The Day Has Come

A sermon for Ash Wednesday

2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10

I knew the day would come. Such an unlikely friendship, so strong but yet in many ways so fragile, it couldn’t last forever. Through Facebook posts over the past nine years we had watched this bond form between my friends and a songbird as it kept returning every winter to their backyard. It had learned to eat mealworms straight out of their hands, and would routinely chirp outside the kitchen window for company when it was too rainy. And each night it would roost under the eave in the shed by the window they would deliberately leave open. Since the longest recorded lifespan for an Eastern Phoebe, a small brown and tan flycatcher of the eastern United States, was ten and a half years, I knew the day would come when their little feathered friend would not show up, and I’m sure they did too.



This year, like clockwork, Phoebe, as they named her, showed up in early December from wherever it was she spent the summer. She was her usual spunky, cheerful self all winter, but all who follow my friend on Facebook received the heartbreaking report yesterday—just in time for Ash Wednesday—that Phoebe had been found dead beneath the shed window. It looks like she died of natural causes. My friends shared that they held her up close one last time—such rare opportunity for a little bird—admired her little delicate Phoebe features, remembered her bravery and curiosity, and then gave her a proper backyard burial. I think many of us who followed the adventures of Phoebe and the Ragan and had enjoyed all the photos of this little bird feeding right out of Mr. Ragan’s hand mourned a bit yesterday.

We know the day will come. We’re so strong, but yet so fragile in so many ways. That’s why we’re here tonight…to confront the reality that one day our flight will too come to an end. It is inescapable. Someone said it’s a little like having to greet a pastor after worship is over while we’re under construction and limited to one way in and one way out. There’s no slipping through some other exit. You’re going to shake our hands, one way or another.

Some of us may not need such a stark reminder this year because we’ve dealt with mortality afresh in our families or friendships. We’re painfully aware that we really just eat out of God’s hand, each day a blessing, and we rest in the shelter God has provided. It is such a good and gracious hand stretched out with things we don’t deserve, with mercies more numerous than we could ever count, and yet it is so easy to forget all that and begin to think the gifts are treasures we’ve gotten ourselves, scrounged up from our own determination, treasures to hoard and stockpile. It is good to be occasionally reminded our day will come, the day when God’s loving and eternal embrace will put an end to all our selfishness and pride and reveal fully just how connected we all are.

ashes (2)

Yet, in fact, in all the most important ways that day has already come. Confronting the finality of our lives does allow for a certain stock-taking of our motives and goals, but be certain of this: for those who’ve been marked by a certain watery cross the day of God’s total embrace has already come. For those who’ve been claimed by baptism, the day for redemption is here. We live in God’s grace now. We have received the fullness of his light and love now, have been given a foretaste of the feast to come now, and we are therefore reconciled with one another. Because God loves us and rescues us from sin and death, God has given his own Son to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

That means a lot of things, and one of the things it means is that we may live and share in God’s divine life now, not just after we die. God’s forgiveness gives us opportunities now to demonstrate and share God’s grace and mercy with others—the same grace and mercy he has first shared with us through the life and death of Jesus. As Paul says to the church in Corinth, let it now be said again to us: don’t accept the grace of God in vain. That is, let’s not waste any part of this marvelous life God has given us.

So, while much of the world right now is forced to wear facemasks to present the spread of disease, Christ-followers have a special opportunity to wear the cross. One is a sign that I might be a threat or you might be a threat to me, an emblem of our need to be timid and careful.

Danger of epidemic

The other is a sign of our common brokenness and of God’s love for us, that ultimately we have been set free. Let us bear that cross for he has cleansed us. It is a sign of our boldness to live this life that is now reconciled to God and one another.

Perhaps one of the most basic and important and ways we display and enact this reconciliation with one another is in the ways we actually receive one another, the ways we bring people into our presence. It is the practice of hospitality: extending a greeting or a handshake, making room for people in our spaces and lives. An up-front acknowledgement each and every day of our common fragility and brokenness sets the stage for healthy relationships to occur. It helps to cut through harmful systems of power and privilege. It reminds us that we are really all on the same playing field after all, that on this earth our livelihoods are tied more tightly than we might think.

