John baptizes Jesus

Baptism of Jesus – Jay Bonnell, 20th c.

Luke 3:21-22

During a general baptism of the people, when Jesus too had been baptized and was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove; and there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my Son, my Beloved; on thee my favor rests.”

Dove: How is the Holy Spirit like a dove?

Thoughts on seeing the whole pictureDonna Ross

How does the Holy Spirit work?

From the gospel writers to artists through the centuries, the Holy Spirit has always been portrayed as a dove. The dove, however, is always and only a metaphor. No words, no images can ever fully convey how the Spirit works.

In the Temple, when Jesus was twelve years old, the question may have first alighted: What did God have in mind for him? That’s how the Spirit begins to work in us (stirring within us, planting questions in our minds).

In Nazareth, as Jesus grew up, the ideas may have shifted in his mind: Where was God leading him? That’s how the Spirit continues its work in us (in conversation with our traditions and communities, our new experiences and new ideas).

In the Jordan, as Jesus rose out of the waters, the immensity of God’s call must have filled his mind, and pointed him towards his future ministry. That’s how the Spirit continues its work in us (hinting at the shape of things to come).

Sometimes, in moments we will never forget, we also are fully aware of the Spirit descending, even resting on us — like a dove returning to her nest, making her home in our hearts.

That’s how the Spirit works.


A dove settles lightly wherever it chooses to rest. The Holy Spirit also settles lightly upon us, calling our attention but never forcing us. At his Last Supper (see John 14:16f and John 16:12f), Jesus will use these words to describe how the Holy Spirit works: abides in us; makes a home in us; reveals Jesus to us; reminds us; teaches us; guides us; reveals the truth to us; gives us peace.

John the Baptist prophesies


Baptized with fire, Luke 3: 16

Luke 3:15-20

The people were on tiptoe of expectation, all wondering about John, whether perhaps he was the Messiah. But he spoke out and said to them all, “I baptize you with water; but there is one to come who is mightier than I. I am not fit to unfasten his shoes. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His shovel is ready in his hand, to winnow his threshing-floor and gather the wheat into his granary; but he will burn the chaff on a fire that can never go out.”

In this and in many other ways John made his appeal to the people and announced the good news. But Prince Herod, when he was rebuked by John over the affair of his brother’s wife Herodias and for his other misdeeds, added to them all by shutting John up in prison.

Fire: What did John mean by “fire”?

Thoughts on seeing the whole pictureDonna Ross

John stands in the waters of the Jordan River, but instead of pointing to the flowing waters he evokes images of fire.

What is someone, standing undecided on the river bank, to think of these images? There is the fire of judgment, an image of eternal damnation as widespread in our own time as it was in John’s. There is the fire of engagement, which points us in new directions and empowers us to see in new ways.

If we see only one of these images, we will miss the whole picture.


John uses two contrasting images of fire — the destructive fire of judgment: “He will burn the chaff on a fire that can never go out” (Luke 3:17); and the empowering fire of the Holy Spirit: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3:16).

In just a few years, Jesus’ disciples would experience the empowering fire of the Spirit. Luke writes in the second volume of his story: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (see Acts 2:1-4)

John the Baptist teaches

“Master, what are we to do?”  Luke 3:12

Luke 3:7-14

Crowds of people came out to be baptized by John, and he said to them: “You vipers’ brood! Who warned you to escape from the coming retribution? Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears; and do not begin saying to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father.” I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones here. Already the axe is laid to the roots of the trees; and every tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire.”

The people asked John, “Then what are we to do?” He replied, “The man with two shirts must share with him who has none, and anyone who has food must do the same.” Among those who came to be baptized were tax-gatherers, and they said to him, “Master, what are we to do?” He told them, “Exact no more than the assessment.” Soldiers on service also asked him, “And what of us?” To them he said, “No bullying; no blackmail; make do with your pay!”

