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“From Generation to Generation”
Sunday December 27, 2020
The Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
Of all the heartbreaking things about 2020 and my goodness has there been heartbreak, one of the most heartbreaking things of all for me (and for many of us) is the way the that the corona virus has taken hold among our seniors, both threatening their lives and taking their lives in far too many instances. The other day I heard that here in British Columbia, 86 percent of those who have died from Corona virus have been seniors.
And so I am so grateful today for the opportunity to gather around a story of two elders, Anna and Simeon and to honour not just the role that seniors have in our society but to honour the value and importance of out intergenerational relationships.
I have often said that church is one of the few places in society where we have opportunity to gather intergenerationally. I think of the elders here at the church who have cared for and nurtured the lives of my own children and I am so grateful. I know that for many of you in your senior years, the opportunity to be in the company of our children here at the church is a true blessing.
On Christmas Eve, we witnessed the beauty of our Mount Seymour intergenerational community in the photo pageant the Branch and Coloumbe families created for us. Is there anything more beautiful than three generations of shepherds and angels gathered together in the fields? Or a mother and her daughters conferring with mean old Herod Dad?
Where else? Where else do you see one generation side by side with the next, sharing together what cannot be learned from a book or perfected on a sports field, because what is passed on through these stories much be born in the heart and acted upon in our living? Where else?
Throughout the gospel accounts of Jesus birth and particularly in Luke’s version of the story, there is an emphasis on the importance of one generation sharing with the next the faith that has been nurtured in their own lives. The hopes that have been kept alive in one generation are passed onto the next through the affirmation of the ongoing capacity of the Spirit to bring new life to birth.
In this morning’s reading Simeon, who is nearing the end of his life and Anna, an elderly widow, are the first to recognize Mary and Joseph as bearers of the light for the nations and parents of their longed for dreams come true.
What always strikes me about Anna and Simeon, these two elderly characters who take the baby Jesus and hold him in their arms and sing his praise, is that by today’s standards they are the last people you would expect to be embracing this young couple who have given birth to a child practically out of wedlock, breaking numerous social conventions along the way.
But instead of holding on to the way things have always been or putting their faith in the establishment and fearing the radically new, instead of lamenting the loss of their productive years, these two see the possibility inherent in the next generation to carry the message of God’s love in new ways. They know their job is both to pass on their wisdom born of a lifetime of experience but also to bless and empower the younger set.
There’s a kind of timeless practice humanity seems to have of looking down on the next generations, criticising them and lamenting the way they don’t do thinks like previous generations did them. How often do we say to our children “well in my day we did it this way.” How often do we wallow in our inability to decifer their language and our incacapcity to understand their new fangled ways? We are intolerant of their music, their technology and the clothes they wear. It’s as if this just comes naturally with aging.
And yet, we’ve needed them this year haven’t we? How often did you have a child or a grandchild show you how to get onto zoom?
On the other hand, younger generations can often be critical of older generations. We are a society that pulses at a fast pace. We can’t wait more than a few minutes for a meal to cook or a message to travel from one computer to the next. We busy ourselves with fitness regimes and organized sports, long commutes and jammed packed work and leisure schedules, rarely taking the time to slow down and breath, let alone to develop relationships with our elders.
And yet we’ve had to slow down this year haven’t we? And despite being the most vulnerable in this pandemic, do you know who has been the most resilient? Our seniors who know how to take things in their stride, have lived through difficult times before and have the long-term perspective on life that has been needed in these days. And guess who knew how to bake bread from scratch long before the rest of us started taking it up to fill our covid days?
The story of Anna and Simeon invite us to reflect on the way that we need each other across the generations because each generation has something to offer the next that can’t be gained from their own generation.
In a day and age where commitments are easily broken, Anna and Simeon have a lot to teach us about the benefit of long-term commitments. Having oriented themselves towards the discipline of a deeply spiritual life and regular attention to institutional rites and rituals, they show us the reward that attentiveness to our spiritual life can bring. They recognized the Christ child when he arrived at the temple because they were actively watching and waiting for him. They knew the benefits of a lifetime shaped by regular worship and faithful devotion to a promise of a world that could and can be different.
Because of this, instead of welcoming Mary and Joseph into the temple with all kinds of “this is how we do it here,” with do’s and don’ts and holier than thous, they come alongside these two youth and their child and affirm the presence of the spirit already at work in and through them. Anna and Simeon know that Mary and Joseph, the next generation, are the ones who will have the vitality and energy to raise up this child who will be the fulfillment of peace and justice for his people. The realization of this truth allows Simeon to die a peace-filled man, knowing that the world is in good hands.
As I reflect on this story this year I can’ help but think of the way people of all generations marched in the streets of Vancouver not long ago, inspired by Greta Thunberg, the older generation passing the baton to the next generation, the younger generation even while calling us out on our failures, welcoming us to join them in their commitment to our planet.
Throughout the pandemic we are living through we have been saying over and over again that we are in this together. As we prepare to turn the page on 2021 I find myself wondering what we have learned this year that might encourage us to truly honour each generation and the gifts we bring to one another.
Anna and Simeon were not afraid to let go of former ways of doing things in order to embrace the new thing God was doing through the Christ child.
Are there old ways of doing things that we too need to let go of in order to embrace the new?
What is it that we want to commit our lives to for the long haul?
What do we want to nurture and tend in ourselves and pass onto others?
What is the new thing God is doing in and through each of our generations?
What can we do to honour each other and the gifts we have to offer?
How can we enter the new year being truly stronger together?
In these lingering days of 2020, let’s take some time to ponder our responses to these questions so that we might enter the new year like Anna and Simeon, watching and waiting for new life to arrive in our midst, ready to embrace the presence of the Christ child that has come to us in this season and is greatly needed in our world. Amen.