First Sunday after Christmas Day, Year B
27 December 2020

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

 

During this time of Covid we have been visiting our kids every Sunday afternoon. Usually these are outdoor visits, except for a brief period in the summer when the numbers were lower.
And we always visit Elias every Sunday afternoon, and his uncle Neo.

Both are buried in a new section of the cemetery and so there are usually others who visit and bring flowers to their loved ones. Easter and All Saints stand out in our memory of lots of people coming to the cemetery.
I have found this comforting, for it is a great accumulation of love. All are there because they love the ones gone before them, and so even if we don’t know the others who are visiting, I sense a community of love gathered in that place.

There are a couple of other graves we usually visit. One girl who died when she was only 18 and one who was only 25. We feel a bond with them and their families.

But the truth is that Jackie and I have always visited cemeteries, especially in Europe where cemeteries are often found around old churches, like when we cycled around Denmark. They also tell you about a place’s history.
They may also tell you about what was important to the people buried there or to their loved ones. On the marker next to Elias it says, I think, “In the Lord, I trust,” or something very much like it. And there is a cross on the marker.
But there are also others like gone fishing, or smile and the world smiles back.

It’s an attempt to make sense of things that often don’t make sense and to find comfort in the midst of loss. But they also describe a motto that someone may have lived by or died by. When my father died, Psalm 23 became a source of strength for him. The first verse became the inscription on his grave stone. When Elias was baptized we chose the same verse for his life, for if my father could die by it, surely it would be good to live by it.

The Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon is song that has been part of the liturgy of the church since the fourth century. In the church of my youth it was part of evening prayer, to be alternated with Mary’s song. It is appropriate for the church to reflect on the day that was and somehow understand that all of our living is a living toward God. Simeon and Anna were two saints who had spent their whole lives in the expectation of God’s redemption. And having seen the Lord’s Messiah, Simeon knew that his life had been fulfilled, regardless of what else may have been missing. We know nothing else about Simeon, except that the focus of his life had been God’s salvation.

The poet Mary Oliver penned these well known lines many years ago, and I would guess that this is not the first time you hear them in a sermon. Her poem is called The Summer Day.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Oliver has often talked about how she loved to spend her days outdoors and how being in the woods balanced her life and inspired her writing.
And so the poem reflects on the joys of a summer day. It is written about the enjoyment of the moment. The moment is blessed and there are no regrets or accusations that the day should have spent with something other than the grasshopper eating out of her hand, her paying close attention to the grasshopper, to the grass, and to the fields.
And even though, her being present in the moment and in this world is beyond dispute, she remains aware of the arc of life, and that life has an arc that consists of many moments. It is precious, so what are we going to do with it?

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The liturgical year is unlike the calendar year. It is framed not by the course of the sun but by the gift of life with God. It begins and ends with the expectation of God’s coming, while it always knows that the One we are waiting for is already with us.

Luke tells the story of Anna and Simeon to make it clear that Jesus is the One, the one we have been waiting for.
And yet I wonder if those who created the lectionary, who created our cycle of readings, were also aware that we would read this story at the end of our calendar year, at a time when we look back on the year that was and the year that lies ahead.

This past year is a year unlike most others most of us have experienced. And because it has been so unlike any other, we have expectations for how the new year should be and of the things we want to do. These expectations are fuelled by the fact that vaccinations have begun. This makes us hopeful.

As we stand on the threshold to a new year, new in more ways than one, Simeon and Anna come alongside us and remind us of what’s important: That we live in the presence of God.
They lived humbly and took the cues from God.

May we also live humbly and together with them, live into God’s presence that will direct our ways and order our lives, and that may surprise us.

Amen.