21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
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;[d] 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.[e] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[f] 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[g] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[h] 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[i] 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[j] 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[k] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
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.
Last year a commercial came out for a European pharmaceutical company entitled, “Matters of the Heart.” And it started being shared amongst clergy because it seems to encapsulate the story of Simeon and Anna.
Let me share it with you:
And just to recap incase for some reason, I’m not allowed to share it on youtube and it gets cut from this sermon. It is an Older man who lives alone. And we see him looking at photos of his family. And then he decides he is going to start lifting weights. And so over and over again every morning we see him getting up and lifting this weight, and lifting this weight. And finally he is able to lift it up over his head. And then it’s Christmas, and we see why this was so important to him. Because of all the work and practice he put in, he is able to lift granddaughter up so that she can put the Star on the Top of the tree on Christmas. I think this is a perfect illustration of Anna and Simeon, that they are older and have spent their lives preparing to be able to lift, and to meet and to serve the son of G-d. I can’t help but wonder if we are able to embark on such a journey. A journey of repetition of frustration? Of practicing, and stretching and growing, and discomfort so that we are prepared to serve the Lord. Sometimes we say things like, I can’t pray. Or I can’t read the Bible. Because we some how assume these things don’t take practice, that if we had those spiritual gifts we would just instantly be good at them. But that’s not true. All these things take practice, take work. Practice makes progress, not perfection. That’s something that Anna and Simeon certainly knew. When we meet them, they are older and at the end of their lives, and it is only because they put that work in for decades, are they ready and prepared to be park of Christ’s story. I want to share with you two reflection on Simeon and Anna from Westminster Presbyterian Church by…. Rev. Chris Dela Cruz, Rev. Laurie Newman
And what they did, is sort of a contemporary telling of Simeon’s and Anna’s Story. Zach will be reading Simeon’s perspective and I will read Anna’s
Date: December 27, 2020
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Preacher: Rev. Chris Dela Cruz, Rev. Laurie Newman
I have been waiting a long time to be able to tell you my story.
But I am so glad I’m here now.
My name is Simeon. I share a name with Simeon from our Bible story. But I am obviously not from Biblican times, I am just a guy named Simeon from 2020 living in Portland.
I do share some similarities with Simeon.
For one, I am very old in age. And if you’re looking at me and wondering, how can you be so old? I say to you, talk to me after service about my skin care routine.
Skin care is self-care. Men, you have to moisturize.
But also, like Simeon, I too am righteous and devout, come from a religious family.
And I have been looking forward to the consolation of my land.
I’m a Filipino American who grew up in Oregon. My parents were migrant workers from California; they fought for farm workers’ rights along with Cesar Chavez, although no one talks about the Filipinos. They had friends who were murdered in the Watsonville riots of the ’30s, where white folks dragged and beat Filipino immigrants.
My parents came up here, and they saw the signs that said, “No Blacks or Asians” and “No Blacks or Filipinos” in downtown Portland. I remember looking for houses and seeing the Community Covenants that said “only white people can own these homes.” My buddy Jack grew up in Vanport, and I’ve watched as his Black community has gone through so much in Portland.
I marched in the ’60s, hoping that this was the time when justice would roll down. I mourned when my Black friends’ children weren’t able to grow up in the neighborhoods we grew up in, and we saw fewer and fewer people around us that looked like us or had the lives we lived. My buddy Jack says constantly, with tears in his eyes, “How long are we going to have to wait?”
This past year, my cousin in New York City was part of a church where multiple people died from COVID-19…My wife is gone, my kids are quarantined in Los Angeles, and I’m by myself in my own thoughts.
And I know this seems petty compared to everything else, but I used to be a dancer. I loved dancing, it was the one thing that got me through all the pain. But I broke my foot last year, and it hasn’t been the same.
But like Simeon in the Bible, I too have been guided by the Spirit, I too can now be dismissed in peace, my eyes too have seen God’s salvation.
Because it’s CHRISTMAS.
And the Word has been made FLESH. God is with us.
Like Simeon, who saw the child but not the empty tomb, I believe I’ve only seen the start, not the end. Like my buddy Jack, of course we’re still waiting. I believe God has begun the beginning of the new day.
My hope is ultimately in God finishing the story, and not in world events around me, and in a way, that helps me from being too disappointed. But my eyes find great joy in Word-made-flesh moments that I see here. In my body in this world. Now.
