God demands it but because those who rule the world won’t give up without using every sword, bomb, electric chair, noose and cross at their disposal. When we humans meet love incarnate we don’t embrace it. We are so confused, so afraid, so drunk with the wine of the world, that we revile it, we fight it, we crucify it.
Still, Anna and Simeon see the truth. In this soon to suffer child, there is a road to salvation, there is hope, grace, love incarnate an invitation to joy. If we let him, he will show us the way, he will shape our souls and so save the world. Even his suffering will shape and teach us. This is great news for boomers, birthers, busters, bandits, been-there-done-thaters, burden-bearers and blessing-bringers alike. So what I ask is this. As the old year ends, lets join Mary and Joseph in taking the blessings of our elders, strange blessings though they may be, to heart. Let’s walk together, let’s walk with Jesus, on the hard but good road these elders saw coming for him. Amen.