The ancients understood this well. The harsh life of the desert, which was always nearby, even in Jesus’ age, had impressed upon generations that you never know when you might take your last drink of water. Wilderness life humbled you, and you were ever aware that everyone was at the mercy of the same elements.

Ravenna Hospitality of Abraham (2)
“The Hospitality of Abraham” (Ravenna)

The privilege and power that come from things like the clothes we wear, or the schools we send our children to, or the side of town we live on, or even the color of our skin often make us think we have different value. Making unhelpful distinctions between each other through religion and religious practices happens all too often, too. It’s one of the first things Jesus addresses among his followers, and we hear that in the gospel reading today. Some people use prayer to make themselves appear more holy, and others lift up their generosity and philanthropy  or their attachment to certain righteous causes mainly to get attention before others. On social media it’s called “virtue signaling,” the public sharing of one’s actions and beliefs for the main purpose of showing off one’s good character. Whatever they are and however they arise, these distinctions pop up all over the place in human community when we are blind to our link to our common Creator and Redeemer, and when we ignore our common link to the dust from which we come. Whether we intend it or not, these distinctions communicate to others messages what a facemask might: “You’re tainted.” Or “We have reason to be afraid of each other.”

It is very possible that during this season of Lent the newest gathering and welcoming areas of our church will be complete, and if not during Lent, then not long afterwards. We have also been since September giving special focus to our congregations’ objective for Evangelism and Outreach Objective, which is to “seek, invite, and attract people to create more opportunities for the Holy Spirit to deepen their relationship with Jesus.” Undertaking evangelism and hospitality from the position that Jesus has already reconciled us to one another, even to those we have yet to meet and receive here is the best way to go about it. We are one in our dust-ness, but also one in Christ’s love for us.

“The Feast of Simon the Pharisee” (Rubens)

This Lent we invite you to take on the discipline of hospitality with us.  Host a dinner in your house. Invite people over for a game night in your home, maybe even some families at church you’d like to get to know better. Introduce yourself to someone at worship you do not know. And join us on Wednesdays over the next several weeks for a special series that will focus on hospitality and welcome as it is pictured in Scripture. We will be looking at select stories in the Bible that give us examples of how God wants us to relate to people as fellow wanderers in the desert, fellow migrants who are actually all eating out of the same hand, the same nail-scarred hand. We will be unpacking those scenes from God’s story that may help us see and cherish the unlikely friendships that may arise.

And learn that it is a holy thing to receive a common mortal, to view one another in terms of the price God paid for us in his Son, and not according to the other ways we devise. For the day has come—we knew it would—and now we can learn to depend utterly on God the provider, who always leaves that window open for us, and commit our fragile lives to the bold witness of Jesus’ love.


Thanks be to God!

Phoebe 2

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Brought to you by the letter B, for “Beloved”

a sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord [Year A]

Matthew 17:1-9

Every time the Sunday of Jesus’ Transfiguration rolls around, someone in my family brings up a story from my childhood which I am too young to remember anything about but which I’ve heard so many times that I feel like I can remember it. Do you have stories like that in your life? One of mine revolves around this strange event of Jesus’ life. Often my uncle, who is also a Lutheran pastor and who was in seminary at the time, will text me or message me on Transfiguration Sunday and remind me of it.

As the story goes, I was about three years old at the time and my dad was reading a magazine that had a little comic of Jesus’ transfiguration. I guess the little cartoon drawing got my attention because I was standing next to him and looking over his shoulder. Curious to see what I thought, my dad asked if I knew who the people were. I pointed to the person in the middle, who was depicted with a beard and wearing a white robe, and said, “That’s Jesus.” Then my dad pointed to the two older guys on either side of Jesus and asked me if I knew who they were, probably hoping in some way that I was a child prodigy, or a model Sunday School student. I was silent for a second and then answered, “That’s Bert and Ernie.”

Bert and Ernie
artwork drawn for me during worship today…by a child who was baptized on the Transfiguration of Our Lord five years ago.

No, I was not and am not a prodigy, but now I can say that every year when Elijah and Moses are standing there holding a conversation with Jesus I think of Sesame Street. And, truth be told, to many 3-year-olds there are few figures who hold greater authority in life than Bert and Ernie. They teach life lessons. They model how to get along as opposites. They are arguably the most famous pair in the whole world of educational TV, representing not just different personalities, but different ways of dwelling in the world. And suffice it to say if a three-year-old had been on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, that kid would have been really impressed with Jesus if Jesus were hanging out with Bert and Ernie.