Repentance: What is the word in Luke’s original text? *

Thoughts on seeing the whole picture – Donna Ross

The poor, as Jesus will tell his disciples, are with us always (see Mark 14:7). Since the poor are all around us, does Jesus mean we should walk by them without seeing them? Should we make a practice of helping at least one poor person on our way to our own work? Should we try to stop for every poor person? Or should we stop to look, not just at one person or several, but at the whole picture, and commit ourselves to working with others to make adequate space for everyone in our world?

* Repentance:

In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב (shuv, to return) and נחם (nacham, to feel sorrow). In New Testament Greek, the word is μετάνοια (metanoia). Metanoia combines ‘meta’ (beyond, after), with ‘noia’ (to perceive, to think). Metanoia is therefore not just sorrow and a plea for forgiveness; it is primarily a change of consciousness. Only a new way of thinking will lead us into a new way of acting.

John the Baptist preaches


John the Baptist – El Greco, 16th c.

Luke 3: 1-6

In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberias, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, when Herod was prince of Galilee, Herod’s brother Philip prince of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias prince of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And John went all over the Jordan valley proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the prophecies of Isaiah:

A voice crying aloud in the wilderness, “Prepare a way for the Lord; clear a straight path for him. Every ravine shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill leveled; the corners shall be straightened, and the rough ways made smooth; and all people shall see God’s deliverance.” Isaiah 40:3-5

Baptism: Was there baptism before John the Baptist? *

Thoughts on seeing the whole picture Donna Ross

In a time of great social unrest, political turmoil, and desperate poverty alongside extreme wealth – a time not unlike our own time – John the Baptist comes with a renewed vision of life with God and neighbor. But to see that vision, all the obstacles need to be removed.

To clearly see the possibilities of a room, all the old furniture must be cleared away. What small things am I so used to that I can’t see past them to the bigger picture?

* Baptism:

In John the Baptist’s time the Essenes, an ascetic Jewish sect who had retreated to the desert, practiced daily ritual bathing; but ritual bathing was also quite common for ordinary Jews.

Natural lakes and rivers were regarded as the most desirable places for ritual bathing; but a cistern, a fountain, or a ritual bath (a mikveh) was also permitted. Archaeologists have discovered many ancient mikva’ot in Jerusalem – near synagogues and public places, but also in private homes.

The Law required ritual bathing whenever a person became unclean (see Leviticus 15); and by the time of John the Baptist ritual bathing had also become a traditional practice before entering the Jerusalem Temple. In Israel and throughout the Roman Empire, ritual bathing was also the final step for everyone converting to Judaism.

John the Baptist seems to have connected the ancient Jewish practice of ritual cleansing to his own call to baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

By the time of the early church, baptism was required for new Christians – now just as a sign of ritual cleansing, but as a sign of a person’s acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. (See Acts 8:36)

The Whole Picture

In today’s gospel reading Luke tells us how Jesus called his first disciples. (Luke 5:1-13).

We may remember Mark’s story better, because we’ve heard it more often – Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee; he sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the water; he calls them, and they drop their nets and follow him. Then, walking a little further, Jesus sees John and James, mending their nets. And he says to them also, “Come, follow me.”

Luke’s version has many more details. Luke tells us that Jesus is not just walking along the lakeshore: he’s been teaching, and the crowd is already so large that it is pushing him into the water. So he asks Simon (who is washing his nets after a long night of fishing) if he can sit in his empty boat, and Simon agrees. So Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and continues his teaching.

And then, instead of getting out of the boat when he’s finished, Jesus tells Simon to take the boat out again, into the middle of the sea, and put his nets down in the water one more time.  But Simon (who perhaps didn’t care if Jesus sat in his boat while the nets were being cleaned) now objects to going back to work, because he knows there aren’t any fish out there. Yet (perhaps impressed with Jesus’ authority after hearing him speak to the crowd), Simon agrees to take the boat out again – and now the nets are filled with fish.

Over the years, this part of Luke’s story has sometimes been called the “miraculous catch”.  But the catch didn’t have to be a miracle – there were often large shoals of fish in the sea of Galilee.  One fisherman might not be able to see the fish from his boat, but a man in another boat could; or someone standing on the beach might see them very clearly. So Jesus didn’t make the fish appear, nor did he need extraordinary eyesight; he could have just seen the fish, and pointed them out to Simon.

