My sons and daughters-in-laws love to kid my about my fierce, unbending ties to traditions. No, the menu won’t change for it is turkey at thanksgiving, standing rib roast at Christmas and lamb at Easter. The side dishes are also strictly defined. It is not just by habit for I have a sense that, given the pace of change in our lives, that some places of stability make sense. The kids and grandkids know that they can count on certain things. There is homemade macaroni and cheese on cooking making night and when it comes to icing the cut out cookies I always include the swimsuit editions – yes, Victoria Secrets can’t claim the only risqué holiday tradition. After the cookie making we retreat to the living room around the fire place and test our memory with the Christmas alphabet pop-up book (A is for angel, B is for bell ….).
We inherit traditions or create our own to take stock of time and to link the ever changing years to something that lasts, relationships that weather storms, and kindness that wins out at the end. We embrace and follow traditions for all of us seem to know that much of what is really important in life can barely be explained and must be handled with care within a community and traditions hold a family or community together.
Anna and Simeon are the faithful, long standing, tradition bearers of the Christmas story. They were the stubbornly loyal servants in the temple at a time when so much was coming apart – zealots bargaining for revolution, priests negotiating a safe place between temple loyalty and Roman government demands, and common folk simply trying to find meaning, purpose and a dose of kindness in their own difficult lives. In the midst of all of this Anna and Simeon stayed the course – worshipping in the Temple and taking care of folks coming in and out. If they were around today, they’d be the ones folding the worship bulletins, setting up the communion elements, taking care of the church gardens, making sure that the infrastructure of machines and doors and locks are all in order and showing up with coffee and donuts at the volunteer gatherings. When I think of Anna I think of Mary, who taught the 3rd grade Sunday school class at Central Presbyterian Church in Buffalo for over 30 years. Every December she’d have her class to her home for dinner, always serving both green and red jello but never fruit in it – children don’t like fruit mixed with their jello. When Simeon appears in the Gospel of Luke I think of Dick, Jim, Clay, Martha and the loyal crew of Saturday and Tuesday workers, plugging away at Sweat Equity all those years of construction and remodeling. It takes grit and perseverance to get things done.
I also imagine that Anna and Simeon were old enough and confident enough to tell the truth and then let the chips fall where they may. Declaring that the baby Jesus would grow up to be the chosen one of Israel, the messiah was a very risky thing to do. You’ll recall that Herod and Pilate were not open to any opposition to their own power and plenty of folk got themselves killed by crossing them. Yet, in the shadow of Pilate and under the thumb of Herod Anna and Simeon let their hearts and their spirits take the lead.
Sometimes we do that. Back when Dan was marrying Melissa in her Roman Catholic Church, the Monsignor expressed concern about serving communion at the worship when at least half of those present would not be included. He is a kind and generous man and when he asked Heather Shortlidge, who had already been invited to assist in the service, if she had any ideas of what to do she shared his generous question with me. We thought of an alternative: why not ask if Heather could serve the Protestants and the Monsignor the Catholics. I added, “We’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell that he’ll say yes but he did ask so go ahead and give it a try.” When presented with that option, this kind, older priest said “Fine idea.” At the rehearsal, Alison and I were very expressive in our thanks and, after a warm exchange, I said, “I doubt that the Bishop would sign off on this one,” he smiled and said, “What are they going to do; I’m 80 and have been here forever.” There are advantages of being old and hanging around for decades. By the way, communion was shared and I smiled when some of the Roman Catholics jumped lines to be served by the female “priest.” Sometimes you can simply do the right and caring thing and then let the chips fall where they may.
So Anna and Simeon let it all hang out. Under the eye of the temple authorities and within earshot of Pilate they praised God for this newborn king and savior. Simeon took Jesus in his arms, holding mystery, and gave thanks to God. By the way, that is why I schedule a baptism on the day we read of Simeon and Anna. Holding life, holding mystery, holding wonder – that is what we do in the church. And that is our hope.
May you hold on to what is good and kind and faithful. May you carve out traditions that keep you on a faithful course; holding on to what is good. May you take your place alongside Simeon and Anna to persevere in hope and live in praise.