Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Aunt Betty, Rae, and Anna: The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Sunday, February 2, 2014
I recently received a photograph of my Godchild, Trevor, with his “Aunt Betty.” It was taken in the parish hall of St. Matthew’s in Dallas. Arm in arm, smiling, Trevor’s head tilted towards her’s — you can see they have a special relationship.
“Aunt Betty” is not technically or genetically Trevor's aunt. Aunt Betty is an older woman — and a widow — in the congregation who over the years has developed a special relationship with Trevor beginning when he was an infant. She attended his baptism, has prayed for him, has financially supported the ministries of the church, greeted and engaged him in conversations on Sunday mornings and Wednesday potlucks, and has even been his Sunday school teacher. As I look upon my teenage Godchild, I am so grateful that Trevor has “Aunt Betty” in his life.
As a child, I was blessed with my own special relationship with an older couple at St. Timothy’s in Lake Jackson. Jack and Rae served as my “in-town grandparents.” Jack served on the vestry and Rae served as a Daughter of the King and Altar Guild Directress. Both were my 7th grade Sunday school teachers. Similar to Trevor’s “Aunt Betty”, they supported me in my life and faith development in a myriad of ways, providing special attention, love, and connection that helped to shape me into the person I am today.
I returned to St. Timothy’s last year to serve as supply priest while their priest was on vacation. I will always remember the greeting I received from Rae, now a widow. Open arms and loving smile. She was so happy to see me, just as she always has been. My earliest memories include her smile and love. While I have not lived in Lake Jackson for a very long time, I cannot remember a time without her.
I share these images and memories with you because today we celebrate and remember the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Luke is the only gospel to record this event. It tells us of how a woman and man, both prophets, had the insight and ability to perceive the Christ child in their midst and to welcome him with joy and love.
Given the examples of “Aunt Betty” and Rae, and given that Luke allows Simeon to speak, I would like to take a closer look at Anna this morning.
Unfortunately Anna’s words are not recorded, but Luke slows down enough to share with us some details of her life and faithfulness — beginning with her identity and role as a prophet. She “continues the line of notable prophets from the” Old Testament: Miriam (Exodus), Deborah (Judges), and Huldah (2 Kings; 2 Chron).[1]
The role of the prophet is to speak the will of God. And it is in Luke’s second book, Acts of the Apostles, Peter interprets the events of Pentecost through the words of the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:18).
Anna is a prophet, upon whom the Spirit also rests, and while Luke did not record her words, the evangelist does say: “she began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna was a prophet.
Luke also tells us that Anna was a widow. Throughout the bible, widows are examples of the poor and society’s treatment of them is an index of society’s faithfulness to God.
It is also true that in Luke, widows are empowered. In a number of examples, Luke shows widows as agents of action, change, and justice. This includes Anna with her prophetic voice and praise of God.
Dr. Barbara Reid, in her book on the Gospel of Luke (currently being read by my Tuesday Bible Study),  notes that “Anna is the prototype of what would later develop into a clerical order of consecrated widows whose duties included praying, fasting, visiting and laying hands on the sick, making clothes, and doing good works.”[2]
Indeed, Luke, “who shares more episodes about widows than any other”[3] gospel, lifts up examples of heroic women such as the “Persistent Widow” (chp. 18) and “The Widow Who Gives All” (chp. 21).
Today we learn of the Anna: “a reliable figure of maturity and wisdom”[4]; a prophet, and an empowered woman, carrying out the work of God in the temple.
So what difference does this make for us today? Why spend time with Anna? I say because she looks a lot like Trevor’s “Aunt Betty” and my Rae. Empowered women making a difference and encouraging others in they way they engage those around them with faith and Christ's love.
In an age when families live far apart, and grandparents don’t often see grandchildren, we stand in need of these relationships. In an age when marketers divide and subdivide age groups, economic groups, and any other category that serves their purposes, but in effect divides us and separates us in so many ways…we stand in need of connection with one another. Theologians and social scientists agree: We need and benefit from inter-generational relationships. We need them to live the abundant life to which God calls us.
Perhaps the Junior Daughters of the King remember when we met last week, that I said: never accept the notion that you are too young to have a powerful, deep, and significant relationship with God. And today I will add: never accept the notion that there is not a place for you in the Church, now or in the future. For God may be preparing some of you, even now, to one day be prophets, priests, and bishops.
So today, to all the Annas and Simeons in the congregation — those who may think that they are too old or have little to share or give to younger generations — I say: do not accept this notion.
On this day when we remember the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, let us take note of how a woman and man had the insight and ability to perceive the Christ child in their midst and to welcome him with joy and love. For that is our role and our calling: to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
What would it look like to have so many Annas and so many Simeons celebrating and proclaiming Christ among us in the children gathered here? Well, it would look like “Aunt Betty” and Rae and Jack. And so many of you.
I will leave you with one last image. It is a painting of a modern day version of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. With brilliant colors, the artist depicts the interior of a modern day church. In the foreground is a smiling, elderly man holding a baby. An elderly woman is calling out to the congregation who is already moving toward them. A happy young couple stands near their baby and observe all of this activity and excitement with amazement.
This is a picture of God’s family. Where all of us have a place. Where all have important roles, all are valued; united in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. I say: do not accept the notion that we are to be anything other than that.





[1] Reid, Barbara. “Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke”, p. 91.




[2] Ibid, p. 93.




[3] Ibid, p. 92.




[4] Ibid, p. 91.