Imagine with me this scene from a different angle.
They were expecting him, Anna and Simeon. They didn’t know his name, his parents, or what he looked like. They weren’t even sure how old he would be. Simeon knew that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. Who could he be? Some wise fellow walking in, a priest doing his normal duties? Could he be a pilgrim from a faraway tribe? And then it happened. They saw him. Just a baby, he must be here for his mother’s purification. Imagine Simeon’s surprise knowing what he must say to the child and his parents. How could he say this baby, yes would be a light to the gentiles and redemption for Israel, but also that he would be a dividing force and how cost and consolation would work in tandem. How could he…
The scene reminds me of our baby dedications, most of you are familiar with this now. I think we have three of them next month, so stay tuned if you aren’t. Alan and/or Christina “take a lap” with the children around the sanctuary, much like the infancy narratives in scripture, the child is told of how they were hoped for. Our ritual of dedication marks when a child enters into this covenant community, here at First Baptist. We make promises to them as family, church, and children. We vow that we will tell them the stories of Jesus until they know them in their bones, and they are carried to the front, not by their parents but by their own faith in Christ and commitment to follow the way of Jesus and be baptized.
But the concluding lines of those dedications, sound like Simeon…balancing the cost and consolation of our Savior. It goes something like this, “For you Jesus was born into the world, for you he walked the streets of Nazareth, for you he climbed Calvary’s mountain, for you he descended into the grave, for you he rose again. And you little one know nothing of this, which confirms the words of the Apostle, that before we loved God, God loved us.
We have ordinary faith, when we respond to our extraordinary God by living true to the message of Jesus, not just at Christmas, but day in and day out. Knowing it in our very bones. Ordinary faith, is not mundane or routine. It is the faith like in the message of Simeon and the promises, stories, and songs we tell our babies. Ordinary faith, is recognizing the cost and consolation that come in Jesus and following his message.
Today we will look at how the players in this narrative, Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon practiced ordinary faith. And we will explore how this call to ordinary faith, was the call of the early church and the call to us today.
The central message of Simeon is that of the writer of Luke-Acts. The author gives us the thesis statement, right here. It is a hearty winter stew of Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs and the mission of the early church in Acts. Mary’s Magnificat (1:52) says “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”, and Zechariah’s song after the birth of John the Baptist (1:79) “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide of feet into the path of peace.”, with a sprinkling of the revelation to the Gentiles, the central message of the early church in Acts. The purpose of this scripture passage is to tell us who Jesus is, what he will do, and what we are called to do.
And yet, I kind of wish it didn’t happen in this way. This close to the birth, to the celebration with the angels, while we are still singing “Away in a manger” like a few moments ago or even Glory to the Newborn king? Like we will after the sermon. And here it happens. Right as Jesus is turning the corner down the center isle carried in our arms, it happens. We look at him, and we are forced to look at ourselves, wondering if we can do it. Are we prepared for how this Newborn King will change our lives if we take him seriously? Can we live into his message in this world?
Commentator Beverly Gaventa says it this way, “The relentless theme of rejection and resistance cannot wait even for the infancy narrative to come to an end.” We have a choice at this moment, do we believe in Jesus enough to practice ordinary faith.
I wonder what this meant for Joseph and Mary, providing the foundation and the environment for this word to come true. Prophetic words, like Simeon’s, may be better categorized less as future-telling and more of truth-telling. It is the hard truth of God’s consistency and humanity’s desire to seek its own power. I think that Mary and Joseph had a choice to believe what Simeon said or not. I think that they chose to raise their son in a way that would beckon this prophetic word into existence.
Does, God have the power to do this on God’s own, absolutely, but for some reason God keeps choosing to have humans be co-laborers in the efforts of God’s justice. Joseph and Mary do that. Scripture tells us, they bring him to the temple every year for Passover. They bring him back to the very place where Mary was told, Jesus would cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. That he will be a sign spoken against, revealing the hearts of many. And yes, to the place where she was told a sword would pierce her own soul. To that same place long after Anna and Simeon are gone but the echoes of their voices remain, reminding them of Ordinary Faith, perhaps guided on their own by the Holy Spirit, as Anna and Simeon were. This is the same place where Jesus would be guided by his own ordinary faith. It was the place where he sat with the teachers of the law when he was 12, and this was the place where he flipped the money changers table. The act that set him on the path to arrest, crucifixion, and death. The place where the oracle was given was the same place it was fulfilled. Ordinary faith, same place, different time, cost and consolation in one.