Being impressed with Jesus is what the transfiguration is really all about. The light, the clouds, the voice—whatever else our modern minds want to make of this strange and mysterious event up on the mountain, it’s clear that it’s meant to get our attention on Jesus. It tells us this is who we’re dealing with here. He is not our ordinary teacher. He dazzles. He shines. He has authority like no one else. He is on level with or even above the greatest figures of Israel’s history and faith, the pillars that God’s Word is based upon: Moses and Elijah.


It would be like being in a Super Bowl huddle with 24-year-old Patrick Mahomes and wondering just what he’s made of and then looking up and seeing him talking with Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. It would be like calling in the young IT person your company has just hired to set up a new network and set up a new anti-virus system and then peeking in the employee break room to find her conferring with Steve Jobs and Alan Turing. Jesus may still be relatively new to the disciples up on the Mount of Transfiguration but it is clear from all that happens that something absolutely groundbreaking is happening in him and all eyes and ears need to be on him. God loves him. God has placed him on this earth to demonstrate what God’s righteousness is like. Move over, Bert and Ernie. Today’s episode is brought to you by the letter B, for “Beloved.”

The disciples’ reaction is about what we’d expect. It’s about what we’d expect because we do this too when we’re amazed and dazzled by new people and new experiences. We want to prolong them, bottle them up, save them for later. I’ve seen the youth as they prepare to leave Winter Celebration, often getting teary-eyed and clinging to their friends, wishing they could somehow stay at Eagle Eyrie all the time. Many of us have felt the urge to keep that Christmas Eve candle lit just a little longer and only blow it out at the last possible minute. We want Christmas to “last all year.” I’ve myself struggled to come home from vacations or get back into the swing of things after a particularly meaningful time away with friends and family.


Peter’s up on that mountain, in the moment, and says, “It is good to be here,” and then he comes up with this idea to make three tents for Jesus and the Elijah and Moses. Peter’s so impressed with Jesus that he doesn’t even think of where he and James and John are going to sleep. But then before any of that can take place, a cloud rolls in, Moses and Elijah disappear, and Jesus tells them all it’s time to head back down the mountain.

And then he does something very strange—maybe it’s the strangest thing of all in this whole episode. Jesus tells them not to mention any of it until after he the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. Typically people come away from amazing spiritual experiences and want to share it, want to let people know what happened. This particular transfiguration Jesus wants to remain a secret.

Just who is Jesus? That’s what’s at stake here. How we’re going to talk about Jesus and explain his presence in our life is not just a transfiguration issue, but a daily challenge. I was once at a pastors’ conference and heard Richard Graham, former bishop of the Metro DC Synod of our denomination, say, “Jesus is the light of the world. Christians don’t advance the conversation in a helpful way when we say to the world, ‘Jesus is just an interesting option.’”

Jesus is announced as God’s Son, God’s beloved, not just another great teacher or leader in a list of great teachers and leaders, and if the point of his transfiguration is to get all eyes on him, to notice how special he is and to make us impressed, then it appears the disciples will need to keep following and listening to him. God wants them to keep listening and moving with Jesus when they come down the mountain.

There is a movement in this story, you may notice, from seeing and experiencing to hearing and following. At first the disciples see things—the dazzling white clothes, the authority figures of ancient Israel, the bright could that overshadows. But by the end of the story, all those visions are gone and they are left with sound—God’s command to listen to Jesus, and Jesus’ own words of “Do not fear” and his urge to “Get up.” The key then to understanding who Jesus truly is, the key to deepening our relationship with him, will lie not in seeking out or prolonging the religious experiences, as holy as they may be, but in listening to him, taking in his words, realizing that in Jesus, God has given us someone we can always count on.

