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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.
It is said that “Every family has one crazy relative, and if you don’t know who that person is, then it’s probably you.” Yes, every family is unique, and every family tree produces its own unique set of lemons, nuts and a few bad apples. Some people say that happiness is having a big, loving, caring, close-knit family- in another city. Others are content with their own dysfunctional family close at hand which is often just one tent away from a full blown circus.
Perhaps for you, the description of the old man Simeon in the temple and the prophetess Anna in Jesus’ story places them firmly in the category of the crazy relative. You’re not being critical. It’s just how their behavior strikes you. Simeon is righteous and devout, and always ready to talk about God’s promise of the Messiah. As for Anna, she goes way over the top. She never leaves the temple but worships there with fasting and prayer night and day. It’s an odd pattern for us to discern in our lives of faith. On the one hand we need religious mentors and example in our lives. We seek them out, and sometime they find us as well. But once we have found them, we can often become skeptical wondering whether they are a little too crazy for us and not fully grounded in reality.
I am going to let you in on a secret. If Mary and Joseph, who had only 40 days earlier been greeted by shepherds worshiping their child wrapped in swaddling, clothes and lying and in a manger, needed a word of encouragement, so do you. Yes, if Mary and Joseph, even after having heard the shepherd’s description of angels appearing to them on a hillside and the glory of the Lord shining all about them, still needed a word of affirmation, and could be amazed at what the Simeon said to them, then so should we. You see, none of us can take on the challenges of life and faith on our own.
Today’s sermon may be intended for the families celebrating the gift of baptism for their child, but it really is a lesson for each one of us. The message, you see, is simple. A child needs the voices of parents, grandparents and godparents in order to be strengthened for the challenges ahead. You and I need words of inspiration that keeps us focused when the world seems to be going off in a host of directions. And every once in a while, we need the voice of “crazy, aged believer” to remind us of what we are living for. God puts them in our way to speak his truth to us. No person can nurture and grow in their faith alone.
St. Luke makes it clear that it was no coincidence that both Simeon and Anna were in the temple that day. Simeon was “guided by the Holy Spirit,” and Anna was guided by her devotion to God. You may have experienced this in your own awakening to faith. It may have seemed a chance meeting, but it was actually God putting you at the right place to hear his word. God’s word, however neither static nor remains the same. Sometimes the word that you hear is supportive and affirming, and at other times, it is intended to challenge you and remind you of the work that you must do in the world.
So where do you begin in telling the story. First of all, your child needs to see your real faith, that Jesus is the Light of the world, and your light, too. Real faith can be messy, and it may not always seem rock solid. There may be times that you feel guilty after losing your temper, and then talking to your child about God’s love, or times when you speak about trusting God alone and yet and being worried about tomorrow’s expenses. Real faith wanders during the day, and may even forget to give thanks to the giver of all good gifts.
Be sure to tell then the stories of the Bible… better yet, use the Bible with the colorful pictures that a doting aunt gave at your child’s baptism. Read it often to your son or daughter. Children learn truth through stories, and God’s word, told in stories and parables, is the ultimate source of truth. It brings hope and light to the darkness.
Remember especially, to talk about Jesus. His name should not be the name never mentioned in your home. Remind your children that you love them you so much, and that Jesus loves them too. It is perhaps one of the two most important lessons we can teach small children. One, that God made everything, and two, that God loves them. Somehow we believe as parents that our love alone should be enough, and so we deny our children God’s strength and grace. Give your little ones a hug, and tell them, how much you love them, and that God love them even more. You may need the support of the aged Simeons and Annas to underscore that lesson as well
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.” The same may true of their acquisition of faith. The joy and comfort of trusting that your children’s spiritual faith and confidence may only be seen later in life. Not all the lessons that we have to learn are easy. That is why you too may need the crazy, old Simeons and Annas to help you along.
A week ago, Janna and I went to see the film, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” It is a wonderful movie with Tom Hanks playing the role of Fred Rogers and his real life encounter with a hard, troubled journalist. There was one remarkable scene that has stayed with me and touched me, which is hard for a stoic, Norwegian to say. The scene takes place in a Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh, where Rogers lives. He’s there with the reporter who’s interviewing Rogers for a piece in Esquire Magazine. The journalist has quite a bit of anger in him, and Rogers counsels him to move past the rage and disappointment. Then comes the moment. Mr. Rogers stares the journalist straight in the eye, and before they start to eat the meal, he says, “Let’s take a minute to think of all the people in our lives who have loved us into being.” Everything in the movie goes silent – all the people in the restaurant are quiet. You could almost hear the audience itself growing misty-eyed with Mr. Rogers invitation. Not surprisingly, but often, the very ones who have loved us into being unconditionally were the crazy relatives.
My friends, give yourself a moment or two to anchor yourself, and ask yourself: Who are the people who helped you become who you are and loved you into being? Don’t worry about trying to find a perfect relationship, no person is without flaws, but focus on someone who has cared for you, and wanted the very best for you in your life. It may have been a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a friend. Enjoy that moment of feeling loved and cared about, and knowing that you matter and that you have worth. Then finally, find a way of sharing that. As Mr. Rogers noted, that person would be pleased to know the difference they made in your life. When that task is done, than ask yourself, “And who have I loved into being? And is my work done?”
It is said that “Every family has one crazy relative, and if you don’t know who that person is, then it’s probably you.” Have you played the part of the crazy, aged relative, the Simeon and Anna of the family who has shared the good news of Jesus with those you love? Inevitably, there will be challenges and hardships in the lives of those you love, and they will not be spared life’s pain. But nurturing their faith now in Jesus and teaching them that he is the light of the world, will have the power to diminish their future pain and sadness, and provide them with hope and assurance for a brighter day. That work begins now, and starts with this little child Jesus. So do not doubt your ability to share the faith with your children. “Love them into being.” For having seen and shared the light of Jesus, you too can depart in peace, trusting that all will be well for those you love, and that you will see them again in the house of the Lord- one day- forever. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.