The old and the young; the old and the new
Have you ever watched a film so many times that you think you know the entire script off by heart? You could have a go in your head at quoting it back to yourself, or listing the key scenes, but the chances are you’ll miss something out.
And so it is with the story in today’s reading. If someone was to ask me to tell the story of Jesus’ life prior to his public ministry, I’d have in mind the classic nativity story: the angel Gabriel, the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in a manger, the shepherds, the wise men, bad King Herod and the escape to Egypt… and I might remember the bit where Jesus gave his parents a heart attack by hanging out in the temple. I must admit to having skimmed over this passage many times. “Enough nativity; let’s skip to His ministry.”
However, this passage helps demonstrate the continuity of God’s plan. The passage reaches back, demonstrating how Jesus’ life was lived in accordance with the law, even from his infancy. He was circumcised on the eighth day; he was presented to the Lord at the temple; his mother was ceremonially purified after childbirth; in fact, his parents “performed everything according to the Law of the Lord” (v. 39). The passage also looks forward to a time when Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32) as well as being “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel”.
At the time of writing, riots were breaking out in synagogues; Christianity was viewed as a destructive, lawless sect. But, as Luke is at pains to demonstrate, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it and to usher in a new era. This passage shows us continuity, not conflict.
The passage also gives us some superb examples to follow. Firstly, Mary and Joseph are a young, financially poor but devout couple. They are obedient both to the law – they do everything required of them – but they are also obedient to the prophetic word of God, calling their child Jesus as the angel instructed.
Secondly, it’s easy to forget that amongst the tax collectors, the money-changers, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, there were Godly people like Simeon. He was presumably an older man, who had spent his life devoted to the Lord and waiting patiently for His coming. He was full of the Spirit, and his words brought great blessing to Mary and Joseph.
Thirdly, we read about Anna – a great example of patience and perseverance. She was 84 years old and must have lived as a widow for the best part of 60 years (assuming she married in her late teens). Nevertheless she devoted herself to God, waiting to hear His voice and waiting to speak of Jesus to all who would listen.
So, the passage gives us a beautiful image of young and old, of faith and encouragement being passed down through the generations. In my own life, I think of all the people who have faithfully prayed for me – more prayers than I could ever know about. I think of my mum’s prayers for me, my dad, my brother and my sister, all of whom fell away from God (to a greater or lesser extent). She didn’t live to see those prayers answered in full, but all four of us are now alive in Christ and active in our local churches.
I also think of the prayers and prophecies that so many of you at the Gateway Church have given to us for our daughter Isobel. I remember how, as a three-year-old, she had such a severe speech disorder that she was barely intelligible to others and was often frustrated at being unable to communicate. One of our closest friends gave us a prophecy that they could picture her at the front of church with a microphone, speaking loudly and clearly.
Now we can barely stop her from speaking out on a Sunday! And everyone can hear and understand her.
Let’s praise God, who has been delivering His plan for the world from the beginning of time and who will continue to do so until the end of time. Let’s be people who are fully devoted to His word and eager to hear His voice. And let’s keep praying, even for those situations where there’s not been a breakthrough, even when it feels hard to persevere. God knows every word of yours before it’s even on your lips.
Andy and Jenny King