Old Folks and the Christ Child - Jerry Parsons
Topic: The Christ Child Scripture: Isaiah 61:10–62:3, Luke 2:22–2:40
I’ve always looked older than my age, and I thought this was great when I was 18, but this is now something I regret. I first became aware of aging when I was just 34. Our family was returning from the Gulf coast when we stopped at a McDonald’s in Jackson, Mississippi. When I went into the men’s room, a young boy squeezed in there leaving his friend outside. When he left the room, I heard his companion ask “Who was in there?” The kid replied: “Just some old man.” What an awakening that was.At age 49, I went to see my optometrist who said “You have a cataract.” I replied:” No, sir, I have a Bonneville.” Well, he was right. You think of cataracts as a condition affecting really old people, but at age 49, I had the cataract removed and a new lens implanted. After surgery, I had to visit the doctor for a check-up. Wearing wrap-around sunglasses, I entered his office, when I noticed a woman there also wearing those kinds of glasses. She and I began talking about our surgeries. Now this woman had to be as old then as I am now, but she turned to me (and remember I was 49), “It’s just awful to get to be our age, isn’t it?” I could only hope that was because of her eyesight.
In one other incident, my wife Pat and I were on a trip out West (while I was still in my 60s) and one of the men in our tour group asked me when I turned 80. Now I didn’t’ come here this morning to give a self-deprecating humorous talk, but the idea of being old is a prominent one in our scripture for today. I get secret satisfaction out of the fact that two senior citizens, Simeon and Anna, are key figures in today’s lesson. We don’t know Simeon’s age; however, we do know that he was ready to die, and he had been told by the Holy Spirit that we would not die until he had witnessed the birth of the Messiah. On the other hand, we know from scripture that Anna was 84 and a widow, having been married only seven years before her husband’s death.
Joseph and Mary and the Christ child were at the temple for the rite of purification, which under Jewish law occurred 40 days after childbirth. At this juncture, the first-born son was to be dedicated to the Lord. A sacrifice to be made, so Mary and Joseph submitted two doves or pigeons since they couldn’t afford a lamb, the customary offering. Simeon was led to the temple by the Holy Spirit; whereas, Anna actually lived in the temple. Simeon took Jesus into his arms, as was customary, and praised God, saying “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the presence of all peoples.”
Simeon went on to say that to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel”. In other words, some would believe in Christ while others would reject the Savior. He spoke to Mary of a sword that would pierce her own heart as well, referring to the fact that she would suffer along with her son, in a divided world.
Don’t you believe it was a miracle that Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as the Christ child? One truth we can glean from the experience of Simeon and Anna is that God uses people of all ages to do His work. Simeon and Anna were old, but God sent his Son into the world as an infant - whose mother was but a young woman, perhaps in her teens. So, we have people with greatly differing ages as the primary characters in this story. At our church, we have a cross-section of ages, typically more mature adults at the first service, and many families with young children at the second. On days like today, and during the summer, we all come together to worship young and all in between. While I relate to older members, I also find joy in interaction with the young folks. Having the front full of children during the children’s sermon on Sunday is the sign of a healthy church. I have preached at several small Presbyterian churches around the area in recent years, and I can tell you with regret, that some have only a handful of children, and some, none at all.
It seems to me that when we joined the church about 18 years ago, there were more elderly people in the congregation. Of course, my perception is affected by my own aging over the years. Now, what more can we learn from Simeon and Anna, and how can we apply this to our lives today? One thing that stands out about these older people was their devotion, they were unwavering believers in the coming of a Christ child, and they dedicated their lives to serving God. The Holy Spirit rested on both of them. Anna was a prophet, a rare female one, who made her home in the Temple and worshipped in the temple, praising God night and day. She was completely committed to God.
Among the traits common to Simeon and Anna was patience. They were among the Jewish people who had long awaited a messiah. Their joy when the Christ child came to the temple was obvious in their rejoicing when they saw the child. Simeon spoke of seeing God’s salvation in the child and he called Jesus a light for revelation to the Gentiles. We need to prepare ourselves to have the Holy Spirit work through us like our two elderly role models.
We can pray for patience in our spiritual lives, realizing that God’s timetable isn’t necessarily the same as ours. Sometimes we must wait for an answer to our prayers. The fact Anna lived in the temple is significant, and I believe that you and I are blessed to have spent time in church, I don’t think, however, the church staff would be pleased if we pulled up at the church door with a U-Haul, with the intention of making it our home.
Each Sunday, Pastor Matt says in his benediction, “You are not leaving the church; you are the church.” Indeed, the church is all of us, and the world is watching to see what Christians are really like. The church is made up of all of the people who belong, not the building. And there’s a movement in churches, including one in our own denomination, to get congregations to move beyond their brick and mortar buildings, and into the world to win people over to Christ, and their own turf, so to speak. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is involved in an outreach program called 1,001 New Worshipping Communities, an effort to create nontraditional ways of doing church.
On the other hand, we cannot deny, and this is my personal idea, that the place we call church is sacred—because of what happens here. I’m sure those of you who worshipped at the old church have sentimental feelings about that space, even though the building is no longer there. But in this current place, many of us have fond memories. I know that I for one experienced a spiritual transformation after coming to this church, so I tend to associate the building with my deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Some of us have memories of our children or grandchildren having been baptized or confirmed here, or taking their place among the high school graduates being honored. Maybe you have other special memories that bolstered you spiritually. Or, maybe you remember a spouse or friend memorialized at a funeral. To those who come here often, it’s a special place when you are here a lot, doing God’s work. The things we do in this building are indeed to equip us to share God’s love with a hurting and needy world. Certainly, we are to take our joy and gratitude into the world with us so that people can tell we are Christians by our love, love for each other, and love for others as well.
One especially memorable experience for me in this building was on September 11, 2001. A group of us were here attempting to plan a Sunday evening service, and there were others here for different purposes. All of us were still in shock as we tried to process what had happened on that day, and what the future had in store. Eventually, those of us in the sanctuary came to the chancel, formed a circle and joined hands. We offered prayers—silent and spoken—for the victims, for those still involved in rescue efforts, and for our country. It was a poignant moment, one I won’t forget.
Just as Simeon and Anna were filled with the Holy Spirit, we can be as well. People who follow Christ are blessed with the indwelling of the spirit, yet we can prepare ourselves to receive a fresh anointing by this spirit. Anna did this through fasting and praying. I pray often, but I must admit, however, that I haven’t fasted very much. I get cranky just fasting before a blood test.
One of our members who is one of our song leaders, Julia White, spoke of how we can find spiritual renewal in the Advent devotional book she made available to us. While her message was intended for advent, it can easily apply to us year-round. She speaks of renewal, which she says is stripping away what distracts us, destroying what blocks us, and letting go of what shackles our joy. I took special note of her comment about distractions, because there always seems to be a lot of clutter in our lives that hinders us in our Christian endeavors to pray regularly, remain devoted to Christ, and empty ourselves of everything that stands between us and the Holy Spirit. Renewal, she says, is about refining our lives over and over again with the truth that we are deeply loved.
The start of a new year is an excellent time to take an active role in our own renewal, so the Holy Spirit can touch lives through us. Just as He did through Simeon and Anna.