Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Presentation of Our Lord
texts: Luke 2:22-40; Malachi 3:1-4
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In Spanish, the same word means “wait” and “hope.”
The context gives the meaning. I learned this in my clinic’s waiting area (with help from Anna afterward). The sign said, “If you have been waiting more than 15 minutes, please inform the front desk.” Below, in Spanish, for waiting it said, “ha estado esperando,” which literally could be “a state of hope.” Here it clearly meant “waiting.”
Tonight’s readings make that sign amusing. People are waiting for the day of the Lord’s coming in Malachi and Luke, waiting for a long time. Far more than 15 minutes. So how long do we wait for God before we need to inform someone? Whom do we inform?
The Spanish are right: waiting and hoping are two sides of one thing. In our hurry-up, fast food, get-it-to-me-now culture, we associate waiting with boredom, frustration, irritation, even lack of hope. Can we imagine a Simeon today, waiting his whole life to see God’s promised Christ, ready to die when he does? We don’t know what the prophet Anna is waiting for, but it’s been about 63 years. 15 minutes is nothing compared to Christian waiting for God’s healing and restoring of all things.
Maybe we also should glue waiting and hoping together.
It’s a modern convention to separate them. Our ancestors fully lived this.
The Presentation is February 2, forty days after Christmas; the purification rites for the mother happened forty days after childbirth. But in Ireland and Britain it held further significance as a cross-quarter day. The year was divided into so-called quarter days, Christmas Day, the Annunciation (March 25), St. John the Baptist/Midsummer Day (June 24), and St. Michael’s Day (September 29). These Christian festivals, importantly, are very close to the solar turning points, the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes.
Roughly half-way between these days were other important festivals marking time. Presentation is the cross-quarter day between Christmas and Annunciation. Each of these eight days held significance to our Christian ancestors who had things that needed to be done by those dates for life and livelihood, to survive. It’s not accidental that in the Middle Ages in Europe the Presentation was a day for predicting the length of winter ahead (and without a rodent’s help). They relied on weather and the land to live; half-way between the longest night and the longest day they dreamed when spring would come and food would be abundant.
There is evidence that this Christian celebration was also one of those festivals overlaid upon pagan celebrations of this mid-point that also were part of a culture dependent on the earth for life. This has long been a day of waiting and hoping for the future to come.
Our Church Year is our way of joining our waiting with hoping.
Our culture has lost this sense of life in the year and dependence on God’s creation which paid close attention to the creation. Our marking points in the year are based on our entertainment schedules, from awards season to sports championship times, or our political calendar.
But we Christians walk this Church Year. We’ve gathered tonight for Eucharist to mark 40 days since our celebration of our Lord’s birth. We may not have as desperate a need for good weather coming, but it’s good and right that we intentionally choose this calendar as our way of knowing where we are in our waiting.
That’s the whole point of a calendar, to mark the waiting. From the classic film and cartoon stereotype of someone x-ing out days in anticipation, to our need to tell how many days until Christmas, marking time helps us wait.
So we mark our year, moving through the story of God’s grace coming into the world and into our lives, to help us in our waiting and remind us of our hope in God.
We notice from Malachi, Simeon and Anna that our place of waiting is also important.
All three center the place of waiting on the Temple of the Lord. That’s where Malachi says the coming will be, that’s where Simeon goes when the Spirit lets him know the child has come, and that’s where Anna spent over six decades praying, fasting, waiting.
We join our waiting with our hoping when we come into this holy place and seek God in God’s house. In this place we know we will hear words of grace and hope, words of promise that will be kept. In this place we know we will be fed and strengthened. In this place the Triune God has promised to be, so like those saints of old, we gather here to wait for the Lord.
But this coming of the Lord is clearly not meant to stay in this place.
Malachi speaks of the purifying of all the people of God; the coming might start in worship but will restore the whole nation. Simeon takes it even further, declaring that this child he is holding will be a light to all the nations of the world, as well as the glory of his own people, Israel.
So it is with our waiting and hoping in this place: we take it into the world, fully expecting to see God’s healing coming to all things, fully believing in the possibility that the light of God will make a difference in the world’s darkness. Bearing the light ourselves infuses our waiting with hope, because living in the rich blessing of God becomes abundant and joyful when we share it and see what happens in the world.
Yet our hoping is in turn wrapped up in our waiting: God’s fullness comes in God’s good time, not instantly.
Sometimes we’re tempted to despair at this, but this story of Jesus and Simeon shows God’s promises will be kept, even if they take time. Simeon waits his whole life, and finally sees. At the end of this story, though, Jesus is still just a little child; growing, filling up with wisdom, but still a little child. He is not Christ for the world yet. There is still the path to the cross and resurrection. Some things take time.
We know this if we cook. There are things that cannot be rushed, even in a microwave world with instant meals. If you want a good oatmeal, you need to toast steel cut oats, and then boil them for about a half an hour. Chili really only tastes best on the second day.
With the Triune God it’s the same. To get what God is hoping for – literally the restoration of the hearts of humanity which will restore this planet – God needs to play the long game, bringing healing through the Son one community of faith at a time. God’s grace will make all things new, but the way God needs it to work, it will take time.
So we return to our sense of marking time in the Church Year. While we wait for God’s good time, we walk through the year’s story of God’s grace, to be filled with hope in our waiting. And so we can recognize signs of healing and grace when we see them, like Simeon and Anna did.
It’s been longer than 15 minutes. Things take time with God.
But on this night we once more meet Simeon and Anna we are reminded of the hope we have in this child they celebrated and for whom they praised God. On this night we once more bless candles for our year’s worship we are reminded of the light which shines in our darkness and one day will fill all things.
We wait. But we wait with hope. Because God is faithful, and God’s promises are being kept. It will take time. But that we have, until all things truly are made new.
In the name of Jesus. Amen