Sermon – December 30, 2020 And the time came… Rev. Betsy Hogan
Have you ever kept a diary? I always wanted to be the kind of person who would keep a diary. I have friends who have kept diaries since they learned how to write – every night, it’s the last thing they do. Journal their day.
It always seemed to me such a restful and solid sort of thing to do. And I gave it a go a number of times – usually after rereading Anne Frank – but I’d always peter out within days. Clearly, no matter how much I want to be the kind of person who keeps a diary, I am not the kind of person who keeps a diary.
But how interesting it must be, to be able to go back. And read the thoughts of a time, however many years ago, from inside that moment. It really is a fascinating perspective. To be able to enter into the specificity of a moment long in the past. Defying the broad strokes that tend to arise over time, as we contemplate the overall shape of our lives.
In the past few years, I've spent a lot of time in archives, doing a bit of dipping into the “diary” of people across Canada, in the form of looking at old daily newspapers.
In particular, I was looking for newspaper stories from the days following November 9, 1938 – which was the night that came to be called Kristallnacht. When the Nazis incited riots all over Germany, destroying Jewish businesses and unleashing unconscionable violence on Jewish men, women, and children in their communities.
I knew there’d be stories in our newspapers here because following Kristallnacht there was actually a huge rally on the Grand Parade – 5000 Haligonians gathered to demand that our federal government finally take action to save the Jews of Germany from Hitler and the Nazi party. 5000 Haligonians. That’s a big rally for 1938 Halifax.
What was interesting, though, was reading through all those newspapers in that extremely fraught time when England and France were trying to do anything and everything to avoid another war, and finding that instead of just the broad strokes that we all know – concession, concession, promise, promise, peace in our time, yadda yadda –
The stories actually recorded all these tiny increments of Positive, Negative, Really Negative, Positive, Also Positive, Oh no negative… and on and on. Each of which, in the specificity of a particular day, carried its own emotional weight. I'd never known, for example, that when our Prime Minister in Canada "officially condemned" the Nazi regime, Hitler equally officially responded that that was pretty rich, considering that everything he was doing he'd modeled on Canada's Indian Reservation system.
Which pretty much horrified Canadians at the time. Not that it actually changed anything, but further condemnation of Hitler by our Prime Minister was a bit thin on the ground after that. But now, when we look back at 1938, that doesn't even figure in the pre-war narrative.
Now, when we look back at 1938, it’s all broad strokes. We don’t have that perspective of being in the moment, recalling what it was like at the time. The up and the down, and all that emotional weight and turmoil.
Perspective is good. Perspective makes things manageable. Perspective is why, at the turning of a new year and fresh off the celebration of Christmas, Anna and Simeon
in the passage from Luke’s gospel we heard this morning are always going to matter. Anna the Prophet and Simeon the Elder, who greet Baby Jesus when he’s brought to the temple by his parents for his eight-days blessing.
Anna and Simeon who have perspective. Who’ve seen it all because they’re both like a billion years old. Good times, hopeful times, good leaders, bad leaders – a Roman takeover and significant oppression, a puppet king in the person of Herod and a period of relative calm and relative peace –
Anna and Simeon have seen times that were bright and times that were really not so bright; they’ve seen good and life-giving and bad and devastating. Anna and Simeon have seen it all, and they know.
We go up, we go down, we go up, we go down – we turn, turn, turn – But the arc of history bends toward justice. It bends toward peace. It bends toward Godness and goodness.
Anna and Simeon, if they were here, now – they’d look at us at the end of 2020 and they’d say, “Just take a deep breath, and think about what 1918 felt like. Not just a pandemic but a post-war pandemic that in pre-anti-virals was far more deadly.
Or consider what 1968 felt like. Martin Luther King assassinated. Robert Kennedy assassinated. Race riots across the US. How hopeful do you suppose people felt? Think about 1969, 1970, what they felt like. The FLQ and the October Crisis, tanks on the streets of Montreal. How firm a foundation for a secure conviction that better and healing and hope were possible do you imagine we were standing on in those terrible and frightening days?”
Anna and Simeon, if they were here, now – who’d have seen it all. Stonewall and the assassination of Harvey Milk. Apartheid and the incarceration of Nelson Mandela. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the erection of the Berlin Wall and the crushing of every populist uprising that Central America could come up with, trying to shake off imperialism.
Anna and Simeon would have seen it all – but they’d also have seen it all turn to dust. Because the arc of history bends toward justice. It bends toward peace. It bends toward Godness and goodness.
And so do they. Anna and Simeon. Prophet and Elder in the temple two thousand years ago. They bend literally toward the infant Jesus as he’s brought into the temple for his eight-days blessing, because in him they recognize precisely that Godness and goodness that always prevails. That is always a reason to hope. That is and ever shall be defiantly unwilling to concede the field completely to whatever ugly deconstruction of justice and peace we as a human family can get up to.
The arc of history bends toward Godness and goodness, and so do Anna and Simeon. And it is not an accident that Anna and Simeon are very very old – it’s actually the most important part of the story.
Because it reminds us that Anna and Simeon have seen it all before. Up, down, bad, good. It reminds us that Anna and Simeon’s capacity not simply to pray very hard but to defiantly hope – as an entirely rational exercise, with confidence and on a firm foundation – isn’t in them despite whatever chaos and crazy might be going on around them, but it’s actually within whatever chaos and crazy is going on around them.
Because beset fore and aft though the light may have been, the light may be -- the light hasn’t been, the light is NEVER, extinguished. It just isn’t. Anna and Simeon have seen it all before, but the light abides.
And that’s what Anna and Simeon bear witness to. Yes, literally, to the birth into the world of all of the goodness of Godness squooshed up into the infant Christ whom they recognize immediately – and notably unlike the shepherds and wise men, without any need for prodding by angels!
But what they bring to in this moment in the temple is this Christian perspective.
That bears witness with conviction NOT to just some kind of endless cycle, but to an ARC of history that bends toward justice. Because God is. And Love is. And Goodness is. And these are powerful and unchanging and they prevail. What Anna and Simeon model for us, in effect, is living fiercely with that perspective.
That all our tiny incremental acts of kindness and caring and justice matter. Because they contribute to the powerful goodness of Godness that will prevail. Because it always has. Because that’s what God's like. And it's what we're made for.
The arc of history does bend toward justice. With God all things are possible. Amen.