God honours the faithful aged.

ANGLICAN PARISH OF ST BARNABAS, CARLISLE-RIVERVALE

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS – 28th December, 2014

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

When people ask me whether St Barnabas’ has a youth group, I usually respond, “That would be KT and me”. J   And when there is discussion about the future of the church – whether amongst clergy or laity or mixed groups, I so often hear the complaint that we are mostly made up of elderly people and that the church’s future is looking grim. And I will confess that as my own hair has reduced in volume and changed to grey, I am tempted to join in the general gloominess of such complaints. [pause]

But then I think of the story in today’s Gospel, and I am grateful for the many folk here and in our churches across the diocese for those who older than me and still faithful to the calling and teaching of Christ.

Quite a few of you have been a part of the church for longer than I have been alive, having been faithful in your attendance and taking responsibility for the efficient running of the organisation and reaching out in loving care for so much of that time

With age frequently comes wisdom; with age there is long and varied experience; and with can come a greater trust and confidence in the God who came among us as a child and shared our life, leading us to salvation.

In the Gospel today (Luke 2:22-40), we meet two very elderly people –Simeon, a resident of Jerusalem, and Anna, described as “a prophet”.

Simeon has probably been coming to the temple for many years, looking for “the consolation of Israel”. He has been promised that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah”. And he has hung in for many years to see that promise fulfilled. And today is his day!

In come a fairly non-descript couple, probably not particularly well-dressed; clearly poor because their offering is only “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons”, which is the poor people’s alternative to the offering of a lamb. Their baby boy would seem to any casual observer just ordinary. But to the one who is watching and waiting, this little one is “the Lord’s Messiah”.

And Simeon bursts into a song of praise which has been recited in churches and homes forever since. It has become a permanent part of the liturgies of Evensong and Compline in most Anglican prayer books around the world.

Simeon, this old man, considers himself immensely privileged to have lived long enough for this wonderful arrival, and declares himself ready to die, now that his “own eyes have seen “have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”.

There is, of course, a sting in the tail as Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and the baby. He says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” And because we know the whole story, we understand that she will suffer as she sees her son suffering and dying. And I suppose it’s true that parenting is not all or always joy. The old man understands from experience and from revelation much that is to come.

Now we are introduced to Anna, a prophet, a woman who is only 84 years old. (Some of you could give her a run for her money, I know J ) She is another immensely faithful worshipper of God, and has become a permanent fixture at the Temple, fasting and praying day and night.

Anna “just happens” to arrive on the scene, sees the baby and his parents, and begins “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”. She has waited for this day for so long, and – like Simeon – is privileged to see her hopes and dreams fulfilled. And she can’t help but spread the good news to everyone who will listen – and probably to many who don’t want to hear J .

The news is so good that she can’t contain it. And, for an old woman, it has been worth the wait. Her prayers, her fasting, her constant presence in the Temple, have all been more than worthwhile.

Over the many years that most of us have been in and around the church, be it St Barnabas’, St Michael’s or many another, we have seen many people leave the church for a variety of reasons – logical, emotional and otherwise. I am grateful that many have been faithful and determined to serve God and to continue to look for his salvation, as did Simeon and Anna.

Bishop David Murray, when I was under his oversight as my Bishop, often used to say that the church’s job was “to keep the rumour of God alive”. I am grateful for every one of you who continues to meet week by week and more often to do just that – “to keep the rumour of God alive”. That you have done so for so long is a source of grace and beauty in a troubled world.    As St John has it in the prologue to his Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[1]

When St Paul was giving instruction to the young preacher Timothy, he told him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”.[2]

I think it important to say to older folk, “Don’t let anyone despise you because you are old, but continue to set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”  And I realise that it’s a good message to young and old and all in between.

Simeon and Anna show us that age is no barrier to hope for and proclamation of the one who came among us as Emmanuel – God with us, and who is yet to come among us as King and Saviour.

The Lord be with you!

 

[1] John 1:5

[2] I Timothy 4:12

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