To see and be, says our gospel this morning. To see and be the church in our world. But what does that even mean, in a week that sees us go backwards in time scripturally, to hear about Christ’s childhood again. The events of scripture are there for a reason, and this morning we meet two people we know even less about than Jesus’ childhood. Simeon and Anna, two established people with age and wisdom who have been waiting to see the promised Messiah in order to be who and what God called them to be. This morning, our gospel asks us how we can see and know God's presence here among us, just as Simeon and Anna did.
Christmas, just a few short weeks ago, gave us the incarnation, the moment in which God moved into our neighbourhoods in flesh and blood. Living that truth can be hard in a world which seems to move faster than we can grab hold of. It's already February, and we only just composted the last of our poinsettias this week, which makes it hard to know how to understand the incarnation at Christmas, when we move through the season so quickly. There are already Easter decorations in our stores, and BBQ season is around the corner, so the year is already flying by. So it is important for us that this incarnation, and our faith in it, needs to be a personal experience, otherwise this whole thing is nothing more than a disconnected experience which remains cerebral, not human. And for us, the word made flesh, that moved into our neighbourhoods in December, is about a deep humanity, a humanity which saw Christ laugh, joke, cry, mourn, eat, sleep, and die like us. The incarnation is about seeing the human face of God in our midst, in the faces of those we see and live with. So in the depths of that real and expressed humanity, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple, as any good Jew would, 40 days after his birth to present him and have him recognized by the community. However the recognition they received was more than just from the priests, they bumped into Simeon and Anna, who without blinking or foreknowledge of the encounter, upon seeing the baby, declared that this is the Son of God! The Messiah, that they have been waiting for all these years. But how did they know what they were seeing? They waited in faith and hope, a faith and hope that was grounded in prayer.
The strength of their faith and the grounding of their hope not only defined them, but fed them. They saw God so very present in their lives, that their entire life was an offering to God. From the heights of their achievements, to the bottom of their desolations, they saw and knew God’s movement so clearly in their lives that the very act of breathing was for them, an act of worship to God. So when they saw the baby Jesus, they knew deep down, that this was something more than just a normal presentation, this was a presentation that would alter human history, and they were right. Remember, this is the Anna and the Simeon who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that they would not die until they had seen the saviour, and now they had. From this, they gave us the Nunc Dimittis, the song and prayer of Simeon, where he gives thanks to God for fulfilling his promises, since the promise of his life- to see the saviour- was now fulfilled. But that was them, and this is us. How do we have faith and pray with hope, like Simeon and Anna? We act, because of what we see.
William Temple, onetime Archbishop of Canterbury, once said “The church is the only institution which exists specifically for its non-members.” We here, in this place, exist for those who are not here. Kinda counter intuitive, right? But it's true. Our whole purpose as a people, an institution, is to be active participants in the Jesus Movement, a movement which goes out into the world and changes what we see- the poverty, the isolation, the hate, the fear, the death, the phobia, and actively participate in changing the systems which celebrate, honour, and establish those tyrannical divides between us, and within us. But before we get overwhelmed with all the need in our world, and there is a lot of need today around us, before we look at our abilities and think “I can’t do that, I’m just one person” pause for a moment and see with me that we are already doing that work. You and I are reaching out into our neighbourhoods, via the Neighbourhood Ministry, to feed and clothe the homeless. You and I are creating community with wonderful concerts and social events. You and I are visiting the shut ins, and bringing sacraments to UBC hospital and the Purdy Pavilion care home via our pastoral care team. You and I are praying for each other and our world. You and I are taking the first steps towards reconciliation with indigenous people. You and I are changing lives around the world through our support of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund- and the list goes on. Each of these outreach ministries started with prayer, a prayer which asked the question “What can I do, with who I am, to change what I see?” and out of those prayers grew an offering of a church being, because of what it saw. It all starts with prayer, and one of the ways we can continue to see how we should be in our neighbourhood, is with our next installment of our 7 week prayer program “new year, new you”, which is called the Examen. In it, St. Ignatius of Loyola- founder of the Jesuits, believes that our lives are divided into two areas. That which brings us closer to God, and that which separates us from God. Each area calls for us to look back at our day and remember what we did, and how we did it. To highlight one or two moments that brought us to God- a meeting that went well, a hard conversation done with respect, the completion of a project, and one or two moments where we felt farther away from God- where we let our anger drive our response to someone, or where we failed to live to our best selves. We are not to try and fix them, or even investigate them, rather just hold them in our mind’s eye as examples of where God is in our lives today, knowing that however we are today, as long as we are authentic to ourselves, we are doing our best.
By becoming aware of where God is in our lives, we can start to record in a journal or with a loved one things that are going on for us and start to notice trends. I call these action trends. When we start to see a lot of experiences with concerns for the homeless, that gives us the indication of where God is calling us to act. Or with finances, that is where God is calling us to act. God is calling us to act, to see his presence among us, and to respond with our lives, a life which is mediated by the eyes and ears of Simeon and Anna, two witnesses of faith and hope who wanted nothing more than to see their saviour in their life times, while inviting others to see it with them.
So church, how can we together, see with the eyes of Anna and Simeon in our neighbourhood today, to be the church for the benefit of those who are not in this building?