The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r096.htm
s096^96 29/12/96 Somerton Park + Sunday after Christmass
"Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the Temple ..." Lk 2.27
There are some wonderful things about the Anglican Church. Some people have mentioned to me on the occasion the Evensong we had in December for the Blessing of the new organ - how the words and music of the Book of Common Prayer came flooding back after all the years. It was a bit like riding a bike, you never forget some things. For those trained in residential Theological Colleges, the "Phos Hilarion", the "Hail gladdening light" often sung unaccompanied for Compline before going to bed or back to the "port", is another one of those lovely traditions.
Yet I can still remember the occasion when I realised that the "Nunc Dimittis" I had sung so often as a choir boy was actually the words of this Simeon seeing the baby Jesus being brought into the Temple for their "purification". It was when I returned to attending Church after the time I spent involved with the scouts and school cadets. My Latin in high school, mercifully terminated after just one year, did not help me to realise that "Nunc Dimittis" actually corresponded to "now" and "dismiss". Perhaps I was a bit thicker than some (Catherine would most surely agree) but I pass this on. Someone else might not have made the connection.
I guess looking back this particular realisation was instrumental in making me realise that for all I thought I knew little about the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation as it were) - in fact deep in the recesses of the brain some things had actually sunk in. I conclude that Anglicans just dress up reading the scripture so that you don't actually realise you are doing it. I have never been particularly able to quote chapter and verse of esoteric texts, and I struggled much in College labouring under the impression that one actually had to. It took me a long time to realise how much of the Bible I knew - despite (!) my Anglican upbringing.
In my army chaplaincy days, I realised another truth about the Bible. In the Army, it was the officers who read the "Manual of Land Warfare". The troops did as the officers directed. The Army didn't give the Manual of Land Warfare for the troops to read, so that the other ranks could make their own decisions in battle. The chaos that would have ensued would be laughable if not so tragic.
So too in life. We don't live our lives reading the Bible, we try to live out the words of the Bible as we relate to one another - and this points to the importance of the Church, the sacraments, and the reading and exposition of the sacred scripture.
The Spirit brought Simeon and Anna to the Temple that day, at the time when Jesus was being brought there by his parents.
There is something magnetic about young creatures. I remember when Bonnie was a puppy. How often did I take our young Bonnie for a walk and people, complete strangers, would want to come up and cuddle it. How often did I have to warn them about sharp teeth in earlobes! There were those who made sure that I was never going to have Bonnies' tail docked!
And human babies too. Those of the female gender goo and gah over them - while those of the male gender are often rather more reserved in their displays of affection! Grand parents are want to see all sorts of likenesses with aunts and uncles. The colour of their eyes or the amount of hair is the subject of endless debates. And just as there were those who wanted to make sure I brought up our Bonnie correctly, there are always those who are ready and willing to give their unsolicited advise on how to bring up children.
Simeon and Anna seemed not to look at any of these sorts of things. Simeon and Anna were well advanced in years and if they commented on the physical appearance of Jesus we are certainly not told anything about it. If they had proffered advise on how to bring Jesus up, it probably would have been received as readily as most unsolicited advise is received - it would be ignored and the person written off as unhelpful. Certainly the words they did say about Jesus would not have been remembered.
When Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, they were lead to see something more than who he resembled, what the colour of his eyes was or the amount of hair he had.
Simeon's words are quite specific - he saw in Jesus an instrument in God's salvation, someone who would extend the possibility of salvation beyond the limits of those of the Jewish faith - to all people. This was however not an unmixed blessing. He would be opposed and Mary herself would know the pain of that opposition in the keenest terms.
The Spirit brought Simeon and Anna into the Temple that day; but not only that, the Spirit enabled them both to see God at work in human history in the child also brought there.
How often do we see God at work in others?
I have been saying recently that Jesus did not come to institute a new religion or reform the old faith of Israel. He came not to become a king or to instigate a political revolution. He did not come even especially to heal people. He came and sat down and ate with one and all. One of the things about sitting down and eating with people is that one accepts them as they are. It is not a moral statement - that they are morally pure. Nor is it an ethical statement - that they are living according to a acceptable ethical standard. One sits down and eats with someone because they are equal. One sees the good in them. One accepts that the other has something to contrubute to our existance. Here, through the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna saw that Jesus had something to contribute to their existence - even at their advanced age.
One of the interesting things about the gospel accounts is the attention given to the healing of blind people. According to the first three gospels, the last person Jesus healed was one (or two) blind men near Jericho. Mark gives us a name Bartimaeus. John's gospel devotes all of chapter nine to the healing of the man blind from birth.
The Holy Spirit lead Simeon and Anna to see in Jesus something of God. Jesus brought sight to the blind so that they too could see something of God at work in the world.
The implication is that if we do not see God at work in people around us, if we do not see God at work in the world - then we might have to question whether the Holy Spirit is actually leading us or not.
It is not easy to see God at work in others and in the world. Jesus struggles to get the disciples to see. "How many baskets you gathered" after the feeding of the five and four thousand. "How is it that you fail to perceive ..." (Matt 16.11) - a statement that Mark immediately follows with the cure of the blind man from Bethsaida (Mark 8.22)
Regularly Jesus speaks of the opposition's blindness as a result of the words of Isaiah: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them." (John 12.40 & synoptic //'s Matt 13.13, Mk 4.12, Lk 8.10).
The Holy Spirit brought Simeon and Anna into the Temple and enabled them to see something of God. Yet both of them had a prerequisite which enabled these things to happen - they were looking. Our reading makes it quite specific that Simeon was "looking forward to the consolation of Israel" and Anna "began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel" - so clearly she was not alone in her desire to see.
May we be looking, and looking may the Holy Spirit of God enable each and every one of us see God at work in the world, in those around us, and in ourselves.
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