So where’s the “miracle” in this story – is it about catching fish, or is it about seeing in a new way?

What if we could see in a new way?

With the right kind of vision, everything “snaps” into place. Then we begin to see details we’ve forgotten all about, or perhaps never seen before.

When our oldest son was about 8 or 9, he got his first pair of glasses. I remember how excited he was, riding in the car on our way home from the eye doctor – he was just bouncing up and down in his seat, pointing out things he had never seen before on the street he’d traveled so many times before. For the first time in his life, he was seeing everything – the whole picture.

And, more relevant to me all these years later, friends have had cataract surgery, and once the old lenses were gone, suddenly they were seeing see true colors again – no more yellow light clouding their vision.

What if we could put on a pair of glasses that allowed us to see the world the way God sees it?  What if we asked Jesus remove the film from our eyes?

Jesus tells us that God sees differently than we do – God sees not just the details, and God sees not just the true colors, but God sees the whole picture. When we begin to understand this – that God sees the world differently than we do – we’ve taken our first step towards seeing the world the way God sees it.

When we are willing to let go of our cataracts – let go of our comfort with the ways things seem to be; let go of our acquired cynicism, our hopelessness, our fears for the future, our partial experience that we thought revealed the whole picture….then we’re letting ourselves see the world the way God sees it.

Seen through God’s eyes, the whole world is interconnected.  God sees that I’m connected to you, and you’re connected to others, going back through our DNA all the way to the beginning of time. God sees the rich connected to the poor, and the powerful to the powerless, and citizens to non-citizens…  And in God’s eyes you and I, and every human being on this earth, we are all connected to the earth itself, and to every single plant and animal on this earth.

And the bond of interconnection, the bond that connects us to each other (whether we see it or not), the bond that connects us to our Creator, the bond that connects us to the natural world, that bond is love.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is already seeing with God’s eyes. He has come out of his 40 days in the desert to his home country, Galilee, and begun to teach.

But just a month from today, the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent will take us back into the desert, reminding us of the temptations Jesus faced. When that morning comes, listen carefully to each temptation the devil offers Jesus.

With each temptation, the devil will paint a picture for Jesus – a picture of bread for a hungry man; a picture of political power for a man hungry to make the world a different kind of place; and a picture of spiritual power for a man hungry for God.

But Jesus will respond to each temptation with another picture – a picture of food that truly nourishes; a picture of political power that also shows the human cost; and a picture of spiritual power that sees the world in its true colors. And that spiritual power is love.

What if we could see God the way Jesus saw God?

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ message to Simon (and to us) is not about fishing. Jesus’ real message is about how to see God.  Listen again to what Jesus says to Simon:
Don’t be afraid.

Since the New Year started, I’ve been reading through Luke’s Gospel and I’ve seen that this same message comes to every person in the story: to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist; to Mary, the mother of Jesus; to the shepherds out in the fields; and now to these fishermen on the sea of Galilee…. The message is always: Don’t be afraid.

And it’s this same message that Jesus wants us to hear:
Don’t be afraid.

Notice that Jesus is not saying – Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right!  Notice that he is saying:
Don’t be afraid of God!

Too often Christians have tried to convert others to Jesus before they have really understood Jesus’ picture of God.  These attempts at evangelism have often had an underlying theme:  “Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right!”

But long before we try to bring someone to the Way of Jesus, we need to learn how to see God the way Jesus sees God. Then — looking at God through Jesus’ eyes — we can begin to see the world the way God sees it. Only then can we truly share Jesus’ message with others.

As we listen to Luke’s gospel this year, we’ll hear Jesus unfold his message again and again; and that message always begins with:
Don’t be afraid. 

Jesus tells his disciples (and us): Don’t be afraid.  God loves you, and welcomes you, and will always be with you.  So let’s take the first step today: Let’s ask God to rip off our cataracts. Let’s lift our eyes to the face of a loving God. Let’s try to see the world as God sees it. And above all, let’s learn to love as Jesus loves.

