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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Mothers and fathers often doubt their ability to share the Christian faith with their children. They prefer to leave it the professionals, and yield to the warning, “Do not try this in your own home.” Let me assure you, every child has a unique way to both delight and embarrass their parents. There was the three-year old daughter, who was learning the Lord’s Prayer. She would repeat the petitions with her father. First, it was together, and then she went solo and perhaps rogue. “Our Father, who does art in heaven. Harold is his name.” That might have been enough, but she went on. “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” Finally, she uttered, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from e-mail.” Of course, the three-year fared better than the parents of the young boy who was asked by the pastor during the children’s sermon, “Why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” The toddler answered honestly, “Because people are sleeping.” Fortunately, for the most part, the delightful moments of raising a child in faith, do outweigh the embarrassing moments, so never doubt your teaching ability.
Now, you may be wondering: But why is teaching the faith so important? This morning’s gospel reading of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple reminds us that there will be more to the journey of life for your child than humorous moments of delight and embarrassment. The story teaches us that there will be sorrow as well- even for God’s most faithful servants. Indeed, no sooner had the righteous, old sage Simeon taken the infant Jesus into his arms and uttered one of the most beautiful blessings in scripture, “Lord, now lettest us Thou Thy servant depart in peace,” than he offered a prophetic word of truth to the infant Jesus’ mother Mary, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.”
According to Orthodox Christian tradition, the devout and righteous Simeon was one of the seventy scholars who travelled to Egypt in the 3rd century BC in to translate the Holy Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek for the great library in Alexandria. As a young man Simeon was responsible for translating a portion of the Prophet Isaiah. He read the words, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son.” He thought that word “virgin” was inaccurate, and wanted to correct the text to read instead to a “woman.” But at that very moment an angel appeared to him and held back his hand saying, “You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold the Messiah the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin.” That was an amazing promise for which Simeon would wait 200 years to see fulfilled. And along the way, he himself experienced great pain, sorrow and persecution. He witnessed the Maccabean Revolt and the Siege of the Temple which gave his people the miracle of Hanukkah. He also saw the conquest of his nation by the Roman army. Through all these sorrows, he set his hope for his people and nation on the consolation he had been given. Before he would die, he would see the Savior of the world, the Messiah. And then, one day, far longer than he ever expected it happened. The Holy Spirit, whispered into his ear, “Simeon, this is the one you have been waiting for. This is the Messiah.”
Of course, such continuous joy and delight is what we hope and pray for all of our children, but how do we prepare them for the inevitable sorrows that will come in life? As loving mothers and fathers, grandparents and godparents, uncles and aunts and friends, what do we teach our children about Jesus, the light that will shine in their darkness? Do not doubt your ability to share the Christian faith. You have an important role to play, and faith is the true gift you offer.
Many of us pride ourselves, on our ability to give and provide. You can be successful in this world and provide much. You can leave behind stones, and brick and mortar. But what about the lasting gift of faith? This gift doesn’t begin or end when they are baptized. Nor does your responsibility cease when they are confirmed, or turn 18, or graduate from high school. A legacy of faith is an ongoing act. And so, you are always on the job- even when the kids are gone.
Mind you, nurturing a child in faith is not easy and it takes a commitment of your own. My parents taught many of their most important life lessons- many out of exasperation. I often joke. They taught me ANTICIPATION. “Just wait until we get home.” Or the parental gift of ESP. “Put your sweater on; don’t you think I know when you are cold?” Or the lessons of a subtle sense of HUMOR, “When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.” They even taught me the fundamentals of HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT. “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.” And the wisdom inherent in PARENTHOOD: “When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.” And my parents taught me JUSTICE. “One day you’ll have kids of your own, and I hope they turn out just like you.” But the most important lesson they taught me was the discipline of faith and the assurance that it brings- even in the face of sorrow. So do not shy away and doubt your ability to share the Christian faith.
Nurturing faith, like parenting never ends. Indeed, many have discovered the truth of the old saying, that, “The joy of parenthood is what you experience when all the children have gone to bed.” Regardless of your age, nurturing your own faith is an important gift you can offer your children- even when you are gone, for they will remember how you faced life’s deepest sorrows and how you continued to strengthen your faith. Humorist George Bursn once said, “You know that you’re getting old when you stoop down to tie your shoes, and you wonder what else you can do while you’re down there.” Well, you certainly don’t want to be like the elderly woman who took out her hearing aids every time the pastor began to read from scripture. One day, the pastor suggested that she keep them in, and to his surprise she answered, “Pastor, at 91, I’ve heard enough.” The aged Simeon didn’t abandon the Holy Scriptures or worship in his old age, but he came to the Temple expecting that the Messiah would appear there one day. That is your assurance as well. Here, the light of Christ shines that no darkness can overcome.
Inevitably, there will be sorrow and hardship in the lives of those we love, and they will not be spared life’s pain. But your nurturing their faith in Jesus will have the power to diminish their pain and sadness, and provide them with hope and assurance of a brighter day. And it all begins with this little child Jesus. So do not doubt your ability to share the faith with your children.
My friends, you cannot leave your sons and daughters a life without sorrows. But you can leave them with the legacy of a faith in Jesus Christ who will triumph over all life’s troubles. In the faces of your children, may you rejoice in the gift that God has given to you. And every night, may you whisper into their ear the promise of Simeon. For it is in having seen Jesus, that you too can depart in peace, trusting that all will be well for those you love. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.