Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin with the Old Testament prophet Malachi. Speaking on behalf of God he states that “the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple.” He will purify and refine “like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made.” In Luke’s Gospel the parents of Jesus brought him to be circumcised. As was the custom they brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was eight days old and sacrificed “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Simeon, a man “upright and devout” awaited “Israel’s comforting.” Through the Holy Spirit he recognized that this baby was the Christ of the Lord. As Mary and Joseph stood by Simeon told them that “he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.” Also, a widow of several decades, Anna (who spent her life in fasting and prayer) declared that this baby would be the deliverance of Jerusalem.
Today we take a break from our Ordinary Time schedule. On February 2nd we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord regardless of which day it falls on, even if it’s Sunday. It’s that important.
As I spoke about last week I believe that if Jesus was like us in all things but sin, he needed to grow, learn, and have the experiences we all have. Today we read about when Jesus was circumcised. Unlike his baptism this makes sense. You can’t look at someone and know if he’s been baptized but you can look at a (naked) man and tell if he’s been circumcised. The origins of circumcision are murky but for Jews it had a specific place: in Genesis 17, Abram was given a new name (Abraham) and was told to circumcise himself and all males in his household (including slaves). This was to be done to his male descendants; newborn boys were to be circumcised eight days after his birth. This continues to this day in the Jewish community and they have experts (Mohels) who perform this ritual.
But the fact that Jesus was circumcised isn’t the point of this Gospel. Instead we read about two characters: Simeon and Anna. As with many characters in Scripture, we know nearly nothing about them and they appear only here. But their words speak loudly. I think it’s safe to say they are both prophets.
So exactly what is a prophet? Well, that’s a complicated question. In the Nicene Creed we all acknowledge that God “spoke through the prophets,” but nobody knows who is exactly a prophet. Several books in the Old Testament are ascribed to prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, (today’s first reading) Micah, and others. We’re all told that prophets don’t predict the future but instead speak God’s truth to us.
Simeon and Anna recognized that this eight day old baby was not just another boy to be circumcised, but someone much more. They recognized, through God’s intervention, that this child would claim a sacred place in their history and their future.
These days we don’t think much about prophecies. Instead we think about promises. As I write this the United States, England, Israel and other nations find ourselves in an “election year.” Those who seek office often promise all sort of things in the hopes of leveraging votes often with little regard to weather or not they can keep those promises.
Those of us who follow Jesus also make promises and we take seriously our need to keep those promises. But at the end of the day promises are made between people. Breaking a promise may be a sin but it’s a sin between us, not a sin against God.
Prophecies, on the other hand, come from God and while they can be ignored, they cannot be wrong. It would be easy to believe that prophets belong to an earlier age and have nothing to do with us. But I think that would be wrong.
I believe that sometimes God speaks through all of us and I believe these readings remind us of that.
Many years ago I was friends with Greg, someone about my age: I was a seminarian and he was a youth minister. One day he told me he met someone who he was attracted to; he told me that they had lunch and they recognized that they were “kindred spirits.” Even though they didn’t live near each other they began to date. While they were dating I had breakfast with both of them. It was my opportunity to meet her and I immediately recognized that they belonged together. They were not just kindred spirits: they were soulmates. When Kate went to the bathroom I leaned in and told Greg: “If you don’t marry this woman I will break both of your legs.” I later learned that our mutual friend Pete told Greg that if he didn’t propose to Kate he would do so in his place.
This summer they will celebrate their 33rd anniversary.
I tell this story not because Pete and I were especially wise but because God chose us to be prophets to Greg and Kate. We both saw Greg and Kate and recognized their future together. We didn’t see the future but we were given an insight into God’s plan.
OK, now look at your spouse. When did you know this person will be your spouse for the rest of your life? When did you know that both of you faced an uncertain future but it didn’t matter because you yoked yourself to someone who shared your same belief in God?
When did you decide that your fear of the future takes a backseat to your belief that your children will make our world a better place?
Maybe you didn’t. That’s OK. Our future doesn’t depend on predictions or our beliefs.
But when God chooses us to be a prophet, it pays to listen.