Are you an Anna?
Psalm 148; Luke 2:22, 36-40
Communal reflection on the events in Nice, followed by a recent clip from France which speaks of love, not hate – a clip that starts with tears and ends with a hug…
It’s a great clip, isn’t it? Most supporters of a winning team would be too busy celebrating to notice someone from the other side, the losing side crying – in fact, you see a few rush straight past him…and if others did see him, they probably wouldn’t have been too bothered because they had won and the other side had lost. But this little boy saw something else. He saw someone upset who was in need of a hug and a bit of love. Often, children see what many of us would miss.
And, of course, it’s not just the young who have something to teach us about noticing what we might otherwise miss. In our story today, we hear of Anna, a widow who was 84…or perhaps even 103, the translation and maths isn’t clear. It’s an age where vision isn’t always at its best…but then we’re not talking about eyesight here – but of being open to God’s presence in the most surprising of people and places. You see, the Temple was a huge place and would have been busy with pilgrims and worshippers and animals. And yet, in amongst that chaos; almost hidden amongst the crowds was the baby Jesus, held tight by his mother. Most people would have walked straight past him. Parents bringing their child to the Temple was nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, there was nothing new to see here. Only Anna knew different.
Anna had been waiting, praying, looking. And there, in the arms of a poor, teenage girl from the backwaters of the Roman Empire, she saw Jesus. There, in a tiny, possibly screaming baby, she saw something of God’s presence and love.
Last Tuesday, in this church building, we held a welcome evening for the Syrian families that have moved into our community and blessed us with their presence. It was a wonderful evening of music and poetry and love. This building was packed – many were in the balcony – and as children from this community shared and listened to songs from the Syrian children, faces beamed, tears were shed and the extravagant love of God was glimpsed. One of the songs that was sung by the local primary school children included the line ‘Don’t stop looking, Don’t stop believing; God is to be found when you seek Him’.
Well, Anna didn’t stop looking or believing. Though in her ninth, or possibly even 11th decade, she waited and prayed and looked for God’s presence and she found it. And when she did, when she glimpsed God’s glory in a babe, she couldn’t keep it to herself. We are told that she spoke about the child to everyone!
Sometimes the way Christians talk about God, it is as if God is a puzzle to be solved, an argument to be won or something hidden that you have to work hard to find and keep.
I wonder if we’ve sometimes got it wrong. I wonder if, actually, God’s wonder, grace, glory, love, can be found all around us. I wonder whether God’s presence can be felt as a hug when we are upset; can be heard in the singing of children who have travelled from afar; can be tasted in wine poured and shared; and can be glimpsed in a baby brought to a place of worship.
Mark and Maggie, as Anna grows, I pray that she might be like her godmother Anna, who she was named after and who gave Mark life-giving love when he most needed it. I pray too, that Anna – and all of us here – might be like Anna, the prophetess, who looked for God’s presence in a troubled world, who glimpsed God’s love in a babe from afar, and who shared the joy of what she had found to everyone who would listen. Thanks be to God. Amen.