The calendar offers interesting options this year for one who preaches. Christmas 2 holds this rich story of Simeon and Annna - one that fits the liturgical season with unique specificity this year.
For a Methodist, though, how can I ignore what the "new year" has meant to our movement?
And while the calendar gives opportunity on this front, Epiphany is going to be truncated, to say nothing of Baptism of the Lord. There's significant theological "stuff" to mark the time of a new year over the next two weeks. Getting to it all with integrity is a challenge.
But for January 1, Christmas 2, I'm going to lean most heavily on that text from which comes the line most commonly used by those who observe The Daily Office's evening setting - the nunc dimittis.
Keep watch here as I build some thoughts for the preaching moment this Sunday. In the meantime, a day or two more with family in these days of Christmas.
The following is the sum of outlined thoughts that sprung more extended thoughts for January 1. I am grateful for Daniel B. Clendenin's site from which the concise thoughts of the desert monastics was found. Sometimes I carry this much into pulpit, other times more, often times much less.
What I'm looking for when I take less printed work into the preaching moment are "triggers" that will kick off the moves that I've worked out internally.
When it works, it's magic.
When it doesn't, well, crash and burn comes to mind.
Regardless, I take to heart that prayer that Michael Williams prays before he preaches (and one I pray to myself even as I offer the routine pre-sermon prayer)
Lord, if I screw this up, please make something of it anyway. Amen.
Christmas 1 Luke 2.22-40
New Year – Christmas
Reflection upon what’s been
Projection of what’s to be.
The presentation in the Temple captures all this and declares that to which we too often give little attention – the “now” of any moment.
For Simeon and Anna – It’s time for they have seen the Messiah – and upon seeing him they declare, in effect, “it’s time.” That’s what the nunc dimittis is.
Time to move on
Time to die
Time for Redemption
Why? Because the promises of God have been and are being fulfilled in this very moment.
And they saw him because they believed they would.
Believing is Seeing
The new year is a “it’s time” opportunity. Too often reduced to "resolutions" we know we won't keep, why can't we look upon the new year as a new claim of spiritual disciplines. And today, we call upon the wisdom of those who’ve gone before to guide our way - the desert monastics.
1. Never stop starting over: "Abba Poeman said regarding Abba Prin that every day he made a new beginning." "My God, do not abandon me. I have done nothing good before Thee, but grant me, in Thy compassion, the power to make a start" (Arsenios, 5th century).
2. Live intentionally, not aimlessly: "Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort" (St. Mark the Ascetic, 5th century).
3. Pray simply, not stupidly: "Often when I have prayed I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly importuning the will of God, and not leaving it to Him to arrange things as He knows is best for me. But when I have obtained what I asked for, I have been very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; because the thing turned out not to be as I had thought" (Evagrios the Solitary, 4th century). Abba Macarius said, "It is enough to say, 'Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.' And if the conflict grows fiercer, say: 'Lord, help!'"
4. Renounce all self-justification: According to John the Dwarf, "We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification."
5. Stop judging others: "The monk, says Moses, must never judge his neighbor at all in any way whatever." "They said of Abba Macarius that just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults he saw, as though he did not see them, and those he heard, as though he did not hear them."
6. Celebrate theological modesty: "St. John Chrysostom says that we do not know wholly even what is given in part, but know only a part of a part" (St. Peter of Damaskos, 12th century).
7. Be ruthlessly realistic: "Saint Anthony said to Poemen, 'expect trials and temptations until your last breath.'" "I am convinced that not even the apostles, although filled with the Holy Spirit, were therefore completely free from anxiety...Contrary to the stupid view expressed by some, the advent of grace does not mean the immediate deliverance from anxiety" (St. Makarios of Egypt, 5th century).
8. Read the obituaries: "When the death of Arsenius drew near, the brothers saw him weeping and asked, 'Truly, Father, are you afraid?' 'Indeed,' he answered them, 'the fear which is mine this hour has been with me ever since I became a monk.'" "At the moment of our death we will all know for certain what is the outcome of our life" (St. Gregory of Sinai, 13th century).
And today, as we approach the Table, what do you see? Could it be the one Simeon and Anna saw so long ago?
Could it be? It is – Jesus of Nazareth.