And now may the God of immeasurable love,
who calls us all to love without measure,
guide us this day and always;
may God’s strength uphold us,
God’s love enfold us,
God’s peace empower us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood, on February 10, 2019.

The first journey to Jerusalem

Jesus and his parents return from the Temple
Rembrandt, 1654

Luke 2:41-52

Now it was the practice of Jesus’ parents to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival; and when he was twelve, they made the pilgrimage as usual.

When the festive season was over and they started for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know of this; but thinking that he was with the party they journeyed on for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relatives.  As they could not find him they returned to Jerusalem to look for him; and after three days they found him sitting in the Temple surrounded by the teachers, listening to them and putting questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and the answers he gave.

His parents were astonished to see him there, and his mother said to him, “My son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  “What made you search?” he said.  “Did you not know that I was bound to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he meant.

Then he went back with them to Nazareth, and continued to be under their authority; his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And as Jesus grew up he advanced in wisdom and in divine and human favor.

Pilgrimage: Why did people go on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem? *

* Pilgrimage

As today’s Muslims hope to journey to Mecca at least once in their lives, so in Jesus’ day all Jews hoped to journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
All adult male Jews who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem were required to attend the Passover at the Temple, and those who lived farther away often made the pilgrimage as well.

A Jewish boy became a man when he was twelve years old, and so at twelve Jesus joined the caravan going to Jerusalem from Nazareth in Galilee.

The Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:1—13:13







There were times when the Corinthians drove St. Paul crazy – and the words we’ve heard this morning were written in one of those times.

The Corinthians were so proud of their spiritual gifts. Some could speak in tongues, and others could interpret those tongues; some even had the gift of prophesy. The people who could speak in tongues were very full of themselves, and those who couldn’t speak in tongues were envious. The people who could prophesy looked down on those who couldn’t prophesy. The people with gifts of healing wished they had the gift of tongues.

And don’t get me started on their pot-luck suppers! They gathered regularly for the Eucharist, followed by supper.  They all brought dishes to the table, but the rich brought a lot of food and ate most of it themselves – while the poor ate from their own meager rations and from the rich people’s leftovers.

They were all baptized in water, and all baptized in the Spirit, and they all wanted to follow Jesus – but they still had so much to learn!


When Rob and I were first married and starting graduate school, we found an Episcopal church that we liked for its music and its preaching. We didn’t know anyone in the congregation, but we decided to make it our church home anyway.

After about a year a new group of ‘young marrieds’ was formed by the junior priest – he was new, too. In our meetings and our own little pot-luck suppers, we talked about the importance of building community, and our priest encouraged us to reach out to other parishioners, starting with coffee hour on Sundays. I was very shy then and couldn’t bring myself to do this, , but Rob got the message about community life, and the very next Sunday he decided to introduce himself to someone new.

Now you have to picture Rob in those days – he was 22, but looked younger; even his Sunday clothes were the student variety; his shoes were run down at the heels; and he wore heavy, unfashionable glasses (to protect his eyes from chemicals in the laboratory, but he only had one pair of glasses). Now watch this young man walk up to an older man he sees standing alone at coffee hour; watch him extend his hand, and hear him saying brightly, “Hello! I’m Rob Ross!” And now watch the older man stare down his nose at Rob, not shaking his hand, but simply saying, “I’m your Vestryman.” (I don’t think that would happen here at St. Patrick’s!)

Four years later, at that same church, the same man approached Rob at another coffee hour and said to him, “How are your studies going?” And Rob replied, “Oh, I’m finished now, and I’m on the faculty.” (Rob was still wearing the same scientist glasses, but I think he was wearing better shoes.) And the man said to Rob, “Oh, well, in that case, how would you like to be on the Vestry?”

Someone really didn’t get Paul’s message.


In the reading we’ve heard this morning – from chapter 12 – St. Paul tells the Corinthians that every member of their church has spiritual gifts. He also tells them that their church is like a human body: they are all connected, and every one of them is necessary for the whole body to function.

