Sunday, 28 January 2018

Nunc Dimittis

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “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, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
..... There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
(Luke 2)
There's a strange idea about. It says that the most evangelical churches are growing, and liberal churches are declining, and therefore God is blessing the evangelicals and everyone else does not have God's love.

It's not accurate, in the first instance, in the States for example - where the more traditional churches are now starting to decline just as the more liberal ones did. Though it's true that Churches in South America and Africa are growing, and that they are more conservative: they also have higher birth rates. This isn't the whole story either. The point I'm making is that this is a simple way of looking at a complex situation.

It's also a terrible way to look at the churches that have historically been lost. The churches of North Africa, were practically wiped out by the advance of Islam. The Christians of the Middle East are migrating - from Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian territories - because of persecution or their lives being made more difficult. These were faithful, traditional churches. And the disappearance of these churches is not because of their theology.  If they had been less conservative, they might have suffered less. Those who associate theology with numbers forget that Jesus told us to preach the Gospel to all nations - but also promised persecution would happen.

And there's the idea that churches must always be active - go-getting. Out on the street shouting the Good News at people who don't want to hear about it.

And then there's Simeon and Anna.

Simeon's been hanging round Jerusalem, because he knows that he will see the Messiah. But he doesn't seem to know when. So he's popping into the Temple to see. Maybe there's been years, he's been walking into the Temple every day. Waiting. Faithfully serving. Going out. Thinking he'll try again tomorrow. And so the years go by.

And Anna's even more unambiguous in her straightforward, dedicated perseverance. She never leaves the temple. She doesn't stop. She worships and prays, fasts, and waits. For years.

Worth remembering what Anna has seen through her long life. She was born roughly about the time that the King of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus, crucified 800 of his fellow-Jews in Jerusalem for rebellion. When she was a young woman, the Roman general Pompey invaded the city, broke down the wall of the Temple, and killed 12,0000 Jews. She's seen Herod become king. Seen the Temple rebuilt - a rebuilding that was still going on 30 or so years later when Jesus came back there again. And all the time that the Temple was rebuilt, the sacrifices continued. And Anna continued to worship.

The thing this two have shown is faithfulness. They have waited for the day they will see the Lord in his Temple.

And there in the Temple, this tiny thing. Herod called himself "The Great". Pompey was called "The Great". All the greatness of Rome had borne down on the little city of Jerusalem. And it was all nothing to Anna and Simeon. Instead, they see the tiny baby Mary brings, and they know. This is what they have waited for. This is why they have spent all their lives in patience, faithful waiting. The one for whom the Temple was built is here in Simeon's arms and nothing else matters.

They can go in peace. God's word has been fulfilled. They have seen God in his Temple. And they have been faithful servants.

We may have one task to do. We may have great things to do. We may be called to sacrifice, or to martyrdom. Or maybe just to wait. But as we keep our eyes on God, we can know. At the end, we will see God.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

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