It is a New Year. A new broom is sweeping. The fox is in the hen house. We have this image as we face the New Year of an old man being pushed off of life’s stage by an infant. Meanwhile, in the Bible, we find the baby, Jesus, being brought by his parents to the temple on the first Sunday after Christmas and there are these two old geezers blocking the way to the altar. Simeon and Anna are both older than eight track tapes. Yet, they don’t speak about the past, they tell of the future. God has intruded into our cycle of birth - innocence - rebellion - maturity - midlife - old age - and death. He has given us something eternal. What we see is not a generational division, but a timeless unity.
So when Simeon says, “Now dismiss your servant in peace,” he is not giving up. He not passing the baton to Jesus because this child represents the next generation. He is instead speaking about how this God-man is the fulfillment of the hopes of all humankind, old and young. He is thankful that he has been able to remain in the temple throughout his elder hood, because his meditation on the Torah has enabled him to bring truth to those who were seeking, no matter what their age. Now the truth that the ancients scrolls spoke hesitantly about, and the prophets only saw dimly, has become flesh and blood.
Anna also, is not notable for her great age, but for her consistent witness to the fact that spiritual things matter. If a person feels called to a religious life, they are neither a nutcase nor a saint. They are merely a person acting out on the fact that all of us should be set-apart for God.
In Jesus, the past, the present, and the future are kept in balance. Anyone who attempts to totally forget the past, live only in the present, while heading for the future, is bound to become hopelessly lost. The capacity of human culture to remember across generations, capture stories and images, and weave useful cautionary tales, is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. Many self-help gurus and some of our well-meaning friends will encourage us to shed some aspect of our temporal selves. They say, ‘forget the past,’ or ‘live in the moment,’ or ‘sacrifice for the future.’ I, on the other hand, like this image of old and new meeting in the temple.