A reflection on Luke 2:22-40 by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
On Christmas Eve, I saw the Virgin Mary standing guard over her children at Broadway and Cambie. She stood there, concern in her eyes, gaze pointed directly at the tarps in the alleyway I could only assume were someone’s makeshift home. It was Christmas Eve, and I was headed down here to help with hot chocolate, but I stood transfixed at that intersection for 10 or 15 minutes paying attention to that scene.
I stood transfixed, and then I continued to walk from street corner to street corner until I found myself in the alleyway behind la Taqueria, Mary’s favourite Taco Shop, a person asleep in a homemade tent under her patient, caring gaze. As I drove by that same spot today, I wondered how I too might be inspired by the Mary who – a few short weeks ago – sang a punk rock anthem about the mighty being stripped of their power.
Tonight we meet that same Mary, along with Joseph, Jesus, and an impressive supporting cast at the Temple in Jerusalem. The baby has been born. There’s so much to celebrate. And yet mom, dad, and baby have been on the road. Will be heading out on the road again.
They’re poor as dirt. After the seventh day of Jesus’ life, Jesus was circumcised – in accordance with the law. Another 33 days later, Mary’s now considered clean by the dudes in charge, and can once again touch holy things, can once again come to the temple – to offer a sacrifice of purification.
40 Days in the wilderness, and now she’s able to bring Jesus home to the temple.
But there’s a cover charge for that party too. As if the prices for tonight’s new year’s eve parties aren’t enough, Mary and Joseph are supposed to come up with a year-old lamb and a turtledove just to get into the temple.
Somehow they’re able to snag a last-minute groupon, and pay for it with a couple of pigeons they’ve cornered in the alleyway. The world is dancing around them, and here we find Mary and Joseph – 6 sleepless weeks into parenthood – doing their level best to hold on. To do what’s required of them, and some – but not all – of what’s expected.
They’re in love with each other and that baby, but that doesn’t mean they’re staying up to ring in the New Year with the crowds. No. They’re taking it easy. Knowing there might be a few mid-night wakeups, they take it slow. They are present to each other. To their child. To the life, and the lives that are unfolding before them and within them.
Patient, unglamorous acts of fidelity and love. That’s what this story is about.
That’s the story of the bible, from start to finish. Patient, unglamorous, acts of fidelity and love.
Anna and Symeon, they see it in them. They see it the moment Mary, Joseph, and Jesus enter the temple. They see it in the bleary eyes of those exhausted parents, and they see it in the brand new life of this young child.
Anna and Symeon, see it. I don’t know how they see it, but they do. They see the child, his silent, expectant father, and his fiery mama, and they know Holy Spirit is on the move. They see the divine spark. They sense the wisdom – not the wisdom that comes from schooling, but the wisdom that comes from deep fidelity to God and one another – through thick and thin. They’ve been through a lot. And the way Symeon puts it, there’ll be a hell of a lot more to contend with.
Symeon’s there in the temple as one who had embraced the slow life. He was a person devoted to prayer. He’s prayerfully awaiting homecoming, the end of occupation and exile, the birth of God’s long-awaited kingdom. “A Holy Spirit,” the scriptures say, “was upon him,” and in that Spirit, he entered the temple on the day that Jesus and his parents arrived.
A patient, unglamorous, act. An act of fidelity to God, an act of love for his people. He makes his way to the temple. Like he always did. And that’s when he spotted them. And that’s when he knew. And that’s when he greeted them. And that’s when he took the child into his arms, and proclaimed a thousand impossible things.
Likewise, Anna. Devoted to Yahweh. Devoted to her beloved people. Eighty-four years a widow, committed to prayer for the liberation of her people. Prayer for an end of the occupation, an occupation that had been taking its toll – heart, mind, body, and soul – on them all. An occupation of their country, and along without occupation of their imagination of a different future – God’s future.
And so she dared dream on their behalf, imagining a world she could not yet see, could not fathom how it might come into being. Decades of humble practice behind her, Anna practiced the audacity of hope in YHWH’s faithfulness with her own patient, unglamorous, acts of fidelity and love.
Anna and Symeon dared to dream, to devote themselves to those patient, unglamorous, acts of fidelity and love. And they could see it too, in Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
I think that’s what Luke means when he says that “the child grew up and became strong, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” From his earliest days, his life was infused with the wisdom of stability. Fidelity to YHWH, to the people, and situations in front of him.
Or, borrowing from Marnie’s sermon earlier this fall: “Feet planted, deep breath, God is here. There is no question.”
With deep roots, Jesus isn’t swayed by or stripped of God’s imagination by the forces that put his people under occupation. And that’s the life we’re invited into tonight as well.
This is my New Year’s sermon. It has little – if anything – to do with becoming an impossibly better you in 2018. But then, I’m not one for the glitz and the glamour, unless we’re talking about the stars hanging from the Cathedral’s ceiling.
As you head out into the night. As you head out into this year, may you devote yourself to God, and the world God loves. And may you do so with patient, unglamorous, acts of fidelity and love to the people before you, the situations to which God calls you, whatever they might be.