For me as a liturgy nerd, it is so exciting that the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, this year, falls on a Sunday, and in the grand scheme of all things liturgical, supplants the observation of the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany. In days past this feast was the close of the Christmas season, and still today in many church communities, on February 2nd, candles are gathered and set aside as holy for use during the coming year, as they keep the feast of Candlemas.
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated near the opening of the Sundays after Epiphany, also brings us stories that are intentionally placed in this season of manifestation – a time when we come face to face with the reality of the true identity of Jesus Christ as the one we have been waiting for, the promised one, the fulfillment of the words heard in Advent from the great prophet Isaiah.
In our gospel passage for this feast, we hear what happens when two very unlikely witnesses come face to face with the presence of God in the child Jesus. The more familiar character is that of Simeon, described as “righteous and devoted, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” We also hear that on this day the spirit brought him to the temple, and when Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus for the ritual sacrifice prescribed by the law, he took the child in his arms and praised God:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”
Perhaps, the lesser known of the two characters in the gospel passage today is the Prophet Anna. Anna, the only woman named as prophet in the New Testament, was a widow, possibly a member of the order of widows, and advanced in age. We know that she had given her life to the temple, to fasting and worship and waiting for a sign of the one sent for the redemption of Israel. The author of our passage depicts Anna as the one who “got it” right away, on her own, unlike Simeon, who was brought to the temple by the Spirit, and even Mary and Joseph who appear to be shocked by the comments about their son.
Anna would have been familiar with the words of the Prophet Malachi, and accordingly she would have been on guard for the sudden appearance of the messenger of the Lord. She would have been waiting for the one who would be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ soap. She would have been prepared to withstand the day of his coming. Anna would also, most likely, have prayed psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”
It is not clear, however, in the text if Anna heard what Simeon had to say or not. What is clear is that Anna steps forward, overcome with sublime joy, and she begins praising God. Scholars tell us that that the Greek word used by Luke suggests recognition, intuition. She immediately sees what others could not see, not a grand entrance of the King of Glory with gates lifted up, but a baby, she then makes it her work to tell everyone who, like her, was waiting for the news of the one sent to save them. I guess good things really do come to those who wait.
Anna and her waiting in the temple started me thinking about waiting and pondering the question: do good things really come to those who wait? A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to travel to Paris for a gift show with my spouse, part of my other job as store owner and floral designer. One morning as we left our hotel and climbed the hill at Montmartre to our favorite boulangerie to purchase our morning patisseries, there was, as usual, a line out the door and down the sidewalk. I happily took my place in the line and waited. That morning, when I was not distracted by one of the many petits chiens, the little dogs that regularly populate the streets in Paris, I wondered; what is the difference of waiting in line there and waiting in line at home. I feel a bit of self-disclosure is necessary here – I detest waiting in line. In fact, I detest waiting period. I use the app to order my coffee in advance to avoid the line; I drive blocks out of the way to avoid a busy intersection or a traffic jam; and, yes, as much as I hate to admit it, I even use the self-checkout lanes if the line is shorter. So why was I so content to wait? Was it the promise of the perfect patisserie?
As I waited, and pondered this question, I began noticing those waiting with me. They were young and old, families, some tourists like myself, but mostly they were folks from the neighbourhood, waiting to purchase bread for the day, or a special treat, all made by hand by the shop keepers that they knew and with whom they shared a friendly relationship. Waiting for them is a way of life, a moment for conversation and connection, and in this case, good things do indeed come to those who wait.
With this my thoughts quickly turned to another question: what am I missing because of my aversion to waiting? The opportunity to connect lost, the relationships not fostered, and perhaps even the face to face encounter with the holy one missed! If indeed good things do come to those who wait, what am I, what are we, missing if we do not wait?
On this the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we find ourselves in a season of waiting, which if you are like me, is a difficult and at times anxious season. We are waiting for the Interim, and we are waiting for the “Rise of the Rector!” Stephen Applegate speaks of five hallmarks in transition, and they speak to me this morning of the characteristics of waiting that rise up from gospel.
Heritage: Just as Mary and Joseph, honouring their heritage, waited forty days and then presented their first-born male, we, too, will reflect and remember our heritage as we wait.
Leadership: With Simeon, we must become righteous and devoted leaders and seekers of the ones who will lead us daily to encounter, face to face, the holy in our midst.
Mission: Following the example of Anna, we are worshiping and waiting to discover a new mission to proclaim to all the good news of the presence of the holy in our midst, especially to those most in need of this message of hope.
Connection: As we wait, we will discover new connections and ways that our story is enmeshed in the gospel story, just as my waiting was transformed on that cold winter sidewalk in Paris.
Future: Finally, our waiting will lead us to consider our future, a future bright with possibility and shot through with the presence of God. A bright future, where we who wait discover the good things revealed in the daily face-to-face encounter with the presence of God.
Look around you…………..What are you waiting for?