In the chapter before this (chapter 11), Paul had reminded them that sharing and mutual caring are the very foundation of the Eucharist. And in the chapter after this (chapter 13), Paul returns to his theme of love and caring, because love is the life blood that holds a church together. But we usually hear chapter 13 – one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible – in the context of a wedding (or perhaps at a funeral where we honor someone who was especially loving and giving).

We rarely hear Paul’s teaching about the church from beginning to end. Today, I want you to hear the whole message. (I know St. Paul has a reputation for being convoluted and hard to understand, but I think if we hear his whole passage about the body, we’ll begin to “get” his message.)


Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. There are many forms of work, but all of them, in every person, are the work of the same God. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. One person, through the Spirit, has the gift of wise speech, while another, by the power of the same Spirit, can put the deepest knowledge into words. Another, by the same Spirit, is granted faith; another, by the one Spirit, gifts of healing, and another miraculous powers; another has the gift of prophecy, and another ability to distinguish true spirits from false; yet another has the gift of ecstatic utterance of different kinds, and another the ability to interpret them. But all these gifts are the work of one and the same Spirit, who distributes them separately to each individual at will.

For Christ is like a single body with its many limbs and organs, which, many as they are, together make up one body. For indeed we were all brought into one body by baptism, in the one Spirit, whether Jew or Greek, whether slave or free; and that one Holy Spirit was poured out for all of us to drink.

A body is not a single organ, but many. Suppose the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” – it still belongs to the body. Suppose the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body” – it is still part of the body. If the body were all eye, how could it hear? If the body were all ear, how could it smell? But, in fact, God appointed each limb and organ to its own place in the body, as God wanted.

The eye can never say to the hand, “I do not need you”; nor the head to the feet, “I do not need you”. Quite the contrary: those organs of the body which seem more frail than others are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, while our more respectable members do not need additional respect. God has combined the various parts of the body, giving special honor to the humbler parts, so that there might be no division in the body, but that every organ might feel the same concern for all the other organs. If one organ suffers, they all suffer together. If one flourishes, they all rejoice together.

Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you a limb or organ of it. Within our community God has appointed in the first place apostles, in the second place prophets, thirdly teachers; then miracle-workers, then those who have gifts of healing, or ability to help others or power to guide them, or the gift of ecstatic utterance of various kinds. Are all apostles? all prophets? all teachers? Do all work miracles? Have all gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues of ecstasy? Can all interpret them? The higher gifts are those you should aim at. And now I will show you the best way of all.

I may speak in tongues of mortals or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away all I possess, or even give my body to be burned, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

Love is patient; love is kind; love envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; love is never selfish, never quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs; love does not gloat over others’ sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance. Love will never come to an end.

Are there prophets? their work will be over. Are there tongues of ecstasy? They will cease. Is there knowledge? it will vanish away. For our knowledge and our prophecy alike are partial, and the partial vanishes when wholeness comes. (When I was a child, my speech, my outlook and my thoughts were all childish. When I grew up, I was finished with childish things.)  Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. Our knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole, like God’s knowledge of us.

There are only three things that last for ever: faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of them all is love.

This morning, on the day of our Annual Meeting, can we hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church?


Preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood on January 20, 2019. 

Memories: Seeing with the eyes of the poor

Learning what it’s like to be poor Donna Ross

When we moved into our Beirut apartment in 1967, we had two babies and an awful lot of cloth diapers to wash. My parents sent us money to buy a washing machine, and we hung the diapers up to dry in our little breezeway. Soon, for very little money, we hired a Lebanese woman who came three mornings a week to clean our little apartment and wash our dusty tile floors. How little I knew about her home life, but what luxury it was to have help!

We didn’t have a car, but neighbors invited us to go on Saturday trips. So the nine of us – four adults, two little girls, and three baby boys – would rattle around the Lebanese coast and mountains in an old Volkswagen bus.

Whether our destination was to the north or the south, every trip out of Beirut led past Palestinian refugee camps. The refugees’ extreme poverty was very clear through the windows of our suddenly-palatial bus: Here were families living in hovels, under corrugated tin roofs if they were lucky; here were families without dry clothing in Lebanon’s heavy rains; here were families receiving their daily food and water from the U.N.; and here were young men growing up in a kind of prison – denied citizenship and therefore denied jobs, they were growing more angry every day.

