February 2, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“A light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people, Israel.”
This is a humble holiday, the feast of the presentation. Forty days after childbirth, the new mother is deemed fit to go through the rites of purification to become ritually clean again, and the child, assuming it is the first born male, is dedicated at the temple to the service of God in the memory of the Exodus out of Egypt. The fact that women were thought to be unclean after childbirth and that only males, firstborn even, were the only ones to deserve such dedication antiquate this holiday, but there is a humble message that persists here that is in need of holding up.
Simeon and Anna were prophets, minor prophets, but still people touched by the spirit and witnesses of the movement of God at the temple. Simeon sees the child, holds him in his arms and declares, “Lord, you have now set your servant free according to your word; for these eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.” Anna does not get so auspicious a quote as the nunc dimittis of Simeon, but she engages in conversation about the wonders of God and the redemption of Jerusalem in the young Jesus.
Simeon and Anna were church folks. Stalwarts. Anna “never left the temple.” She was their Helen Reed or Karen Jewett. And Simeon was probably a pillar of the Temple congregation, dedicated to God, serious about his faith, the law and the prophets. I can imagine that they both saw everything that went on there. They were always there, watching, participating as they could… Think of the thousands of boys dedicated each year, the many more thousands of mothers going through the purification rites, children invariably in tow; but this one family, this one child, stood out.
Why were these two minor prophets so struck by Jesus? They were the churchiest of the churchy, they had seen everything that could be seen in a religious community, so why this reaction? Maybe it was because for the first time they saw all that God desired, and what that was, what God desired was this little child, a month old baby. Yes, He was God, but that is not the point, the fully human baby Jesus was a baby like all others, but was perhaps not like any others not because He was different, but because he appeared different in the eyes and minds of those He encountered. A miracle of the baby Jesus was not in him, but in how he resided in the hearts of his witnesses.
In seeing this baby, they were filled with joy, with meaning, with satisfaction for their highest aspirations and deepest longings. God crossed their paths definitively, though wordlessly; powerfully, but as an infant; unmistakable yet anonymous. And this form of encounter with God, so humble, so close to the heart, so tender, it reveals God’s deep expectation of us, which is not to be perfect, or accomplished, not to be better than we can be or free from blemish, but we approach the fulfillment of God’s deepest desire for us when we simply are who God made us to be. The pure humanity of a child held up before God by a mother, a first time mother at that, the pure human moment and the Holy reaction it arouses as told by Luke, reveals the simplicity of God’s desires for us. Be who you were made to be. That is, in the end, all that Jesus Christ did, and look where that took Him. AMEN.