Sermon – December 31 2023  Resolution…                       Rev. Betsy Hogan
A reading from American poet WH Auden, exerpts from his poem A Christmas Oratorio:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers…. 
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It…
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

So here we are, at the end of Baby’s First Week. Which if, at any point, you weren’t entirely certain what day it was, be assured that you are very much not alone in that. I always consider it a bit of a personal triumph when I manage to keep enough focus to actually land here on this particular Sunday.

After a week that always seems somehow to be held out of time.

But that’s a luxury that Mary and Joseph didn’t have. They may well have wanted it, with a new baby – they may well have had to fight against and somehow manage to sustain their focus –

But they were due, eight days after the birth of their son, at the temple in Jerusalem for Mary’s rite of purification and to present their infant to God for his circumcision and blessing. 

So back on that donkey Mary went, perhaps, if she was lucky – or maybe they just walked, as it’s only about ten kilometres from Bethlehem to Jerusalem – 

They defied the phenomenon of not knowing what day it is at any point in the week after Christmas, and arrived at the Temple for Jesus’ presentation. Probably exhausted, probably dishevelled, probably more than a little frazzled about traveling with a tiny infant when they’re still trying to figure out what to do with him and what he needs and how not to break him –

It's probably approximately the last thing they really feel like doing that day – but in the end it turns out to be not just this lovely moment, but one that really matters. 

When into all their frazzledness and anxiety and fear and uncertainty about not just a new baby but the meaning of his birth -- come Anna the Prophet and Simeon the Elder.

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 Anna and Simeon have perspective. 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 not, 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 the infant Christ in whom they recognize immediately – and notably unlike the shepherds and wise men, without any need for prodding by angels! – in whom they recognize immediately all Godness and goodness squooshed up into human life –

But they’re also, simply by virtue of their age, simply by virtue of their having seen it all before and having come through it still solid – they’re bearing witness to how much the capacity to hope depends on having perspective. 

On not seeing only whatever small emotionally-wearying piece of reality is currently unfolding, but being able to place it in the fullness of a grand scheme of human history in which many pieces of reality have been incrementally emotionally-wearying, but the arc of history bends toward justice. Toward Godness and goodness.

What Anna and Simeon bring to us, in this moment in the temple, is perspective. And perspective matters. Yes, the passion of youth who imagine their cries for justice have never been cried before, as Mary sang out her Magnificat as though it wasn’t in fact prefigured in the words of the prophets written on every subway wall – and in the Older Testament – for the entire millennium prior –

But in Anna and Simeon, the perspective of age. The bearing witness to those cries that have gone before. To the foundation they laid down on which the passion of youth now takes root. To the incremental changes they wrought in their time, the lessons they learned, the wisdom they gained. 

Anna and Simeon bring the perspective that matters, bearing witness to the reality that good and bad have always happened, in an ongoing and unchanging cycle – but also to the conviction that it’s NOT just a round and round cycle but an arc of history that bends toward justice. Toward Godness and goodness. It’s not just the perspective of age. It’s the perspective of faith.

Because remember, in that moment, as the story we heard from Luke’s gospel begins: Anna and Simeon arrive in the temple that day not knowing that today’s the day that the infant Jesus will turn up with Mary and Joseph for his eight-days naming ceremony. They arrive in the temple that day as they have every other day. 

With their decades of perspective on the world as it really is – but also with their faith perspective that God is. That Love is. That Goodness is. That these are powerful and unchanging and they prevail. 

Anna and Simeon are resolute in their faith perspective. There’s no WAY it hasn’t been tested – they’re really old! They have lived long lives and there is no way a long life gets lived without moments and days and even great blocks of time when one’s faith feels seriously tested.

But being resolute in faith doesn’t mean never faltering. It means when there IS faltering, we crawl back to it. And claim it afresh. Maybe even defiantly. Hopefully, energetically, intentionally. Facing reality with hard-won confidence that there can be better, that there can be justice, that there can be peace, that what IS, is in the hands of God, and Godness is goodness. 

What Anna and Simeon model for us, in effect, is living with resolution. That our perspective on this world will be a Christian perspective. In which God is present and real and at work in the world, and Godness is goodness.

So that what we see, what we locate, what we call out, what we embrace and lift up and participate in, is that goodness. We know what we’re meant for. We’re meant for caring and generosity and forgiveness and encouragement and unconditional love and support for those who are most vulnerable. We know these things.

Anna and Simeon remind us to live them with resolution. Firmness and intent. Solid in our Christian perspective, understanding the world as filled with the power of Godness and goodness that will prevail. Because that’s what God is like. 

The arc of history does bend toward justice. With God all things are possible. Amen.