Sunday, December 27, 2020
What were Simeon and Anna looking for when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple? When the Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, what kind of Messiah was he expecting to see? An infant held by two young parents? And on top of that, evidently Mary & Joseph could not afford the required lamb offering, so they bring “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Could the Messiah’s parents have been so poor they couldn’t afford the traditional offering? Surely that was not the first image that came to Simeon’s mind when he looked for the Messiah, the savior of the world. Perhaps a wealthy king or a powerful Hercules figure wielding a large sword would have been more likely. But salvation, in the form of a helpless baby boy, from an unknown lower-class family? What is God trying to say here?
What about Anna? Surely in her long years of service in the temple she had seen thousands of babies come through the temple, brought by similar-looking parents who were seeking to fulfill the law of Moses. What did she see in the baby Jesus that made her praise God? What about Jesus gave her confidence to speak about the child to all who were looking for redemption of Jerusalem?
I know Christmas is supposed to be all about Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, but I’m struck by how many times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in this story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple. The Holy Spirit assures Simeon he will see the Messiah before he dies. The Holy Spirit rests upon Simeon. And Simeon goes to the temple to find this Messiah “guided by the Spirit.” Anna, too, is propelled outside of the temple which she hasn’t left for decades to tell everyone she meets about the child. The Holy Spirit gives her confidence to recognize the Messiah in this little baby boy. As unusual as it may be, this is how God will save the world.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit catches us off guard. It shatters our assumptions and expectations so that we might see God in the flesh, among us where we least expect to find him. We expect Jesus to show himself in one way, and we meet him in a completely different situation. We’ve definitely learned this lesson this year as God has continued to show up for us despite the challenges of this pandemic. As Christians, we may be tempted to think we have it all together. Other people might want us to have all the answers, and we may give into pressure to try and behave as if we do. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are able to discern exactly where Jesus is and where Jesus is not, who Jesus is and who Jesus is not. As if God coming to us in human flesh as a helpless baby is something that people should expect! We expect the young person who answers all the questions in confirmation or Sunday School correctly to reveal to us something about Jesus. We expect our most faithful volunteers and weekly worship attenders to tell us something about Jesus. But who are we leaving out? Who are we assuming will NOT reveal something about God to us? Who might the Holy Spirit be nudging us to listen to, to pay attention to?
God comes to us in unexpected ways. Mary and Joseph are amazed at what Simeon says about their child, even after angels have appeared several times declaring the miracle of Jesus to them! Simeon and Anna may be surprised, too, but their actions can teach us something about being open to the ways that the Spirit can help us see Jesus in those unexpected times and places. Simeon, guided by the spirit, goes to the temple – something tells him that this day is not like other days, and something that he sees in Jesus tells him that this child is not like other children. Anna faithfully worships, fasts, and prays in the temple night and day. Yet despite her routine, the sight of the baby Jesus inspires her to praise God and speak about Jesus to all who are looking for redemption. Jesus comes to us in unexpected ways, and we, like Anna and Simeon can rejoice in those spirit-catching moments that lead us to him.
As I thought about times when I’ve found Jesus where I’ve least expected him, I began to realize that it is often in the ordinary moments that the Spirit surprises me. As for Anna, Jesus comes to us in the daily rituals of prayer and worship – in ordinary things like bread, wine, and water. Jesus came to me one day when I went about my daily routine of checking email and found a note from a dear friend apologizing for a situation that we had never resolved. Jesus comes to me in an unexpected phone call from a friend just when I need it, in the quiet day-after-Christmas mess of wrapping paper, left-overs, and melted candle stubs. Throughout the Bible, but especially as we continue through the Christmas story, we realize that God works through unexpected people – poor shepherds, Zooastrian astrologists we call the wise men, from the oldest of us like Simeon and Anna to the youngest of children. Jesus comes to us in unexpected ways, too – in the form of an unwed teenager’s baby, a carpenter, a wandering traveler, an accused criminal on a cross. As we enter a new year in just a few days, we can take this opportunity to look back and see where God has shown up for us, in the expected and unexpected places of our lives, and give thanks to God for helping us get through, but not just helping us get through, but giving us hope that one day like Simeon and Anna we will see God’s salvation face to face, and that we will have peace.
The Holy Spirit helps us see Jesus in the places we weren’t looking before. In all of our preparation, in the end, we can only speculate on when or where Jesus might show up. Perhaps part of the true spirit of Christmas is letting the Holy Spirit catch us where it may, so that we can praise God and speak to all who come looking about this baby Jesus, who keeps showing up for us. Amen.