Practice, practice, practice…that’s the way to learn the piano I was frequently told as a child. Well I did, and my heart wasn’t in it, so I no longer play the piano!
This advent we’ve been talking about Practice, practice practice, as in ways of practicing our faith, and here in today’s Bible story, there’s a lot of faith practice going on….
First, Mary and Joseph: they are clearly devout Jews who practice their faith. They are faithful to the rituals of their faith, having had Jesus circumcised, they then go to the temple for her ritual of purification after childbirth and at the same time dedicate their first born child and make a sacrifice….these are practices of a faith community, a community that will help them raise this child, help to bring him up to be strong and wise.
Of course it won’t be without pain, Simeon doesn’t tell them anything new in saying his mother’s heart would be broken. Loving fully is to endure hurt sometimes, we all know that. But the faith community does help us through those tough times, I know!
Then there is Simeon, another practitioner of the faith—he knows what he believes in, and has spent his life living in expectancy of God’s coming to liberate the people….actively watching for it in fact. Three times the story says he’s connected with the Spirit of God, and he’s had mystical experiences that have reassured him that he won’t die before God’s messiah comes. His main spiritual and practical practice seems to be attentiveness, being aware and alert to all the ways God might come. It’s clearly what gives his life meaning and purpose. And as he sees this baby Jesus, all his practices pay off, and he says he can now die in peace, with courage, trusting that God keeps promises.
What do you hope to see before you die? Peace in our world, less violence in our streets, or something more personal in your relationships? The question then becomes how are you preparing for it? Are we actively seeking ways in which God still comes, are we peace makers or relationship builders? Or have we sunk into cynical apathy instead of prayerful expectation?
I believe that when we are open to the Spirit’s work in and around us, and pay attention, we do notice more of God’s activity….how else might Simeon have noticed one family among many in a crowded temple? He fully expects God to come, so he’s watchful. Are we? Can we look at an unlikely source and see hope?
God does still come intentionally into the world to change it. Sometimes it means changing us.
Then there’s Anna, also a practitioner of the faith….habits of worship, fasting, and prayer gave meaning and purpose to her life. She too had a vision of the new world God would usher in…..and when she meets Jesus, she’s not proclaiming she’s ready now to die, not like Simeon. No, Anna’s up and moving and all about living with a new purpose now, to tell people about Jesus and God’s dream for the world.
Both Simeon and Anna could see something beyond the baby in front of them, and could imagine the possibilities ahead, probably because they had learned through their practices to trust in God’s promises.
Both give us examples of older people who can age with hope and wonder….people who can be sources of wisdom for younger people raising children.
All these characters, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, confront us with a real question: what is my life about, what’s my purpose? Which then leads to the question: does how I live my life match it?
They all teach us the centrality of practice in our faith.
Practice, practice practice
Practice opening up to the Spirit
Practice paying attention
Prayer and worship
Blessing children and young parents
Seeking elders’ wisdom
Sharing your faith experience
Practice simple rituals in daily life that bring together the sacredness of life and the presence of God in the ordinary….as simple as saying grace before meals eaten together as a family….or as stopping every noon to pray for peace….
Practice, practice, practice, and unlike me and the piano, what your heart desires will come.
Thanks be to God, and watch out, for God does come!