Simulcast Service from Bethlehem
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
17 December 2011
Imagine having to wait for something for 63 years!
Imagine having to wait
- For something very important.
- For something promised to you with continued reassurances.
- For something that will be life changing.
- For something that has been delayed again and again.
- For something where others have already given up hope.
- For something that is at the heart of your religious beliefs.
This is the story of Anna who plays an important part at the end of Luke’s Christmas account when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple for dedication. Anna is paired by Luke with the elderly Simeon, the one who blesses the child Jesus.
Anna, described by Luke as a prophet, had married young perhaps just 14 years of age, was widowed after only seven years, and then lived to the age of 84 years, waiting patiently all the while. So she had spent 63 years in widowhood—63 years in waiting.
Imagine having to wait for something for 63 years!
The circumstances of those last six decades of the pre-Christian millennium, are marked by the arrival of the Roman army under the general Pompey, Roman occupation, totalitarian rule by Herod, the corruption of the priesthood, and hard economic times.
Imagine having to wait all these years. Imagine waiting and wondering if God would indeed keep his word, if the promise would indeed be fulfilled, if the Messiah would indeed appear. Simeon and Anna were both described as waiting:
- Simeon “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” (verse 25)
- Anna “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (verse 38)
Imagine having to wait like Anna for 63 years.
Palestinians and Israelis can resonate with the situation of Simeon and Anna, now having waited patiently for 63 years for the creation of two states. The cry goes up, “How long?” This Palestinians cannot understand.
Imagine waiting for all these years as did Anna and Simeon.
Yet theirs is the example of patient waiting in hope. Simeon has trusted the promise that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (verse 26) Anna likewise never left the temple night and day. (verse 37)
Anna and Simeon are characterized by their faith. Faith and hope exist together. The Reformer John Calvin said, “Hope is the inseparable companion of faith.” Faith believes in God, and hope awaits the moment when this truth is confirmed. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann says, “In the Christian life faith has the priority, but hope the primacy” (Theology of Hope, 2002). Without hope, faith weakens and dies.
Anna and Simeon are characterized by faith and also by their steadfast hope. It would have been easy for them to leave Jerusalem to emigrate to one of the prosperous urban centers of the Roman Empire where others had settled. It would have been easy for them to have joined one of the religious communities in the wilderness. Yet they stayed in Jerusalem. They continued without wavering at the Temple. They remained where they had been called. They were steadfast in their hope.
This is the reason we call upon Palestinian Christians not to leave Jerusalem. This is why we appeal to them to remain steadfast in the Holy Land, waiting in hope. As Paul says, salvation is nearer than you think, “nearer to us now than when we became believers.” (Romans 13:11).
Anna and Simeon are characterized also by an edifying and uplifting spirituality. Three times, Luke calls attention to the role of the Spirit—that the Spirit rested on Simeon, the Spirit had revealed to him the promise, guided by the Spirit he was present at the temple on that day, at that very hour, when Joseph and Mary arrived with the holy child. (verses 25-27). Their presence at the temple was not in quiet, passive contemplation, they worshipped actively with prayer and fasting. (verse 37)
In this time of a shattering of human hopes, of economic recession, of growing injustice and extremism, we call upon Christians of the Middle East to a revival of spirituality and prayer for our Lord to incarnate our manger in these present circumstances. Such spirituality is not a means of escape, but of making real the incarnation of Christ of hope and love, with confidence that nothing can separate us from the love we have in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8).
Finally Anna and Simeon were prophetic in their proclamation. Their message included wondrous words of Good News: that this child was the instrument of God’s “salvation, prepared in the presence of all people,” (verse 30) that he was the “Lord’s Messiah,” (verse 26), that he was “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (verse 32) It was indeed Good News. Yet as a prophetic, spirit-guided word, it spoke in truth concerning “the falling and rising of many in Israel.” (verse 34). It would even be like a “sword” piercing the soul of the young mother Mary. (verse 35).
This is also the reason that the Middle East Council of Churches has spoken again of Christians as an integral part of the Middle East fabric of society. They have played and they will continue to play a constructive role as bridge builders seeking freedom and dignity for every human being, regardless of religion, gender, or political affiliation. The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity and Christ calls us to be prophetic to assure our role even amidst difficulties that God’s justice will be incarnate in every country of the Middle East.
The church in the Middle East at this moment has its role to be like Anna and Simeon, to be prophetic, speaking the truth to power, but at the same time to give hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. I would call upon politicians, those of Israel and Palestinian, those of Europe and the United States, to hear the voice of the silent majority who are longing for peace and who are exasperated with the language of war and conflict. I call upon leaders to push forward the vision of a two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem that this dream will be incarnated in everyone’s heart and life.
The children of both nations desire to live together in peace, to find reconciliation based on forgiveness, to see the day when justice and peace kiss each other (Psalm 85:10), the lion lying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), Palestinians and Israelis seeing the fulfillment of a dream of a land of milk and honey for both.
Imagine having to wait for all those years.
Simeon and Anna must have thought that it could never happen in their lifetimes. They must have had doubts and second thoughts. They must have questioned the promises. Yet they continued to live in faith with a hope that was unshaken. They remained steadfast in Jerusalem, finding support in community. They did not hesitate to speak forth a prophetic word. And through their patient waiting their eyes saw the salvation prepared for them and the whole world. Christ was born in a manger—good news for all people.
May this be Good News for you in the USA and also for us in Bethlehem, in the Holy Land, in all the Middle East.
As you see his salvation, may you remain in his peace, now and forever. Amen.
May the Lord Grant you a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
Bishop Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan
The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
Shared by the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer