Meaningful Endings, Hopeful Beginnings
Free Community Church
31 December 2017
Today is New Years’ Eve and as we stand at the cusp of a new year, I wonder what kind of new beginnings are you hoping for? And as we close off 2017, what kind of endings have you experienced over this one year? As a church community, one of the most recent endings we experienced was the passing of Rev Yap, and that has had a great impact on many of us. Perhaps in your own life, you have witnessed the passing of various things – loved ones, relationships, jobs, opportunities, health…As we stand at the cusp of a new year, how do we make sense of endings and how do we look forward into the future with hope for new beginnings?
In our lectionary reading today, we encounter the story of two people who were at the endings of their lives. And it is at the ending stages of their lives that they experienced the most hopeful beginning! This story happened just 8 days after the birth of Jesus so it’s quite appropriate that we are delving into this story today.
Luke 2:22-40 Amplified Bible (AMP)
22 And when the time for their purification came [that is, the mother’s purification and the baby’s dedication] according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [set apart as the Firstborn] 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy [set apart and dedicated] to the Lord)” 24 and [they came also] to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord [to be appropriate for a family of modest means], “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout [carefully observing the divine Law], and looking for the [a]Consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed). 27 Prompted by the Spirit, he came into the temple [enclosure]; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, [b]to do for him the custom required by the Law, 28 Simeon took him into his arms, and blessed and praised and thanked God, and said,
29 “Now, Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to leave [this world] in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your Salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 A Light for revelation to the Gentiles [to disclose what was previously unknown],
And [to bring] the praise and honor and glory of Your people Israel.”
33 And his [legal] father and his mother were amazed at what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Listen carefully: this Child is appointed and destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for [c]a sign that is to be opposed— 35 and a sword [of deep sorrow] will pierce through your own soul—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She did not leave the [area of the] temple, but was serving and worshiping night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 She, too, came up at that very moment and began praising and giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of him to all who were looking for the redemption and deliverance of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had done everything [in connection with Jesus’ birth] according to the Law of the Lord, they went back to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. 40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong [in spirit], filled with wisdom; and the grace (favor, spiritual blessing) of God was upon him.
Can you imagine the scene in this encounter? Simeon taking Jesus into his arms and holding the infinite infant carefully, joyfully in his hands. Two weeks ago, we talked about this infinite infant and how Jesus in the incarnation represented all that is divine and human, powerful and powerless, limitless and limited, protected and defenceless, strong and weak, safe and vulnerable.
Can you imagine Simeon holding him with a sense of wonder, thanksgiving and hope? A sense that things were now complete and he is ready to go in peace for he is holding the promise and embodiment of Shalom in his hands. And then there is Anna who recognized immediately that the infant was the One all of them have been waiting for..the Messiah, the redeemer and deliverer…and she broke out in praise and thanksgiving. And she didn’t just stop there, she was too excited she couldn’t contain herself. After praising and thanking God, she went around and continued speaking of this infinite infant to all who were looking for the redemption and deliverance of Jerusalem.
Simeon and Anna. An old wise man and an old wise woman. Both were God-fearing and wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord. Both were at the ending stages of their lives. Both were given a glimpse into the most hopeful of beginnings. Both were specifically led to the Infinite Infant and recognized Jesus for who he really was. This was indeed no ordinary baby. This Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises. This Jesus was the embodiment of love and shalom. This Jesus would be the light of the world! Would we have recoginzed the Infinite Infant if we were in their shoes? Or would we have just bypassed the poor couple from Nazareth and assumed they were just another couple dedicating just another firstborn?
This question applies even in our modern-day lives now. Do we recognize God’s leading and the work of love and shalom in our daily lives? Or do we allow those God moments to bypass us without taking notice or paying attention? How can we be as sensitively aware and astute as Simeon and Anna were?
1. Awareness – Simeon was aware of the one to whom he belonged. To whom do you belong? What gives you a sense of rootedness? Who is the Captain of your soul?
Simeon referred to himself as the bondservant of God – doulos
There are four words in Greek for slave and he uses the one that is the lowest of the low.
bondservant: one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will
In this context he is basically saying, “God, I am completely yours. I am your servant for life. I am completely dependent upon you. I belong to you. I can now depart in peace and in wholeness because I have held your love and shalom in my own hands.” Just as a child’s fears are calmed by his or her parent because of their close proximity, so Simeon’s anxiety was calmed by the awareness that he unreservedly belonged to God. He knew who the Captain of his soul was. Do you?
Anna was also aware of the one to whom she belonged. She worshipped day and night, and dwelled in the temple grounds. That is why they were both sensitive to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The second quality Simeon and Anna exhibited was astuteness.
Like Simeon, Anna is older and at the end stages of her life. She was at least in her eighties, a prophetess “who never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer day and night.” Interestingly, Anna is the only female prophetess in the New Testament to be named. Luke didn’t even name her husband. Luke gives her father’s name, Phanuel, and the name of the tribe she belonged to, Asher. As a prophetess, Anna receives insight into things that normally remain hidden to ordinary people; she recognizes who this child is and tells of his significance to people in Jerusalem who were ready to hear.
I don’t really like to compare people but some scholars have suggested that Luke has a penchant to draw male-female parallels when he writes about these special events. The story of Jesus’ birth is framed by two such stories—that of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke 1 and Anna and Simeon in Luke 2. In both, the women are portrayed as possibly the more positive or active example of discipleship. The women are not only more receptive to the message, they are more willing and ready to act upon it. With Elizabeth, she didn’t doubt like Zechariah did and set off to visit her cousin who was carrying the messiah, and with Anna, we see her going out to explain the significance of this infant to the people of Jerusalem.
Are we people who notice what God is doing, give God thanks and praise, and then go out and do something about it?
Do we notice and recognize the movement of God in our world? Do we engage with awareness and astuteness? Both Simeon and Anna displayed awareness and astuteness in this encounter with Jesus and his family.
As Simeon explained to Joseph and Mary, “This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, a figure misunderstood and contradicted — the pain of a sword-thrust through you — But the rejection will force honesty as God reveals who they really are.” (Luke 2:34 – 35, MSG)
Who is God revealing you to be?
Over this past year, through all the joys and adversities, who is God revealing you to be?
“The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart..This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter.. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore.” -Richard Rohr
Through all the endings and beginnings over this past year, who is God revealing you to be?
Are you someone who is sensitively aware and astute to the ways of God?
Have you lost your sense of wonder and hope?
What is something old that has fallen apart in your life and how has the pain invited your soul to listen at a deeper level?
In 2018, what areas of growth do you want to see and what kind of person do you want to become?
It calms our fears and we find peace in endings when we believe in hope. It’s what Jesus was saying to his disciples in John 16:22, “22 So for now you are in grief; but I will see you again, and [then] your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away from you your [great] joy.”
As we approach 2018, I wanted to give us some time for:
Beyond the hope of redemption and salvation, “the Incarnation tells us that the story of our world is the story of God’s hunger for intimacy; God’s pain at its loss in the Fall; God’s determination to recapture it; and God’s fierce joy at its redemption. If that’s the case, then maybe we’re already closer to God than we think we are. Maybe intimacy with God isn’t just something we can do, but something we can also receive.” -John Ortberg
And maybe, just maybe, we can rest in that for a while.
Prayer of Examen at the Close of 2017 & Beginning of 2018
1. Notice that you are in God’s presence. Give thanks for the immense love God has for each of us. Give thanks for God’s invitation to intimacy.
2. Pray for the grace of understanding how God is acting in your life. Give thanks for the people and moments that come to mind.
3. Review the endings and beginnings in your life over the past year.
4. Reflect on what you did, said, and thought at those moments. Evaluate those actions in terms of drawing closer to, or away from, God.
5. Think about the new year and upcoming events, and how you can collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Possibly, make a specific resolution, and conclude with prayer.
I find myself at the beginning of another day, another year.
I do not know what it will bring.
Please help me to be ready for whatever it may be.
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
If I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
I pray just for today, for these twenty-four hours,
for the ability to cooperate with others according to the way Jesus taught us to live.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
May these words that he taught us become more than words.
Please free my thinking and feelings and the thinking and feelings of others,
from all forms of self-will, self-centeredness, dishonesty, and deception.
Along with my brothers and sisters,
I need this freedom to make my choices today according to your desires.
Send your Spirit to inspire me in time of doubt and indecision so that, together, we can walk along your path. Amen.