PRAYER: God of patience, we have awaited the arrival of your son and he has come. Thanks be to God! Remind us of those times that you have been faithful and let us give you our praise and thanksgiving. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.
We became foster parents in 1998 with the stated intention of adopting a child. We’ve known people who have flown all over the world at great cost to adopt a child and bring them to the United States, and that’s wonderful. But on average, experts report that the cost of international adoption can range from $25,000 to $50,000. Now while Anna and I agree that every child deserves a loving home, A) we did not have a spare $25,000 laying around, and B) we were very cognizant of the fact that there were children right here in New Jersey that needed a home.
So in the spring of that year – 1998 – we got our first foster child. She was six months old and was with us for about a month before her grandparents were given custody of her. Our second foster child was an infant, straight out of the hospital. Her name was Marie and we were told to not get our hopes up about her. There was a plan in place for her to go live with her biological father after he got out of prison, which would be when Marie was about 3 years old. And over the next couple of years, foster children came through our house. Some for just a short time, and others much longer. Many of them, we hoped, would be the ones we would eventually adopt. There was brother and sister that we had for a long time, and we really hoped that we could adopt them, but eventually, they went to live with their grandparents as well.
In the foster program, the priority is almost always to reunite children with their biological families when possible. And that was what we saw happening. 1998 into 1999 and 2000, at least 20 children came through our house as foster children, including Marie who was with us all that time as children came and went. An adoption seemed to be off the table; we weren’t sure it would ever happen, and we began to wonder if maybe we should have gone international.
Oftentimes, we come to the realization that God’s timing is not our timing. We often want what we want when we want it. It doesn’t have to be something as important as adopting a child; we go to a coffee shop and we want our coffee now. We get in our car and when the traffic slows down, we get impatient. Our instant gratification world does not help. I remember as a kid, I ordered something from one of those catalogues that come to the house. It said on the order form to allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. And that was normal. It had to go through the mail. Today, we can order a dozen things on Amazon and every single one of those things are at our door tomorrow.
And needless to say, over the last week or so, Anna and I have had to learn about waiting in a new way. New to us, at least. The flow of events happening at a hospital are unique and it takes some time to get the rhythm down, but there IS a rhythm. The doctors or nurses may say that they’re going to set up some test or some procedure, and they do. But it’s not instantaneous. We’re not the only ones that are being tended to in the hospital, and the time between the order being given and the test or medicine actually happening is sometimes longer than our patience would typically allow. Ever since this drama began for us a year ago, we’ve had this sort-of running joke between the two of us. Do you remember the movie Terms of Endearment when Shirley MacLaine started throwing a fit in the hospital that her daughter needed her pain medication. She only had to wait until whatever time it was, and that was 10 minutes ago… she was in a panicked rage, “GIVE MY DAUGHTER HER SHOT!!!” As long as Anna is in the hospital, she knows that she just has to give me the word and I’m ready to go all Shirley MacLaine on everyone. We don’t want to wait.
When we look at our gospel reading this morning we see that both Anna and Simeon are faithful in their responses to Jesus’ arrival, just as they were in their waiting, their preparation for him. Simeon had received a promise from the Holy Spirit in verse 26 and he waited patiently for its fulfillment. The Holy Spirit guided him into the temple where he finally saw Jesus the Messiah. He took Jesus into his arms and gave praise to God for a promise fulfilled. Simeon blesses the child and tells Mary that though Jesus will have an immense impact, his life (and also hers) will not be easy.
Anna, even in her old age, never left the temple. She worshiped, fasted, and prayed constantly. Prepared in faith, when she saw Jesus, she praised God and spoke about Jesus and the saving work he would to all Jerusalem. Simeon and Anna don’t hesitate, overthink, or question their own ability to approach and bless Jesus when he shows up. They don’t underestimate the importance of their own response. This passage expresses the great hope for one who would bring salvation, followed with a sense of great relief in hope fulfilled.
I want us to notice one thing about this story that isn’t explicitly written, but I believe it is an important detail. Jesus’ parents were faithful Jews and they brought him “to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’”
In other words, as faithful Jews, they brought him to the temple. The giant grand temple of Jerusalem. In Jesus’ later years, this will be where he overturns the tables of the money changers. This will be where he watches a poor woman put all that she has in the collection basket.
But on this day, his parents are fulfilling their religious duties: presenting Jesus and dedicating him to God, and ritual cleansing for Mary. Jesus’ earthly parents were very religious; they were very faithful.
I point this out because I think we should pay attention to how the author of Luke tells the story. The temple was one of the most – if not THE most – important building in all of Jerusalem, but the emphasis is not placed on the temple itself, but on the people within it. The faithful man who was living on the promise of the Holy Spirit… the faithful 84 year-old woman who worshipped and fasted. They both saw the baby Jesus and celebrated; they gave praise to God. The emphasis of this story is on the community of the temple and not the temple itself.
Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to respond to God’s faithfulness with worship and blessing. Try to imagine what they must have been feeling – the anticipation and waiting and then Jesus finally arriving. Imagine the peace of God that passes all understanding that Anna and Simeon must have felt.
But also, please notice that Simeon’s blessing isn’t easy, shiny, and purely positive. He names the hard truth of what Jesus’ life will bring, for Israel and for Mary and Joseph. The peace that comes with Jesus is not the peace of constant ease. It is the peace of knowing and living in the complex yet beautiful truth.
Literally the moment Anna first set eyes on our foster baby Marie, she maintained that her name didn’t fit her. She needed a different name. But of course, as foster parents, that’s beyond our control. In 2000, Marie’s biological father had a court hearing to discuss his plan for getting custody of his kids once he was released from prison. As Marie’s foster parents, we were invited to come speak about the life she was living with our family. It was us and another foster family who spoke about the children, and when it was finished, Marie’s birth father stood up in the courtroom, his hands shackled in front of him, and said that he wanted to surrender his rights; that the children were where they belonged and would be better off staying put.
About a year later, we legally adopted Marie and changed her name to Jacqueline Marie, and a few days before her third birthday, we were finally able to have her baptized into God’s family. God is faithful, and we are invited to respond to God’s faithfulness.
Can you, like Simeon and Anna, respond to the gift of Jesus with praise and blessing? On the eve of this new year, what is something you praise God for from the past year? What is something you are hoping for or anticipating in the year ahead, much as Anna and Simeon were waiting for Jesus, the Messiah? How can you be working on your relationship with God and growing in faith so that you can recognize when, how, and where the Spirit is showing up in your life and fulfilling your hopes?
In this new year, you are invited to respond to God’s faithfulness with worship and blessing. Quite frankly, the period between asking for something and waiting for it can be difficult, especially if it is something outside of our control (e.g., praying for healing or the restoration of a broken relationship). It may seem as if God is not listening, or God is not responding. But remember that God’s timing is not our timing, and that God does listen and care about our situation.
God is faithful. Regardless of the wait, and regardless of God’s response, which is not necessarily what we were hoping for, we are invited to continue to worship and bless, to give praise to God in all that we do and all that we are. We can worship God in the midst of waiting. We are the church, and we are invited to praise God for God is faithful.
And so, as we prepare to enter the new year, I want to invite you reflect on how God has bee present in your life this past year – or in years past – and celebrate the love that has always been present. I want to invite you to remember those times that God has been present and respond to God’s faithfulness with worship and blessing.
To God be the glory.