This past week in Confirmation Class we were looking at the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, that long middle section that talks about Jesus, and we were specifically discussing Jesus’ death and resurrection and what it means for us. How do people of faith explain what Jesus’ death on the cross actually accomplishes and why his death plays such an important, I would say, indispensable part of his love for us. We talked about how in some ways Scripture presents Jesus is a sacrifice for us, that he lays down his life like a lamb so that the guilt we bear and the sins of the world can somehow be erased and we can be reconciled to God. Then we looked at how some parts of Scripture talk about Jesus as a rescuer or a liberator that he comes to redeem us, set us free from the ways of darkness and selfishness that hold us captive. And then we talked about how in some ways Jesus is shown as our purifier. His death purifies us of our sin like water and shows us how powerful love is—how powerful unconditional love is—in its ability to make people new again.

a Greek Orthodox depiction of Christus Victor (Christ the rescuer)

There are other ways that Scripture talks about Jesus’ death, of course, but those were the three we looked at—sacrifice, rescuer, and purifier. And then the confirmands were asked to share of those three which made most sense to them. Here’s how Scripture talks of Jesus. How do you talk about him? It was quiet for a moment but then one of the confirmands raised his hand and said Jesus is a purifier for him because each Sunday after worship he feels purified, cleansed and renewed to go forth into the week. One young woman said that she feels Jesus is more of a rescuer because she has felt Jesus’ presence in her life when she was going through some really difficult stuff and that Jesus was there for her, bringing her out of it.

Hearing their testimonies was so moving for me. It seems to me that kind of faith comes from someone who has realized that what makes Jesus so impressive and authoritative is not that he provides flashy religious experiences but that he comes down the mountain and enters the world’s pain. It seems to me that kind of faith comes from people who know that the two most important people Jesus is seen standing beside, and in conversation with, are not Elijah and Moses, but the two common criminals that hang next to him on the cross. That kind of faith is born in someone who has come to understand, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the most dazzling Jesus ever gets is when he is stripped of all his clothes and left to die. If God’s Beloved Son is crucified, died, and is buried, then there is no limit to how far God will go to give us his righteousness.


Life can be so hard. The valleys can be dark and the road treacherous. I think Jesus does want his disciples to save up this awesome vision for later, after all, to bottle it up in their minds eye. If you, like me, wonder what’s going on with this transfiguration, after all, if you’re wondering what to do with it, how Bert and Ernie might fit in, then just let the vision sit with you. Let the vision of Jesus transfigured in glory sit with you and then continue to listen to him. Get up on your feet and hear his word not to be afraid. And when you’re moving through days of grief and sorrow that never seem to end when you begin to think in your guilt and doubt there’s no way you can be put back together again, no way anyone could purify or rescue you, then remember of where this all is eventually going to go.

Listen: God’s beloved has come to you. Tell that story over and over. He was transfigured. He is risen. Jesus is the light of the whole world. And his love is most impressive thing the we’ll ever know.


Thanks be to God!

Bert and Ernie 2

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

The Light that Makes a Difference

a sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [Year A]

Matthew 5:13-20 and Isaiah 58:1-9a

Although it seems that construction here is going to drag on forever, we are actually about two months from completion. One of the major things that has happened in the past two weeks—which is one of the things that has to be gotten right before the project can continue—has been the addition of our new skylights. Because the new administrative suite has expanded the building in such a way that we’ve lost the access we once had to sunlight, the skylights have been carefully thought out and designed so as to provide maximum natural light to the interior.

The new skylight just on the other side of this sanctuary wall, for example, will allow almost twice as much light into that hallway and through those stained-glass windows as the ones before. Three small skylights in the ceiling of the new conference room will help bring light to the office spaces. Perhaps most spectacular of all is the skylight in the new gathering area. It will run the length of the exterior wall that faces the parking lot and is placed the way it is not just so that light will come in, but so that when you look up through it you can see our cross. I think we’re all going to like that the architect was that thoughtful with his concept.

skylight (2)

In each of these cases what I’ve learned with the Building Team over the past year or so of designing and planning is that light matters. I think I always understood that fact on some level, but this whole Brighten Our Light process made it much more real. How light is channeled, reflected, muted, diffused, focused is simple, yet complicated—there’s actually a whole field of study you can major in at a handful of universities called architectural lighting. It helps you learn the physics and art of how light defines a space, opens it up, lifts a mood. Right now there’s a new song on the radio by Eric Church called “Monsters.” It’s not exactly architectural-lighting-level-stuff, but Church talks about killing the monsters in his bedroom as a child just by turning on the 60-watt bathroom lightbulb. Light matters. It makes a difference.

