The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Whenever I have preached this Gospel text, I have usually focused on the lovely hymn often referred to as the “Song of Simeon” or the “Nunc Dimittis.” However, this week it was Anna that really spoke to me. Unfortunately, the Gospel writer did not record Anna’s words. I found myself wondering what she said, what her story was. Because of that, I have taken a slightly different approach to my sermon today. It’s not really a sermon; it’s more of a narrative from the perspective of the prophet Anna.
I had been waiting for a long time for something to happen. I had been waiting in this temple for years. I used to grow restless, even impatient at times, but as I grew older, it got easier to pray day and night. I heard what people called me, a prophet…prophet Anna. That seemed laughable. Some people even come to me seeking wisdom, God’s wisdom, as if anyone can really know God’s wisdom. I didn’t even know what a prophet was. It had been many years since we had a prophet in these parts. I heard stories of the great prophets: Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah… I am nothing like any of them. I did not go around proclaiming God’s word and upsetting the leaders of the nation and the leaders of our faith. I just stayed in the temple and waited. If I was a prophet, wouldn’t I have known what I was waiting for? But I didn’t. I just had this feeling, deep in my heart that something great was coming, that salvation for Israel and all the world was near.
Just about a month ago, I felt that even more. I woke in the night with dreams that were vivid and powerful. Before there was only darkness, but now my dreams were full of light, full of hope. I knew that my waiting was almost over.
Then it happened one day. It was a day like any other, or at least I thought it was. There are many people who come to the temple. There are the priests of course. They all wear long robes and look very holy. Some looked right through me as if I was not even there. Others spoke to me about the holy scriptures. Then there are the people who come for special sacrifices. They bring their animals to sacrifice. You can always tell the difference between these people and the professionally religious.
From afar I saw a man and woman approach the temple. As they got closer I recognized them because I had seen them many times before. I had seen the man more recently than the woman and as she approached I realized why it had been so many months since I had seen her. She was carrying an infant in her arms. They were coming to dedicate their child to God. The man had two pigeons for the sacrifice. They must have been too poor to afford a sheep. Then I saw a man approach them. His name was Simeon. I knew him because he spent almost as much time in the temple as I did. I came closer so I could hear what he was saying. They called me a prophet, but he always seemed to fit the part a little better than I, maybe because he was a man.
Simeon seemed so excited, jubilant even. I thought he was too old to move that fast. I thought I was as well. As I came closer I started to see something. It was the light from my dreams. It seemed to surround the couple as if the sun shined on them alone. I could feel the warmth as if it was radiating from them like a fire. It filled my heart. It filled my whole body. As I broke from my reverie, I heard Simeon proclaim, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” Simeon was not typically someone to use such language. He rarely spoke at all. The strange thing was that those words sounded as if they were directed to God, but he was looking at the child.
The couple looked bewildered, which made sense given what this stranger was telling them. Then I saw a cloud pass over the mother’s face. I had missed a couple of Simeon’s words and when I came back to the conversation, all I heard was, “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” That explains the look on her face. What could he possibly mean? Why would he start so joyful and end so tragic?
I knew I shouldn’t, but I had to see this child that was causing such a reaction from Simeon. Simeon said he could die now, that is life was complete. Who was this child? Simeon started moving away, although he obviously would have stayed with this couple forever if they let him. But perhaps that one encounter was all he really needed.
It was then when I saw the child. At first I was confused. He was cute, but nothing remarkable. In fact, he looked like most children his age. In an instant it all changed. The light now seemed bigger than the sun, and the moon and all the stars together and it danced around them. All the words I had been praying cascaded over me in a rush of images and sounds. The scriptures that I had heard and studied…it was like it came alive in front of me. It did not make sense. I probably sound crazy.
And then I spoke. I said things I could have never prepared. I talked about this child being the fulfillment of all that was promised. Through my weeping, words tumbled out of me, words that seemed to come from somewhere outside of me, or perhaps just so deep in me they were dormant for my whole lifetime. This child would save all humanity. He already saved me. I did not know how, but he would. He would save Israel and redeem us just as God had in all the stories of scripture. Then at that moment I knew why they called me a prophet. It was because I saw God in a place where others could not. My years of waiting and praying…they were all for this exact moment. I had seen God and I would never be the same.
Just like Simeon before me, I found myself walking away from this divine being. I knew that my purpose had been fulfilled. I had shared something with this holy family. I left the temple then, not forever, but just for a time. I didn’t need to spend all my time there anymore. Because the real temple, I knew now that it was not a building, but it was in the arms of that young woman. The real temple, the house of God, was now flesh and blood, who would grow into a man and be called Jesus. Salvation is here.