Ground Hog Day! Candlemas Day!
The prestigious prognosticator, Punxatawny Phil, saw his shadow today, which means we have 6 more weeks of Winter! Even though I am certain that the weather and the seasons (especially in the calendarically challenged state of California) have nothing to do with a rodent and his shadow, I am so glad that this winter has brought enough rain to subside the California drought.
And the day somehow begs the question, what would I like 6 more weeks of, if I could have anything for longer! People probably think I would want 6 more weeks of Jim. Absolutely. 6 more weeks of my kids being mine?! For Sure. And then I would say, 6 more weeks of soccer – yes! 6 weeks of summer? 6 more weeks of vacation? of pay? of life? Maybe! I can think of the “obvious” answers, and I can think of what I would love to have less of for 6 weeks, including rent, work and football. I think if I could have 6 more weeks to serve the King, like Simeon and Anna, that would be awesome!
Why bring them up? Because it is also Candlemas Day. 40 days after giving birth Joseph and Mary went to the Temple for purification and they brought forth their newborn son, Jesus, to the Temple. Mary was cleansed on this day. Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Temple on this day. During this time, an elderly holy man named Simeon was staying in Jerusalem. Simeon was told by the Holy Spirit that his death would not come until he saw the Messiah. When Simeon held the baby Jesus, he knew that Jesus had come for the salvation of all. Simeon stated that Jesus was “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people of Israel.”
Now that I have been to the land, I can picture the scene so much differently! I can see the walk from Bethlehem to the Temple Mount, the area where they would have gotten 2 doves for sacrifice and a mikvah, a ceremonial bath. I can imagine where Simeon was standing and what part of the temple Anna, an older widow, would have been relegated to. They served the Lord faithfully for all their lives. If I could have 6 more weeks to serve the King with joy, would I?
And although the dedication of Jesus would have been different from our child dedications today, even without a burnt offering, the sentiment is still there for those of us parents want to dedicate ourselves to nurturing children in the faith. One similarity, although theirs was probably unplanned, is the inclusion of elderly people (grandparents). 2 older folks coming out of the shadows and going on about how wonderful this new baby is, after Joseph and Mary come into the Temple to have a quiet moment to offer Jesus to God, was an added blessing for the new parents. Immediately they are again reminded that nothing will ever be the same again. And especially Mary had been learning to let go of any control of her life, and allow God to lead her. (As most new moms also realize!)
But think about the lesson of patience for both Anna and Simeon. They demonstrate how the most significant thing that had ever happened to them was right towards the end of their lives. Our society devalues older people and especially older women. We live in a culture that discourages us from growing old. But the example of Simeon and Anna contrasts for us, that in terms of our own ministry and discipleship, the best is always yet to come.
The older I get I hear more people say that they used to do “such and such”, but now they are too old; As if the real work of the church is doing things, planning events, being active. But praying for church is just as important as running it. And picking up the phone to have a chat with a friend from church who hasn’t been for a while is as much pastoral care as when the professional clergy visit someone in hospital. And I quite frankly cannot stand the whining and reminding me of what can’t be changed rather than celebrating the blessings of time and long life. In church there is no retirement age. While it’s true, we don’t actually value our elderly people enough, the story of Simeon and Anna challenges us about what ministry really is and who can do it. Most people would have disregarded Anna as an elderly woman who didn’t have much to offer the world because she was a bit religious, always in church praying. But because she was in church she was in the right place at the right time, and her wisdom and spirituality spilled out into those prophetic words said to Mary and Joseph.
The story of Simeon and Anna inspires me that whatever age I am, what is my calling from God for today, and for tomorrow? How am I serving him and his people, right now? Is there anything else I could offer? For Simeon and Anna the best was yet to come! That gives me hope!
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.