In Facetime calls with my grandchildren, who tell me, “I love you, Lolo.” In our daily noon prayers, where I have the privilege to pray for all of you. In the warmth of the sunrise, in every breath I can still breathe in my old age. In the massive uprisings after George Floyd’s death where people I never thought would recognize the struggle said, Black Lives Matter, and seeing my buddy Jack’s face as we marched together.
In the fact that, after a year of recovery, I was able to stand up and do a little dance. To Beyonce, of course.
And I see Word-made-flesh moments every time I see my friend Anna. In the Bible, Anna is never given a spoken line, and in the same way, when I was growing up, my friend Anna was told girls couldn’t preach. But every time she preached, Anna begins to change their minds. Those are Word-made-flesh moments. And so now, Anna speaks.
I am old enough to know the time (when in religious and other institutions) girl’s and women’s voices were often not heard. And, at times, I have felt vulnerability, due to the death of my husband. I looked down the road at many years a widow … and wondered what would come ahead … I’ve been thinking about all that in these deep December (COVID-19) days as we waited for the birth of Jesus … And now, after celebrating the birth of the baby, right now, on the verge of 2021, we face daunting challenges …
Incarnation is the word we use to mean God in the flesh, God with us. The idea of God being with us, especially when we’ve experienced and witnessed so much chaos, cruelty, suffering, and loss in the past year or so—well, the idea was comforting, but sometimes abstract.
But the birth of Emmanuel is only a moment in time—of an eternal truth. The truth is that the meaning of Incarnation is that God continually shows us being human is GOOD! How do we keep remembering this? Better yet, how do we LIVE it, so that each day we become more fully human, more loving, more connected to God and to one another? How will the Incarnation see us through the new year, and all the work that must be done for healing, justice, and love?
Father Richard Rohr expressed it well:
“Some form of contemplative practice is the only way (apart from great love and great suffering) to rewire people’s minds and hearts. It is the only form of prayer that dips into the unconscious and changes people at deep levels—where all of the wounds, angers, and recognitions lie hidden. Only some form of prayer of quiet changes people for good and for others in any long-term way. It sustains and deepens the short-term wisdom we learn in great love and great suffering.”
Well, that’s what spiritual practice is about. (And there is a reason it’s called “practice.” )
It is much like learning a language or a sport or a dance. It requires showing up even on the difficult days and exercising that spiritual “muscle.” Daily prayer, the kind where you empty your mind of the “to-do” list and allow for some space in your heart, is the kind of practice that I mean.
Over (this past year and a half), we’ve adapted (or not adapted) to new patterns. Today, I offer some of my observations and invite you to spiritual practice in the new year. Maybe you will do this with meditation, deep breathing, or contemplative prayer. Or maybe yoga, Tai Chi…running, or walking. For years (until the pools were shut down) for me, it was swimming. As I swim, I breathe in Christ’s peace and breathe out love.
Several years ago, after I was widowed, I saw a video with a couple in their 90s dancing the jitterbug in sheer joy. I knew that was what I wanted to do and be. So, for the past 2½ years, I’ve been practicing dance.
Dancing to music that sinks into my heart while attending to my dance partner and praising God with my limbs and whole being—well, that is an experience of Incarnation. Here are some things I am learning, and offer to you, for whatever daily practice works for you.
• Show up regularly (daily works the best)
• Listen to the music (it’s always there, whether in the sight of a glorious sunrise, the laughter of a friend, or the insight from a great book)
• Pay attention to your partner (the person you are with in the dance is part of the incarnation )
• Leave mistakes behind (if you focus the mistake you just made, you will miss what comes next!)
• Be kind to yourself and partner (perfectionism can freeze you up)
• Trust (yourself, your partner, God’s love)
• Do your best to the glory of God
• Remember to breathe and to relax
When we can be fully present in the moment, we can feel peace and joy. That’s most likely when we know in our very bones that God loves us.
When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. If we’re working to create a more whole world, contemplation will give our actions nonviolent, loving power for the long haul.
Did you know that the late Senator John Lewis was a GREAT dancer? I’m closing with some of his words. He understood that God was in him, and with us, and always inviting us in deeper.
“Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace. Its products are never bitterness and strife. Clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil. Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”
…Merry Christmas, and the love of Jesus be with you all!