That’s all the disciples of Jesus really needed to know to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them about how their faith, their righteousness, would have an impact on the world. Their actions of love and mercy would be the way the light of God would get in to the dark corners of the world, bounce off the walls, lift the mood, kill monsters. They will matter, make a difference.


For some time I’ve noticed we talk this way about the desire about our lives. People speak in terms of making a difference in the world, and it seems to resonate with a lot of us. Implicitly or explicitly people mention this longing that their lives will have impact on others and make it a better place. The theme song for the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, in fact, was “Make a Difference.” We were all taught this song down in the Superdome. “I want my life to make a difference,” went the song’s chorus, “I want my life to make a change.”

That may be, in fact, how you feel. You want your life to make a difference. This place in Scripture right here, right near the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is probably the closest Jesus ever comes to saying “Go make a difference in the world.” He puts a little different spin on it, though, for the difference his disciples are to make in the world isn’t mainly for their own sake of fulfillment. It’s for God’s sake.“Let your light so shine before others,” he says, “so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

That is, the light I shine isn’t primarily for my own well-being, so that I feel I have a purpose. Jesus doesn’t say anything about my feelings at all, in fact. Isn’t that funny? This is about others getting the light and then mainly about God. The light we reflect, focus, diffuse, channel, the 60-watt bulb we flick on to kill the monsters of evil and hatred, is for the purpose of bringing God glory.


This is also the part of Jesus’ teachings where he gets more scientific than anywhere else. It’s not just light that Jesus uses as an example for his disciples’ lives, but salt. I doubt the disciples would have known this, but because salt is a polar compound, it is able to dissolve into just about any greater substance and make the whole thing taste totally different. The positive and negative ions can dissociate and move all over the place. Have you ever baked bread without adding salt to the dough? I’ve learned the hard way. It tastes awful. It’s like eating plain wheat. And the dough also rises too fast without salt, so it can often go flat. Salt slows the growth of yeast. Just a little is all you need because it can spread out and fill the whole loaf. Therefore salt not only gives a loaf flavor—makes it worth eating—but it also gives the bread better form and texture.

For Jesus, the difference his followers are to make in the world has to do with spreading out, not necessarily taking over. The difference is about expanding, influencing, impacting through small but potent measures. It is about taking the light of Jesus Christ and bouncing it into whatever space we’re in. But the kicker is that this difference is not something we make alone. It is our difference, our impact, our influence as a group, as a church, as a body. It is not “I” but “We.” The song from the 2012 Youth Gathering, although it was catchy, might better have gone, “We want our life together to make a difference. We want our life together to make a change.”


Jesus needs his followers to know they are a community, that the light they will give, the light the world so desperately needs, is fundamental to the way they live with each other. It’s about their collective values of sharing bread with the hungry, of bringing the poor into their houses, of clothing the naked. They nurture this kind of life together. In fact, these are the guidelines for Israel’s life together that Isaiah announces five or six centuries before Jesus is even born. These things are great when a single person undertakes them, of course, but when even a small community makes them their flavor, an entire world can feel the difference. The light of God will break forth like the dawn.

Things haven’t changed. The goal for God’s people hasn’t changed. We are still called to be salt and light and nurture our common life. Maybe, just maybe, one way the church can be light and salt these days is to be the community that can somehow model unity and respect in the midst of a very divided world. In case you haven’t noticed, the rest of the loaf is tension and anger, it’s Republicans and Democrats ripping up speeches and gloating and yelling at each other, politics as usual. The rest of the world’s loaf right now is malaise, rising levels of cynicism and sarcasm, anxiety and rates of suicide.

And while all that kind of stuff is going on, local Christian congregations will be the salt that keeps the good flavor going. They’ll create a meal chain for a family going through a devastating loss. They’ll have birthday parties for 6-year-olds and instead of asking for gifts they’ll ask guests to bring book donations for a local elementary school library. They’ll see the news reports of tensions rising in the Persian Gulf region, and they’ll take up a collection for Navy personnel who may be stationed on a ship near it all. They’ll maintain a sense of humor somehow, eat pancakes and watch youth be silly at a Talent Show. I know syrup is sweet and Jesus is talking salt, but it works. These people will be peaceful and forgiving in spite of their ornery, clueless pastor. Maybe they’ll do things like that. I think they already do.

