Present.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word;

30 

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 

which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

When our kids were younger, they used to get pretty excited for Christmas (and they still do of course).  The anticipation for Christmas morning or going to relatives’ houses was great.  Especially going to grandparent’s houses who always seem to give better gifts than their parents!  Of course, this year was a little different as we were not able to visit with folks as we usually do, but, still getting packages delivered was kind of fun.  

Point being, the waiting makes Christmas so much more meaningful doesn’t it?  The excitement seems to build from day to day.  It’s an event that we all look forward to, even with this season of pandemic and so much adaption and change…we can still find a way to  celebrate the coming of Jesus.

Sometimes, it can be sort of a downer on the Sunday after Christmas, but it’s kind of like life in general.  We build up to great events, then they are over, and we have to move on.  But, what do we move on to?

Many of you have heard my story of meeting Debbie.  I had to wait 7 years after we met before we got married.  It was a long season of dating others, comparing, wondering and wandering…kind of a soap opera, but a good one!  

Eventually, Debbie and I got back together.  We had a wonderful wedding, emotional (yes, I cried…and Debbie’s been crying ever since…). 

Yet, after the event, after the honeymoon, life begins to happen.  We live in the everyday.  What holds things together?  What gets us motivated in the here and the now?  How do we stay committed even in the midst of so much change in our lives?

In our passage this morning, in Luke, the writer is painting a picture of an amazing event.  Israel had been waiting for a Messiah, a savior to come and to make things right.  They had waited for their entire history for deliverance from the hands of different oppressors.  

Then, this event, this birth happens.  There is a buzz around Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  There really isn’t much geography between the two places and word has travelled fast about the event that we just commemorated last week, the birth of a King, the promised one.  

Mary and Joseph were devout Jews.  The very word Jew means someone who is a believer in God.  The very name Jew comes from the word Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, and the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  It has a meaning of being identified with God.  A sidenote:  the term gentile meant one who didn’t believe.  But, that’s another story for another day.

Being devout Jews, Mary and Joseph took their son Jesus to the temple at the appropriate time to be dedicated and to follow the customs of their religion.  Simeon had waited for this day and had been told that he wouldn’t die before he met the Messiah in a word from God.  

Could you imagine his anticipation built upon generations of his ancestors?  He must have been so excited.  Yet, I’m not sure if he knew exactly how things would happen, yet he followed what he believed to be right and went to the Temple and made this great statement. 

Then the writer introduces Anna.  The writer of Luke often puts women and men together, which is amazing considering the patriarchal society at the time.  It’s also one more beautiful reminder that God’s faithfulness is for everyone, and a subtle, and powerful message that God does not show favoritism.  

Anna is described as someone well into her 80’s.  A prophet respected by her peers because of her faith and stability.  She must have been quite a person.  When she met Jesus, she shared some powerful prophetic words about him.

I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought about all of this?  I’m sure they were proud, but also a bit overwhelmed I’d imagine.  Yet, here they were, not knowing what to expect next, amazed at what they were hearing, but also probably a bit afraid.  They were committed to their son though, and they were family.  After all of the great events they were witnessing, and would witness throughout their lives, they were still a community of persons called into a family.

My friend Peter Block talks about commitment.  When someone makes a commitment to something like a job, a move, or something more like joining a group of folks like a community or a church, or even getting married…you don’t know where that commitment will lead.  We may have an inkling of an idea, we may do a ton of research, but, at the end of the day, there are contingent realities that one must deal with…however, if you make a covenant commitment, a deep promise to do something, then you work through it, you adjust, and you grow.  In many ways, the monks that I meet at the Abbey of Gethsemani also demonstrate this sense of commitment, they call it a “vow of stability”, a commitment to place and people.

Another friend, Walter Brueggemann states that one must make a prophetic statement, however grand or hard to hear or even joyous to hear, then work out the pragmatic ways to work towards it coming to pass.

The last few years of my life have been a reflection of this sense of commitment, stability, and prophetic words.  I have known for a while that I could not keep on doing church and ministry as I’ve always done it.  In previous calls, I have had the privilege of working with some great folks as I’ve built some fantastic teams.  We had a lot of numerical success and great relationships built, most of which are still strong.

However, I began to sense God moving me in a different direction as the church and culture changed.  I began to question more things and this led to some hard conversations and decisions with others. Eventually, really over so many years, this led me to Fleming Road UCC, with it’s desire to be “community engaged” and desire to adapt to the cultural and community changes.

Honestly, I believe the desire to grow and adapt as a church, long before I came here 3 years ago, has helped us in this time of pandemic and disruption.  We’ve been flexible, we’ve adapted, and we are growing in different ways.  

So, friends, the words that Simeon and Anna spoke about Jesus also apply to us.  For, you see, Jesus is the one true human, our bridge between God and humanity, our savior and identity as Jesus followers.  There is a word that is coming to us from so many others, telling us that we are “here” now and present with each other and with God.  We have had some amazing events these past three years, and many more are yet to come…and I am so glad to be together with you in this…I don’t know what the future will hold, but God has placed us, here, in Cincinnati, for some great adventures and for deep relationships as we live in the in between times, the everyday.

Friends, you’ve waited for a long time for some things to happen.  You’ve been blessed in more ways than anyone could imagine these past few years, even with some of the hard things.  I can relate in different ways these past few years.  I’ve also waited for a long time during this transition as well to come to a place like Fleming Road UCC, and in my neighborhood.  I believe we’ve been given gifts in each other.  Now we are “here” so let’s practice presence with each other and with our community and God as we listen to what God is doing in our neighborhood and as we witness some great events…even as we commit deeply to each other and to a God who is “here” and present with us. 

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