Mr. Nicholas Williams
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
February 2, 2020
I find myself lucky to be giving my sermon on the passage which was read from the Gospel today. It teaches us a lot about how others have carried their faith in God, even those who have suffered unimaginable hardships or struggles in their life. It establishes the actions, motivations, and the upbringing of the Lord, and gives us context for how God operates and answers our prayers. This passage from Luke is especially intriguing to me because it helps further establish the identity of the Lord as we know him. It reinforces how we know, and furthermore how the witness of Christ knew that Jesus is who he says he is. The scene set within this passage is especially important for us to understand the conditions of Jesus’s upbringing and early life that he was born into. Forty days after the first-born male child was brought into life, they were to be taken to the temple and the sacrifices for purity were to be offered for the mother and child. Every first-born male was considered sacred in the law of Moses and was to be sent to the temple for this purification. Those who seek such were expected to bring the sacrifice of a lamb to the temple for the purification of the mother and child. Those who were poor, however, were allowed to offer two turtledoves or young pigeons instead. Learning that Mary and Joseph had given the option of two birds instead shows us the state of humility and impoverishment that Christ was born into. From the very beginning of the life of Jesus, we see his life in concert with the poor, the people whose cause he will champion throughout his ministry. This particular part of Christ’s life has always intrigued me. That the Son of God chose to be poor at his birth, during his life, and his death on the cross while also choosing to remain poor in the Eucharist through bread and wine has always been a personal subject of interest. How has the Son of God been able to maintain such humility and sublimity throughout his life and beyond? His decision to remain among the poor is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring and intrinsic fundamentals of the Christian faith, and through Jesus’s actions, we see how God works. By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for his own sake but, as Saint Paul says ” that by his poverty you might become rich “. From baptism to crucifixion, Jesus does what he does to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners. He submits to himself burden after burden for our sake, choosing to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. This sentiment has always been encaptivating- that there are those who look not only to his or her own interests but also to the interests of others, as we look to do the same.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus. It’s fair to say that Luke is telling us that Jesus was not raised in a household of luxury or privilege. Our upbringing was likely much different than that of Jesus. However, like Jesus, my childhood also had its fair share of a religious journey. Although we Christians today do not abide by the laws of the Old Testament that are mentioned in this passage, I have been lucky enough to be part of this Church my entire life. I’ve had people such as Deacon Leslie, my parents, and an abundance of others here who have helped me throughout my life so far- not just to become a better Christian, but to become a better person. In a life of privilege like many people here have, a life without the luxuries many of us depend on today is almost unimaginable. Yet, through the church, I have been introduced to opportunities such as the 30 hour famine, the YAC Pancake breakfast, and volunteering and the Ronald McDonald house that allows us to help and acknowledge those less fortunate that we are. Like Mary and Joseph, my parents have tried their best to be fully obedient to God’s word, and have done their part to give their children the same religious upbringing that they had. Sometimes in life, as many of us know, maintenance of faith may not always be easy. Sometimes we do things for others whom we love, and may not, at first, understand the importance of what they ask of us. Whether it’s me begrudgingly getting out of bed to acolyte for the 7:45 service, as my mom tries to hurry me out of the house so I’m not late again. Or my dad receiving confirmation four times older than people usually receive it after my mom insisting that he finally be confirmed. Sometimes we want to put our personal needs or interests before our obligations to God, but no matter how many people we have helping us along the way, we have to make the effort ourselves to discover our own connections with the Lord.
I’d like to go back to the passage to talk about another part of the story that stuck out to me, the two people that Joseph and Mary are confronted by at the Temple. The first one is Simeon, who believed he was told by God that before he died he would see and meet the Savior, the Messiah. The second one is Anna, a prophet who spoke of the prophecies of the
coming Messiah as well. It’s an incredible story about two extremely patient servants of God who have waited their whole lives to witness the Lord in person.
An important message of this story is that of patience. Both of these people are of great age and have seemingly been waiting for a very long time. We are told that Simeon is “righteous and devout,” and that he has been “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” or to the coming of the promised Messiah. We don’t learn exactly how old he is, but we do know that he seems near the end of his natural life. It says that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. So when he finally meets Jesus, he obviously regards his work as done. In Anna’s case, the conditions are even more striking. She is “of a great age,” the story says – no less than 84, and she has spent most of her life as a widow. She is also incredibly devout, never leaving the temple, but spending her time “with fasting and prayer night and day.” And although we never find out the specific reason for her passionate devotion, we do see that after years of praying, she suddenly finds the living answer to her prayers in the form of this tiny infant who has come to save the world.
I am not the most patient person in the world. In fact, I don’t come anywhere near being the most patient person in the world. Often, challenges can frustrate me, and I can grow impatient or grow uneasy. One of the most unbearably tedious moments that I’ve had to go through has been my recent college application process. And I know when it comes to stressful school moments, that’s just the very tip of the iceberg. I was a little late to the college searching process when compared to a lot of other kids in my school that are seniors, so trying to find schools that I liked, visiting them, writing applications, and so on from the end of summer to the beginning of my senior year was overwhelming for a lack of a better word. The worst part of it all, that I experienced was when all of the applications were in, and then checking my emails every night to see if I got an acceptance or not- it was one of the most unnerving processes I have ever gone through. However, like most things that you have to wait for, it paid off, and eventually getting accepted into the school that I have been eagerly waiting for a response from was well worth the wait. Patience is God’s test to us on how much we care about someone or something. Because it’s something we’re not willing to give up on. It’s something we look forward to, no matter how long it may take.
So the examples of Simeon and Anna can not only be inspiring to us, but they also allow us to raise questions about how we operate when it comes to being patient and faithful in God’s work. And especially in our lives where due to many things being so easily accessible or readily available, we often expect or rely on fast results and a quick fix to our problems. So we are challenged on how sure we are to our own patience and perseverance. Many people, myself included when faced with an issue, try to simplify the problem or find the most sensible answer, try to find the immediate result. More specifically, in those moments in our lives when our faith is tested or God’s promises to us seem delayed, if our prayers seem unanswered, how much are we prepared to sit patiently for the answers we are looking for? How willing are we to pray and remain faithful? How ready are we to stay focused and wait patiently, like Simeon and Anna? Because today’s passage also reminds us of something extremely important, which is that, whatever our struggles or issues, with God, our patience will be rewarded. So the wait is always worthwhile. Our problems may not be resolved and our needs or desires may not be met exactly as we want. The ultimate outcome may not be what we hope for and we may never even see it in this life at all. But if we keep our focus in the right place and we are ready to wait on God’s timing, our prayers will eventually be answered. God will be faithful to his promises, just as he was to Simeon and Anna. And those two specifically received the greatest gift that God could bestow upon them ever. After years and years of waiting and praying, the answer is right there in their arms. As Simeon and Anna discover, when their long and prayerful wait finally comes to an end, the one thing that they have been putting their lives to, ever-so patiently, is delivered to them in the form of Christ. And when they meet him, whenever anyone truly encounters him in faith, their lives are never ever the same again. Amen.