One thing I know for sure is—because it’s precisely what Jesus says to them—is that, washed by the mercy of Jesus Christ, they become people who say, “I am part of the problem with the world. I have some work to do” in the midst of a culture who is always saying, “Those people are the problem. They have some work to do.” Christ’s followers will be the ones, the salty little ones, who will point out their own faults and God’s mercy to overcome them rather than pointing out the faults and shortcomings of others. Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and the scribes, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” That’s what the Pharisees and scribes were all about, don’t you know? They were always pointing out where the other people fell short, the sins that other people needed to confess. The Pharisees were experts at diagnosing the problems of the world. The righteousness that exceeds them says, “Look no farther than yourself. Look no farther than yourself. Look no farther than yourself.”


Because people with that excessive righteousness will know it’s really not about them. They’ll know it’s not about how bright their light is, as if the glow originates within themselves, as if they’ve got their crap together and they’re so goody-two-shoes that all the Pharisees and scribes would die to be just like them. In fact, Jesus’ followers will know their crap isn’t together and God loves them anyway.

No, if they shine at all they’ll know it’s because they’ve been opened up somehow to a certain degree—maybe through repentance, maybe through suffering—opened up, like a hole in the roof, a gash in the ceiling, so that when people look at them they see the cross shining through.  It’s because people will look at them—at us—whether we’re in the building with our cool new skylights or we’re outside of it somewhere, like dissociated ions, filling the world, and they’ll see a righteousness that comes from somewhere else, from a love that is above, shining down. They’ll see us in our light and know nothing among us but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. They’ll not see a people who are making a difference, but a loving God of light who makes a difference.



Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.


Waiting for consolation

A sermon for the Presentation of Our Lord

Luke 2:22-40 and Psalm 84

It was just a few weeks ago. I needed to pick up a few things at Target and I had my 3-year-old son with me. He’s only recently been allowed to walk by himself in the store instead of being strapped into the cart, but I thought I’d give it a go. In we walk, the two of us together, and make our way across the store by way of the wide aisle. We get about halfway to the food section and I realize he’s not right beside me anymore. I turn around and find that he is face to face with a woman I’ve never seen before. She’s got a red top on and khaki pants, so I figure she must be a store employee. She has crouched down to talk to him right next to her re-stocking cart, and as I approach them she looks up and says, “You must be Jasper’s father!”

“Yes,” I explained, as I got ready to pull him away so she could get back to work.

“Oh, let me talk to Jasper,” she said, “I heard his voice since he came in the store and I’ve been hoping I’d get to see him.”

“Excuse me,” I asked, “you know my son’s voice?”

“Oh, yes! I love him. I met him back in the fall and have seen him a few times, but it’s been several months since we’ve run into each other!”

Jasper stood there and gave me a look like, “Dad, leave us alone.”

So I watched them talk for a few minutes, utterly engaged with one another.

It was one of those moments where I realized that my own son, although he was still young, although he still has so much to learn about people and strangers and conversations, was already forming relationships and interacting with the world apart from me. Although I am very much in control of his world, he was already able to venture out from my care and know people I don’t know. It’s kind of a proud but scary feeling. The Target employee was excellent, though.

It wasn’t Target, but the Jerusalem Temple for Jesus. And he wasn’t three-years-old and able to talk. He was just forty days old, right at that point in his development where he might have been able to start smiling at people, where his eyes could focus only about 8 to 12 inches away. Mary and Joseph walk in and immediately encounter someone who has been waiting for him. This stranger—not a temple employee, but a faithful, devout elder of the city—scoops Jesus from Mary’s arms (can you believe it?!) and begins a conversation.

Aert de Gelder

The man hasn’t ever actually met Jesus before, but in some way he knows him. He knows him because he’s been waiting for him—waiting for the consolation of God’s people—and the Holy Spirit has led him to the Temple that day. And then here comes Anna, another elder who happened to never leave the temple, so faithful was she in her devotion to God. She begins to praise God and again makes a remark about waiting for him like everyone has been waiting for redemption.

