Sermon Title: Faces of Faith: Anna
The past few weeks, I have been seeing stores advertise for their “Christmas in July” sales. And I’ve wondered if we have stumbled into a new shopping season. My guess is most retailers are just looking for an excuse to barely mark down their older stock and repackage it to us consumers as something fantastic under the veil of summer Christmas sales. Merry summer Christmas shopping to you all!
It is only fitting then this week, that our Face of Faith is part of the Christmas narrative. (And I promise that was not intentional, it just ended up as an interesting coincidence). Anna, and her story, though is rarely shared during the Advent/Christmas season. She and Simeon often get overlooked from all of the theatrical Angels singing “Glory to God in the highest,” the shepherds declaring to go to Bethlehem and see “this thing that has occurred,” and the Wiseman traveling far distances to bring gifts to the Christ Child. Our passage today reminds us that there is more to share about the birth and purpose of baby Jesus in the world than simply the idyllic nativity scene.
Our scripture today begins days after Jesus’s birth with the new parents following the Jewish laws and customs by getting the child circumcised and then presenting him in the temple. As the family enters into the temple grounds and two people enter into the scene at the temple grounds, Simeon and Anna. Not much is known about these two individuals. Scripture says, that Simeon, was a righteous and devout man which the Holy Spirit rested upon him. Each week, as he entered the temple, Simeon waited to see the signs of the Son of God coming forward. He had spent his life reading, interpreting, and living the holy Scriptures. He would recall the words from the prophet Isaiah, reminding the people of Israel that God promised, “my servant will succeed. He will be exalted and lifted very high…he grew up like a young plant before us, like a root from dry ground. He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance…he will bring justice to the nations…he won’t be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land. The coastlands await his teaching.”[i] And so Simeon waited, waited to see who would come along, waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled, when a young couple enters into the temple with a baby boy, presenting him for the ritual cleansing that all Jewish families follow in order to consecrate their child. Simeon sees the promise fulfilled in the baby Jesus and is filled with joy.
Just imagine “how lovely, how tender, the way aged Simeon, the frailties of his years draped over him, cradles the infant Jesus in his arms. Imagine holding in your arms this most wanted child, the hope of the ages, the yearning of your entire life.”[ii] The years of prayers of hope and anticipation, the years of reading the promises of God to the people of God through the Scriptures, coming to fruition in this small little baby boy. This awaited miracle is a joy for Simeon and a joy for the nations.
And then the scripture turns the focus on Anna. She was a prophetess, who had a husband for 7 years and then was a widow for 84 years. She had lived her life devoted to God, praying and fasting outside of the temple day in and day out. What is interesting about Anna is that this is the only time she is mentioned, and frankly, not much is said about her and she is not directly quoted. However, from what little scripture says about her, like Simeon, she was a woman who spent her time waiting in hopeful expectation of what would come. And then Luke says, when she sees Jesus, she “began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
These two aged saints are representatives of Israel’s best; led by the Holy Spirit, through devout, obedient and constant prayer, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Simeon and Anna have waited a literal lifetime for the promises to be fulfilled. And as Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus into the temple, they see that all of their waiting, their praying, their fasting, all of the time spent trusting in the promises of God paid off. And so what is next for them is to turn their lives into proclamation and praise.
Our problem is that we do not like to wait. We want to move, fill the time, stay in control, rush to the next gratification—and in our inability to be patient and trust that God is God, we end up missing God.[iii] That is the problem we have as Christians today, as people of God who know the Christmas story, with just as much familiarity with the Easter story. We disillusion ourselves to believe that since the first Christmas and Easter story has come and gone, we don’t have to wait for promises to be fulfilled, we don’t have to sit at the temple alongside Simeon or Anna and wait with hopeful expectation.
However, even if we are willing to wait with hopeful expectation, it can be difficult for us to balance the cheer and joy with the stark reality of life. To live in the tension between joy and sorrow. But I think that Anna understands that balance, and I think that we can look to Anna for clarity and wisdom today. We all have experienced difficult years or periods in our lives, when we may have lost loved ones, or had disappointing news at work, or have endured pain and sorrow which can cause our lives to be especially difficult. Anna is an older woman and has been around the block more than a few times, seen the very best and the very worst. From what little we know about her from the scriptures, we can imagine that Anna has tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hope and fear, just like you and me. Her calling was to wait, despite all that had occurred in her life to hold on to faith in the promises that God had given to the Israelites and know that in time God would fulfill them. And when she sees the Christ child, that infant boy, all of those fears, despair, losses dissipate, all of that waiting comes to an end and she turns to joy and praise. Like the psalmist says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Joy comes in the morning for Anna and Simeon, with the presentation of the Christ Child at the temple. They saw and they knew, and for Anna, she lived out her remaining days giving thanks for the promise of a world made new.
This morning we celebrate a joy as well, of a couple renewing their vows that they promised to one another 20 years ago. Gus and Vikki met one another during dark and sad times in their life, but in their service and in their initial time spent together at the Food Bank, seeds of friendship were planted for joy in the years to come. After the death of their spouses, Vikki and Gus’s seeds of friendship blossomed into a deep love for one another. Though weeping may have lingered for the night for them, their joy came in the morning, in their love for and relationship with one another. A relationship that continues to endure the challenges that life presents.
This morning, we come together and praise our God for their love, for their lives and for what lies ahead for them. Vikki and Gus are indeed a testament to us that joy does come in the morning.
What we celebrate today is that despite all that we have endured in our lives, because of the presentation of the Lord to the temple, our joy will come in the morning. The promise of a Savior was fulfilled, through the Christ Child. What is left for us to do then is praise, to be in the moment, and to relish the moment, because God showed up? Joy comes in the morning for us, so let us praise God and be joyful of what God can do, what God will do and what God is doing in our lives and our world today. And may it be so. Amen.
[i] Is 52:13, 53:2, 42:1,4-5
[ii] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.