Back when I was a boy, my family had, what might be described as ‘a crazy old aunt’ who was forever dreaming dreams. Crazy was at least how my father described my Aunt Lou. In effect though, she was what may be described today as a clairvoyant. In talking with other folks over the years, apparently every family appears to have either a crazy old aunt or uncle living in the attic or hiding somewhere in the family’s lineage. Perhaps you do too.
My Aunt though was far from crazy because she was able to foretell some of worse occurrences in my father’s life. My father played hockey as a young man in Buffalo and way before the Buffalo Sabres or Buffalo Braves, area churches used to have hockey, baseball, and bowling teams. Some churches even had bowling alleys right in the basement. Well, my aunt happened to warn my dad on two occasions, not to go out and play hockey. On one occasion he broke his nose which never quite healed right and on the other occasion his calf was severed by a hockey skate blade. And yet he never quite believed his sister was able to know the future before it happened.
Anyway, while I was growing up my aunt happened to tell my mom future things about me. One was that I would marry a girl in a yellow dress who had blue eyes which, as it turned out, was what my wife Barbara was wearing the day I saw her in high school Physics class for the first time. The other thing she told my mom was that I would one day be priest in Buffalo, but not until my hair had turned white. A few years back, when I had left the Episcopal Church, I also left any idea of being ordained a priest, because having left for the reasons I did, there was no going back. But since that time, as you know, this particular prophesy came true.
So what are prophesies? And do they always come true? How do we know they are from God or from somewhere else?
The bible, of course is full of prophetic words written by prophets, kings and others who were very in tune with God and the way he works. Many of the prophesies of the bible have already come true, some . . . centuries ago . . . like the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD (as foretold by Jesus), and some within our own generation, like the establishment of Israel as a nation in one day in 1948 (thru the prophet Isaiah).
Today is one of those few Sundays that coincides with a church feast day that normally falls on a week day. Today is the feast of the presentation of Christ in the temple. The reason for this day is to celebrate the arrival of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem when he was a baby and the purification of Mary after childbirth. At one time, it was appropriate for young mothers to bring their newborns after a month to church for much the same reason. We still have in our prayer book a blessing and thanksgiving for mothers and babies after childbirth.
In our story today, 31 days after birth, the time came for Mary and Jesus to be presented at the temple in Jerusalem for the purification service. Jesus had to be presented, like all new babies, to be ‘paid for’. This was a way of recognizing that the baby was a gift from God and really belonged to him, so the parents had to symbolically ‘buy back’ the baby from God. The amount that had to be paid for a baby was about 60 grams of silver.
Mary also had to go to the temple to be symbolically made clean and pure for the blood that she had lost when she gave birth. To be made pure, a dove or other bird had to be sacrificed; and to be made clean, a lamb to be sacrificed. However, if you were poor, a dove could be sacrificed instead of a lamb. That is why a pair of doves or pigeons were sacrificed in today’s story.
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the purification service, he was welcomed and nursed by two very old people. Many of the Jews at this time were eagerly awaiting a mighty and magnificent king, who would lead the people to glorious victory against their enemy, Rome. But there were others looking for a just and godly Messiah. They were known as the ‘Quiet in the Land’, for they spent their days in prayer and worship of God, waiting patiently for the day when he would send his chosen Savior to earth. Simeon and Anna were two of the Quiet in the Land. They had waited many years to see God’s promised Messiah. As soon as they saw the baby Jesus they recognized him as God’s Deliverer and knew that their dreams were fulfilled.
One of the most beautiful pieces of prose in the prayer book is the statement by the prophet Simeon that we read in the gospel lesson this morning. It reads . . .
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, *
according to thy word;
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, *
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, *
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Simeon was one among those enigmatic characters that we read about in the bible, who appears once and then is all but forgotten in history. Today Simeon appears in the gospel story with Anna, the daughter of Phanuel who also gives a prophetic testimony of the boy Jesus who has been brought to the temple by his parents.
We know that prophetic witness is from God when we reflect on the spirit of who it has come from but most especially when the prophesy comes true. Satan will offer all kinds of prophecies that may tickle our fancy but which simply are lies to trick the gullible. But God knows . . . and because he knows, prophetic witness from God’s followers will always come true because it can be no other way. This is why we trust in the bible and hold onto scripture as God’s revelation to us.
Simeon, Anna, Jesus, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Solomon and David and many, mnay others were provided with dreams and visions of future events. Some were called crazy when they lived, but very few are called crazy now.
As we enter the end times let us keep in mind some of the revelations of the prophet Joel who wrote . . . . “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
As we await this day, let us pray that we do not fail in our faith or become faint hearted because the days ahead we know will be difficult. You and I are a remnant of a once great faith and as a reminder of our faith today we will renew the vows that we took on at our baptism as we present ourselves to God as the Quiet of the Land in this church as Jesus did in his temple so many centuries ago.