22 And 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 male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said 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, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that 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 his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
On Christmas Day of 2019, I pulled into the parking lot at Church and was greeted by a rose blooming in the flower bed in front of my car. I have included a picture. Having grown up in the Midwest where December is usually in a deep freeze, I am still sometimes surprised by the climate in Portland. Was it a holdover from the prior year or a harbinger of things to come? A little of both, I think.
It is a new year for us. We can only hope that this year will be better than the last. We have seen the signs of an apocalypse in the past few years: pandemic, fires, floods, wars, rumors of wars, riots, social unrest, economic turmoil, and even a plague of locusts in Africa. I believe that there are a lot of us who are glad to see 2023 slipping under the horizon in our rear-view mirrors.
In this reading aged Simeon, prompted by God, swoops in to grab an infant from the arms of his parents. I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought of this. Holding the child, he sings the wonderful words of the Nunc Dimittis which you may remember from church. It was sung after the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. I have the tune from the 1941 hymnal permanently burned into my memory. When I sing it, I can still see my mother returning to the pew, the smell of the communion wine clinging to her as she bowed her head in prayer. Simeon was at the end of his life when he sang these words, but this little child was hope for him. He believed that God had good in store.
We sing those words after we have held that same Jesus in hand and mouth in the Sacrament of the Altar. The infant Jesus did not look like the salvation of the world, nor does that bread and wine, but it is truly the very salvation of God. Our world needs Simeon and Anna type people right now, folks who, in the bleak midwinter of this worlds tumult and darkness, see signs of hope and speak of them. Simeon and Anna were old, their lives were behind them, but they saw hope in the work of an eternal God who cared for and loved his people. What signs of hope and future do you see? Where does this infant Jesus, hidden in simple things, show up for your eyes to discern? Join Anna and Simeon in singing God’s praises. Mary and Joseph were soon to flee to Egypt, they needed the echoing notes of these songs of old people to sustain them on the way.