What was exhibited by Anna, Simeon, Joseph and Mary, was ordinary faith. Year after year, faithful to the word of the Lord, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and the light of Salvation in Jesus. We find ourselves at a time of ordinary faith in the liturgical year. Technically, we are in the Christmas season, that brief period between the fourth Sunday of advent and epiphany. It is the time when we wrestle with toys with assembly required, we go back to work bombarded by unread emails, and sing about a partridge in a pear tree. But this is also the time when we are pulled into believing that the birth of Jesus was not the pinnacle but the start of the journey. It is in this time that we must trudge along in ordinary faith, not guided by the brightness of a star but the difficult call to a vocation of justice.
Ordinary faith, is one of consistency. It is not unwavering faith, for ordinary faith waivers alright, and it needs to be reminded of the mission of Jesus not once a year, but in the words of Zechariah, of Mary, and of Simeon, the joy of John the Baptist in the womb, of the trust of Joseph, and of the dance of Anna. Ordinary faith, is one of redemption. It recognizes the necessity to confess, repent, and accept God’s endless grace. Ordinary faith remembers the rituals of our faith, our dedications, baptisms, and celebration of communion.
Ordinary faith is the paradox of a day olds savior and two elderly prophets. Ordinary faith strives for all the qualities of love, all the fruit of the spirit, and wears the armor of God. Ordinary faith, is prayerful, doubtful, joyous, grievous, hopeful, working tirelessly for justice, all with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ordinary faith…it was Anna’s, Simeon’s, Joseph’s and Mary’s. It was even Jesus’s. It can be mine, and it can be yours.
At the end of this passage we are to have no doubt about who Jesus is and what he will do. His very name means salvation, he is one who is in the covenant community signified by circumcision, and the religious rites in this passage. He is not an outsider in identity, but his message will make him so. Fred Craddock says that “Jesus will bring truth to light and in so doing throw all who come in contact with him into a crisis of decision.” Like when a light is turned on in a dark room, the presence and message of Jesus disorients us every time. It reveals the thoughts of our own hearts and it drives like a sword in our own souls. When we come into contact with Jesus, we have a choice, like Simeon, Anna, Joseph and Mary. Will we take the cost with the consolation? Do we follow the message of Luke into Acts, the early church’s mission and ours too?
A friend of mine Rev. Anna Holladay at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City says this of the church, “The church, is made up of people who can testify to an experience of God’s grace in their hearts. The Church universal should seek to make the love of God known, in word and in deed. The local church should seek to form people in the Christian faith, as well as foster spirituality and a sense of wholeness. The church is not a place where “perfect” people go so that they can check it off their to-do list. Church is a place where people bring all of themselves, their insecurities, flaws, brokenness, sins, joys, praises, and questions to be in a type of community that covenants to truly live life together.”
The church is called to Ordinary Faith because we have an extraordinary God. In the practices of Ordinary Faith we are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Practices exemplified in our scripture today like presence, prayer, discernment, worshipping, fasting, thankfulness, and truth-telling. When the Spirit of God moves in us, we must be prepared like Anna and Simeon to testify to the work of God in this very world and in our very lives.
In this Christmas season, one of dedication and rededication, one of a season “in between,” I think of the John Lennon Song, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” It seems more to me like a song of Ordinary Faith, not of the faith that keeps us at the manger under the star. Perhaps you know it, it begins “And so this is Christmas and what have you done. Another year older, a new one just begun.” The song has its roots in Lennon’s 1969 peace campaign, with posters in 12 cities stating in bold lettering a simple message “War is Over, If You Want it” Happy Christmas from John and Yoko. The second verse of the song sounds like the message of Jesus, known from his infancy, “And so this is Christmas for weak and for strong. For rich and for poor ones, the world is so wrong.” But there is debate about the last part. Some say the last line is, “the world is so wrong,” while others say “the road is so long.” Our scripture today sees no trouble with both, yes the world is wrong, and yes the road is long. Both are evident in what we have seen of our world and what we have experienced as faithful followers of Christ. Both are what we see in the oracle of Simeon, and the practices of Joseph and Mary-knowing what was coming in the end. The consolation and the cost, of ordinary faith.
So how do we hear the Good News of Jesus today? Are we open to the movement of the Holy Spirit like Anna and Simeon? Are we called back to that same space year in and out like Mary and Joseph? In a world so wrong, with a road so long, we are called to Ordinary Faith. They were expecting him, Simeon and Anna. How can we be?
May it be so.