The Gospel According to St. Luke has been called, “The Most Beautiful Book Ever Written.” It makes up a good part of what has been called, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It has pageantry, and it is easy to get wonderfully lost in the details of it. “They wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.” It also has majesty and sweep, especially when combined with its second volume, The Book of Acts. It begins with Adam, centers on the life, ministry, death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, introduces the age of the Holy Spirit, and ends with St. Paul in Rome, preaching the gospel, which will be preached by the church in the power of the Holy Spirit, until Jesus the Christ, who is King of kings and LORD of Lords, returns in glory to set this world aright.
It goes without saying that the Gospel According to St. Luke has a cast of thousands. Some, like Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus himself are totally unique in the annals of goodness. Some, like Judas, are counted among the great villains of history. It also has a number of characters who stand, not just for thousands, but for countless myriads of individuals like themselves. We meet two of these archetypical characters this morning, a man righteous old man, Simeon, who had been “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” and a righteous old woman, a widow, Anna, who was a prophet, too.
According to the text of Luke 2 Joseph and Mary had taken Jesus to the temple, on the 8th day of his life, to make an offering commanded by the law for poor people after the birth of a child, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Then, Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, came to the temple, took Jesus in his arms, and said:
“Master (LORD), now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
No doubt Simeon is an archetype of all the prophets who have come before, like Isaiah, Amos, and Zechariah, and of all the prophets who will come after, including not just John the Baptist, but also the prophets of the New Testament church, which, as we learn in the Book of Acts, includes all who repent and receive baptism. The church of Jesus is a community of prophets. Simeon said there things of great importance about Jesus: 1) He will be the cause of the fall of many. God does not judge us. We judge ourselves, most frequently in our acceptance of rejection of Jesus. 2) He will be the cause of the rise of many. Here we may include ourselves who have turned to him in faith. Our small lives would be smaller still without him. 3) He will be a source of division. Yes, today, even his followers argue over him, and his teachings, and how to set one above or below another. Our recent election is testimony to that.
Not surprisingly, Anna is also identified as “a prophet,” meaning that she, like Simeon, was guided by the Holy Spirit. She is also identified as a widow of long-standing, and as a devout, temple regular. No doubt she is an archetype of all devout widows who have lived before or after, such as the real widow of 1 Timothy 5:5. There we read, “5 She who is a real widow, and is left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day…” Anna appears immediately after Simeon. According to the text, she does not say anything to Mary or Joseph in particular, instead, “she began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna is a devout Jew and preaches that Jesus is there “to redeem Jerusalem.” She is also the archetype of all Christian preaching, for, in Acts 1:8, we learn that when the Holy Spirit has come upon the disciples of Jesus, “we” are “…to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” On a personal level, Anna had known sorrow, but she was not bitter. She never ceased to hope, and she never ceased to worship. Perhaps her hope and worship protected her from bitterness? Her day of rejoicing came late in her life, but it came.
When Joseph and Mary had finished everything required by the law of Moses:
“39 they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
With the exception of one trip to the temple when he is twelve, three decades of of Jesus’ life are hidden in these two short verses from the Gospel According to St. Luke. Like us, he lived the common life, a small life, but a small life before God that prepared him for great things. The final chapter of his life was the most important, and it remains unfinished. Indeed, it will never be finished. What if the final chapter of your life was your most important chapter?