In honor of the new Star Wars movie that came out this weekend, I think it’s only reasonable to start this sermon with a story from Star Wars. Don’t worry–no spoilers! This is all old news.
The Star Wars: Episode III movie finishes the tale of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side. He gives in to his fear, and to the Emperor’s whisperings, and kills as many Jedi as he can. At the end of the movie, we know of only two Jedi who have survived: Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. Both of them go into hiding, to await new Jedi they can train. They enter a time of faithful waiting.
The next time we see them is in the next movies, when they meet Luke Skywalker. Obi Wan has been watching over Luke from afar. They have barely interacted before their first meeting in the movie. And in the next movie, Luke goes to the swamp planet Dagobah, where Yoda has been hiding, and receives training from him.
But I’d like to dwell for a bit on that in between time, the time where the two Jedi didn’t know what was next and could only wait. They knew what they hoped for: to train Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi. But they didn’t know when one would come. Would Luke be trainable? Would something happen to him before he could be trained? Would the Empire find them? All they could do was wait, and prepare, and hope.
I think that’s the feeling, too, of our two characters from Jesus’ first visit to the Temple, which is described in our reading today. Joseph and Mary, both faithful Jews, have brought their first-born son to the Temple, so that He could be dedicated and purified as was proper under the Law. And while they were there, two people took notice.
The first was Simeon, a faithful man who was especially looking for the Promised One of God. He wanted to see the Christ, the Son of God; he wanted to see the proof that God was fulfilling the promises of Scripture, that God was moving in the world, and the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would indeed see before he died. He has been faithfully watching, and waiting, and on this day he sees what he has been waiting for–he sees the Christ, the Son of God! He breaks out into song, he’s so joyful, not just once but twice, praising God and singing what he sees: that God’s salvation is near for the people of Israel, and that God is good.
The second was Anna, this woman who lost her husband and became a widow after only seven years of marriage, and ever since had lived in the Temple, fasting and praying and worshipping day and night. And ‘ever since’, for her, is no small amount of time: she has been living in this way for at least fifty or sixty years. She, too, sees Jesus and knows who He is, and praises God.
This is a story of praise. It is a story of the joy of seeing what God is doing, of seeing God in a way that is so stark, so obvious, that there are no doubts about what you’ve seen. You know that you have seen a glimpse of God. In that alone, there is reason to praise and worship God, never mind that also they have seen and recognized the Son of God, and know the world-changing importance of what they’ve seen. This is a story of praise.
It is also a story of faithfulness. Simeon is a faithful man, one who listens to the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit told him that he would one day see the Son of God. He has been waiting, faithfully. He has been praying, and going to the Temple to worship, and going to work, and having dinner with his family. He has been waiting, on the look out for the Son of God. And Anna too, this woman who worships so whole-heartedly. She wasn’t waiting in the same way, perhaps; she didn’t know that Jesus was coming, or that she would see the Son of God. But when she saw Him, she knew what she’d seen.
And then, after she’d seen Him, she returned to her prayers and fasting and worship. Day in and day out, just like before.
We don’t hear of them before or after this moment, this encounter with God. We don’t hear what that faithfulness looked like, not really: what schedule of prayer and fasting did Anna follow? What parts of it were difficult for her? What was it that called her to this life of worship? And: how did Simeon live his life, that Luke calls him “righteous and devout”? What did that look like, day to day?
We don’t hear of these details. I would have liked to. Not because I want to live exactly like they did, or think you should, but because the words “righteous” and “faithful” are made up of moments and habits and God’s grace. What did that look like, for them?
And what about for us? We are waiting, too. We are trying to live faithfully, too. We want to see God working around us; we desperately long for any sign or feeling at all that God is still working to heal this world that we live in. We are going to the doctor’s and driving to work and baking for that party and coming to church and taking our medicine and probably wondering if any of it matters, if it’s really important that you prayed again or sent a card or mailed another check.
The answer is yes, of course. That’s what faithfulness looks like: we do what is in front of us, we carve out moments for what’s important, we build habits so that, hopefully, when the Holy Spirit has one of these moments with us, where She points and says, “Hey, over there! Look what I’m doing!” we can hear, and listen, and see.
It feels unimportant, and repetitive, and difficult. Yes. But God comes to us in those moments, too, in the moments of faithfulness and repetition. And sometimes all we can do is what’s right in front of us, and wait. God is with us in that.
As we wait, then, or as we move forward, may we all have moments where we see without a doubt what God is doing around us and in us and through us. May we all rejoice at what God is doing. And may God be with us.