Years later, when I was in seminary, I discovered that my New Testament professor had spent many years as the pastor of a church in Jerusalem. One night we invited him to our home for a Lebanese supper. We all shared memories of our years spent in the eastern Mediterranean. Watching him eat his meal with great enthusiasm, scraping his lahm mashwi off its skewer and dipping his pita bread into the hummus, we discovered that he spoke fluent Arabic. We asked him where he had learned the language.

“Oh,” he said, “I spent nine months living in a refugee camp on the edge of Beirut.”

Some of us glance out our windows at extreme poverty, then turn our heads away. Some of us see the struggles of the poor, and are moved to try to help. But very few of us are willing to live with the poor, even becoming poor so we can live the lives they live.

Two prophets in the Temple

The Presentation in the Temple
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1342

Luke 2:33-40

Jesus’ mother and father were full of wonder at what was being said about him.  Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This child is destined to be a sign which people reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart.  Many in Israel will stand or fall because of him, and thus the secret thoughts of many will be laid bare.”

There was a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was a very old woman, who had lived seven years with her husband after she was first married, and then alone as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the Temple, but worshiped day and night, fasting and praying.  Coming up at that very moment, she returned thanks to God; and she talked about the child to all who were looking for the liberation of Jerusalem.

Prophet:  Who could be a prophet? *

Thoughts: on being poorDonna Ross

Now Luke brings us another prophet, this time an old woman.

Eighty-four years is a long time to live, even today; in those days, to live so many years was almost a miracle. Yet there would be no birthday celebration for Anna, or for women like her — they were all alone. Without family — without sons — a widow had no income, nothing to live on.

There was no one in Israel less important than a childless widow, despite the constant teaching of the Law from Moses on down through the years. Yet Luke calls Anna a prophet, one who voices the Word of God.

If we pay very close attention to Luke, we will notice that his story includes many women; in fact, almost every story about a man is followed by a story about a woman. Is Luke saying that women have always been as important in Jesus’ story as men?

 * Prophets

In the previous reading, Luke doesn’t call Simeon a prophet, but describes him as “upright and devout… and the Holy Spirit was upon him…. It had been disclosed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit he came into the temple…”  In this reading, Luke uses the word prophet to describe Anna, who is equally upright and devout, who is equally guided by the Holy Spirit.  In this Gospel, the Holy Spirit falls upon men and women equally, and stories about men are balanced by stories about women.

The Song of Simeon

Simeon’s Song of Praise
Aert de Gelder, c. 1700

Luke 2: 25-35

There was at that time in Jerusalem a man called Simeon. This man was upright and devout, one who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been disclosed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the Law, Simeon took him in his arms, praised God, and said:

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

Holy Spirit:  Isn’t this early for the Spirit’s arrival?  *

Thoughts: on being poorDonna Ross

As Luke’s story has progressed the good news has slowly been revealed: to a minor Temple priest, to a childless woman, to a peasant girl, even to scruffy shepherds out in the muddy fields. Now the good news comes to a very old man.

The Hebrew word anawim means “those who are bowed down”. The anawim were the poor of every sort: the vulnerable, the marginalized, those without any control over their own lives. But over the centuries the word anawim also came to characterize those who knew how to depend on God, who waited for God to fill their emptiness. Mary’s Song pointed to them: “the humble have been lifted high, the hungry have been satisfied with good things” (Luke 1:52), and Jesus’ first Beatitude would also lift them up: “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20).

So while Simeon is so old he seems to be waiting only for death, he has actually been patiently waiting for his own good news. Now, as he holds this baby and his old arms feel his warmth, his old eyes see the arrival of good news.

* The Spirit

For centuries, Christians have been taught that the Holy Spirit first arrived in tongues of fire on Pentecost, forgetting that the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:1-2) says that “the spirit of God hovered over the waters”.  In fact, Luke’s Gospel begins with the Spirit already at work:  Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth have all felt the Spirit’s power.  Now the Spirit guides Simeon into the Temple, and him who this baby will become.