As I sit to write this I have been the Vicar of this parish for almost exactly seven years. Seven years ago on 29thJanuary 2014 I was ‘put in’ as the jargon goes. (The official name of the service was ‘collation and induction’, which I continue to feel makes it sound like a buffet on a labour ward.)
What is most striking about this minor anniversary is how little of what has happened in those seven years was anticipated on that day. It’s not that there weren’t plans, hopes and aspirations aplenty. But these ideas about the future did not always survive their contact with reality unchanged, or even unscathed.
This process has humbled me, but it has also quite often delighted me. God’s surprises are usually better than my plans, if only I have the wit to see them for what they are. And when I now look back on those times when I have faced unforeseen challenges or disappointments I can see the hand of God in ways that weren’t obvious at the time.
In today’s gospel reading we encounter an old man and an old woman finding it possible to face the end of their lives in peace. The key to this peace is their perception of what God is doing in Jesus Christ. This Jesus is, at one and the same time, just a baby boy, and the presence of God’s own self in this world of time and space and things. The gift given to these two faithful souls is to see him as both. That, indeed is the beginning of every authentic Christian experience.
It is also the gift that we need to pray for when our plans come to nothing and our hopes seem destined to be smashed – the grace to see Jesus for who he really is. This is where it starts. And what follows? Simeon’s famous hymn is full of the answers, and it’s as well that Christians have prayed and sung them daily for centuries because they deserve continuous reflection: light; revelation; salvation; glory; peace.
Is that the character, the flavour of the Christian witness in our society today? Do we stand as lived examples of light and peace, focused on the revelation of God’s presence with us in Jesus Christ? I’m not sure. We are too quick, it seems to me, to enrol in the outrage tournaments that continually break out both in the church and in society, to imagine that we are standing up for truth and justice by doing so. There is, of course, such a thing as righteous anger and we probably need more of it not less. The difference we see in Simeon and Anna is that their central focus is not on what they think but on who God is.
May we emulate their blessed example, and may God bless you all,