Spring Chickens Take Notice!

This Sunday will be the closing Sunday for our celebration of Epiphany. We will be taking on a scripture passage that is often skipped over, and seldom gets the attention that it should—Jesus being presented at the temple. At first glance, much of what is contained in the passage is easy to skim over and just keep reading, but there is actually some incredibly rich territory to mine here.

 

Perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of this passage is the Prophetess Anna. There is only one person in the New Testament that is expressly given the title prophet, and it is Anna. Others seem to display prophetic utterances (like Simeon in this passage), but she is the only one that is given that title. Even John the Baptist, who very clearly seems to play the role of the prophet, denies the title prophet in John 1:21. The office of the prophet is maintained, (1 Corinthians 12:28 or Ephesians 4:11), but still, no one else is given this title explicitly.

 

Anna is a remarkable character and we can’t help but be amazed at how she is described. Her faith and devotion are a testament to a remarkable woman who has dedicated her life to the worship of God. Her timeline alone is somewhat amazing, since it says she was married for 7 years and widowed for 84. If we were to guess that she was married somewhere between 12-14 years old, at the very least we are talking about a 103 year old woman!

 

We will talk a great deal about some of the other remarkable aspects of Anna’s character on Sunday, but one aspect that I think bears some reflection here is her age. I might also point out here that Simeon in this story was no spring chicken either. And so we have the examples of two wizened elders sharing their gifts with the people of God. In the time of Anna, elders were held in much greater esteem than they are today. Our culture often times wants to sweep those of advanced age and wisdom to the side and make room for the next generation. To say this is a travesty is to drastically understate the situation. We often celebrate the youth within our church, but we aren’t always as prepared to celebrate those with the wisdom of years—I admit, that I am just as guilty, if not more so, than most on this.

 

I can’t tell you how often I have heard someone say something along the lines of, “I served my church when I was younger, now it is someone else’s turn.” Clearly, Anna and Simeon fly in the face of such statements. One of the great blessings of the church is that it is one of the few places in our culture where different generations gather in one place. If we simply gather and do not learn from each other, we are missing one of the great gifts of our community. I would hope that us young pups would be ever more willing to listen to the wisdom of our very own Annas and Simeons. And for those Annas and Simeons that are reading this, I hope that you will be ready and willing to share your gifts with us.

 

For some more thoughts on Anna, check this article out:

 

Anna in the Bible

Visions of God Danced Through their Heads

I know that many of you were looking forward to the series on Darwin, Science, Faith and God, and don’t worry, we will start that sermon series in two weeks. However, this Sunday and next I decided I wanted to tackle the Epiphany texts. We haven’t often made a big deal about Epiphany in this church, and many Presbyterian (and protestant for that matter) churches don’t. I would surmise that this is because many protestants have associated the holiday with the Roman Catholic tradition. It is a pity, because there are some wonderfully powerful messages that come out of the celebration of Epiphany.

 

Epiphany is connected to the calendar day of January 6—which is 12 days after Christmas (thus the song the Twelve Days of Christmas).  The English word “Epiphany” comes from two Greek roots “epi” meaning “near or in the presence” and “phaino,” meaning “shine, light, reveal, or vision.” Essentially, what we are saying is that the presence of God is being revealed. In Eastern Christianity, the holiday is actually known as Theophany, and literally translates as “vision of God” (“theo” meaning God). There are two particular biblical stories that are connected to this celebration—The Magi, and the Baptism of Christ. Both are stories about the revealing of God in the form of Jesus Christ, and both have something special to teach us if we consider them with the understanding of Epiphany.

 

The story of the Magi is the revealing of Christ to the Gentiles—those not descended from Israel. The book of Matthew is the only biblical book to relate this particular story. Matthew definitely has an agenda by telling this particular story, and by connecting it to the story of the flight to Egypt by the Holy Family. What is even more important, is who the Magi were—part of the reason I decided to delay Darwin and spend time on Epiphany is because I was tired of hearing about Wisemen and Kings—both of which are gross misunderstandings of who the Magi were! I will say a great deal more about this in the sermon on Sunday.

 

It is fairly common for us to spend this Sunday of the liturgical year talking about Christ’s baptism, but we have rarely spoken of it in the context of Epiphany. Rather, we have spoken of it in the context of ordination and installation of church officers. That is a very Presbyterian thing to do, but in some ways, it misses just what is being implied by celebrating Christ’s Baptism within the context of Epiphany. In the Baptism of Christ, God is being revealed to us. In a world in which so much is shrouded in mystery and in which the divine often seems illusive, we are being told that the story of Christ’s baptism is the revealing of God. Indeed, this tells us something of the nature of all of our baptisms—through baptism it is revealed that God’s presence is with us—always has been and always will be!

 

Finally, after we have spent a season of advent that focuses on the light that is coming into the world, it is important to note the other meanings associated with Epiphany—The overwhelming light of Christ in our presence! Each Sunday of Advent we lit candles one by one, to demonstrate the growing anticipation of the light of the coming Christ Child. Light amidst the darkness of winter. Light amidst the darkness that we see in the world around us. The light of Christ that is revealed to us. Symbols of Epiphany are closely associated with that star the Magi followed and John’s “light that was coming into the world.”

 

Epiphany has some important messages for us, and shouldn’t just be skipped over. I would encourage you to take time to reflect upon the light that you see in your life. The light that Christ has brought into your reality. And know too, that with your baptism, you are a bearer of that light. Just as God’s presence was revealed in the baptism of Christ, so too, God’s presence is illuminated in our own lives as we remember our baptism this Sunday, and give thanks!