The holy couple are probably both proud and a bit scared. They have that moment—that moment when they realize their child, still so young, will be forming relationships and interacting with the world apart from them. In fact, that is the sole purpose of Jesus’ existence, his reason for living, moreso than any other human: to form a relationship of love and mercy with all the people of the earth, to have an impact on everyone. As Simeon says, he is destined for the rising and falling of many. He is to be consolation. He is to be redemption.


In the modern-day classic comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, the main character, TV weatherman Phil Connors, finds himself mysteriously stuck in a time loop where he always wakes up at 6:00am on February 2. He relives the day over and over again. He never ages, the town never changes, and he goes through the course of each February 2 meeting the same people and having the same opportunities. The whole time, of course, he is waiting and waiting to figure out how he can be redeemed from the whole situation. Quite literally, he seeks consolation, deliverance, from what quickly becomes a hell for him. We watch him respond to his situation any number of ways. He is transformed through his waiting but in the end his deliverance comes from within. He figures out, at long last, how to reach his own consolation.

groundhog day

It is a charming movie and on some levels it teaches good lessons about things like attitude and charity and suffering, but Simeon and Anna are both looking for and find consolation and redemption from outside themselves. Their deliverance into a new world comes from a Savior. Their hopes are fulfilled not because some thought or attitude suddenly clicks from within, like trial-and-error self-help situation, checking out the books one-by-one from the library, but because they see God has reached down into the world and given his Son who is going to have conversations and relationships with people despite their brokenness. He is ours. The wait is over.

A better comparison to Simeon and Anna and to ourselves on this February 2 is the Greensboro Four, the young black men who, 60 years ago today, were sitting down at a whites-only Woolworth counter in Greensboro, NC, and waiting for a meal. They were waiting for consolation, too, for a redemption from a corrupt system of racial discrimination that would only come about when white people in power would let it happen. They, too, found themselves in a hellish time loop, day after day at the same counter, waiting for equality and facing hostility. They would end up waiting 146 days to get served lunch, but that’s only counting from the beginning of the sit-in. Technically-speaking you could say they waited over 200 years.

Simeon and Anna, both at the end of their lives, reveal that waiting and seeking is part of faith. And they both reveal that the only true deliverance from world that repeats its darkness and sorrow and injustice over and over again involves seeing the light of Jesus, of letting him love us and claiming that love. The only real fulfillment to the long wait for salvation is to behold the Son of God whose arrival reveals our inner thoughts, who brings the fall and rise of many. And the ones who fall are the ones we tend to think of as great and powerful, the ones who abuse authority, who lord over their people, who use things like religion and the economy to oppress others. And the ones who rise are the ones we cast aside, who are poor, or who are mourning, elderly, feeble, fragile.

Psalm 84, appointed for today, the Presentation of Our Lord, makes note of how both the sparrow and the swallow are able to make their nests by the altars of the Lord. Two of the most insignificant, most delicate, most non-descript creatures find place in God’s presence, right at its heart. Who are the sparrow-like in our time? Who are the people whose existence is so vulnerable, dependent on others for safety? They are the ones able to draw nearest to God.

baby swallows
baby swallows in a nest

You may be interested to know there is only one other person in the gospel of Luke who is described as waiting and looking for God in the same way and that person, too, ends up holding Jesus. It comes at the very end of the gospel as Jesus’ limp and lifeless body is taken down from the cross and his followers wonder what to do with it. Another man, like Simeon, appears from nowhere and asks Pilate for the body so he may place it in a tomb. His name is Joseph of Arimathea, and he holds the broken body of Christ the same way Simeon held the child. He too is described as a good and righteous man who is looking for the kingdom of God.


Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple forty days after his birth, but in Jesus’ death we see just how much God’s love is presented to us. The family comes to be purified according to the law, but through the cross we see how we all are purified by love. Simeon and Anna see a light beginning to shine on the child’s fortieth day but Easter morning will prove just how bright that light will get. These devout and righteous men may hold Jesus in their arms, but in reality it is the other way around: Jesus holds us—in birth, in death, in the life to come.

And today we behold him again, or, rather, he holds us, in bread and wine, in his words,  in the promise of deliverance and salvation from all that holds you captive. He is your Savior. Let him crouch down, scoop you up, love you forever. “Master, now you dismiss your servants in peace, according to your word. Our own eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared—like a table, like a feast, like a lunch counter—in the presence of all your peoples.


Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.