Unlocking the energy of potential

A Sermon by Annie Coley Lay Reader

31 January 2016

Reading: Luke 2:22-40


If we were going to dramatise this narrative from Luke’s Gospel, I am not sure who would take centre stage. There are five characters involved.

Joseph: “Are you ready, Mary? Time to get Jesus to the Temple for his presentation.”

Mary: “Nearly ready. Don’t forget to take money for the doves.”

Once in the Temple, there are crowds of people milling around, as usual. But suddenly, through the crowd pushes a man called Simeon. He doesn’t live in the Temple but is often there because he is sure that the promised Messiah is going to be revealed in his lifetime, and where else is that likely to be but in the Temple? Suddenly he realises the waiting is over. Simeon, full of excitement:

Simeon: “Oh my dear Lord. I can hardly believe it. It’s them! It’s him! Let me look at him and then I can die happy and content!”

Simeon snatches the baby from his mother in his joy and declares to anyone who will listen that this is the One God’s word down through the ages has promised.

In the crowd is a godly elderly woman, who does more or less live in the temple. Immediately she recognises the truth of Simeon’s words.

Anna: “Praise God! Praise God! This is what we’ve all been waiting for? A Saviour has come to our rescue.”

So there are the five of them: Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna. And of course a vulnerable, helpless Baby, utterly dependent on those around him. God brings them all together and in a great burst of explosive energy, his plan of salvation takes another leap forward.

So who is centre stage? Children in school assembly know the answer is always Jesus, so let’s look first at the Baby. New-borns are full of potential. I am sure Sara and Alessandro look at two week old Johanna-Adele and see a concert pianist or a violinist or an opera singer in the making! The potential of Mary’s Baby was cosmic in its scope. Simeon discerned it: this child was destined to be the rise and fall of many and potentially the means by which the glory of Israel would be restored. Not that you would know that now, of course. For the moment, he looks just like all the other babies in the temple that day. But goodness, once Simeon’s words are spoken, Mary and Joseph must have felt once again the enormous responsibility of their calling.

Simeon’s part is pretty big. He is often described as an old man but the Bible doesn’t mention his age. We probably assume he is old because waiting puts years on us. What we know is he is devout and righteous. He could still be in the prime of life with much still ahead of him, made all the more vital by this precious moment God has given him. He doesn’t have to die after this experience. He is now more free than ever to fulfil his potential – he has seen the Christ, even held him in his arms.

Anna is old, but not hiding away in her great age. Her many years of closeness to God has given her a vibrant inner life which is now crowned by this moment of recognition and knowledge. She is beside herself with joy.

And then Mary. She has already been through so much but for the moment has put all of that behind her. Today is the day of her son’s presentation in the temple. She will give him to God then in a sense buy him back with an offering of two doves and dedicate herself to his upbringing and a future she probably can’t even imagine, given the unusual circumstances of his birth. But a shadow falls across her joy as Simeon warns her that up ahead are difficult times that will pierce her soul with sorrow.

Joseph. Well, Joseph always seems to be on the sidelines. Pushed out of his comfort zone and yet holding on to the words of God spoken to him in a dream, he has stood by Mary and the child and has promised to do his very best for them.

In this snapshot – and there will only be one more now before a curtain hides the years of preparation until the man Jesus at the age of about 30 steps upon the public stage – we see calling and promise and potential all wrapped up in a shawl and entrusted to fallible humans in whom God has placed his trust. Luke concludes by referring to the continued nurturing and development of Jesus’ potential as he grows up in the family home in Nazareth, storing up wisdom and grace that will make him the man he becomes.

Well, this might all seem far removed from our experience. But we could ask ourselves: are we fulfilling our potential as servants of God and getting on with our unique calling, because I think we have said enough in this church to encourage everyone to know that we all have one. And are we doing our very best to identify, nurture and release the potential of others? On Friday night we had a prayer meeting not so much to give God our list of what we thought he should be doing as trying to hear what he was saying to us. Amongst other things we need to know what we should be doing about our church building to make it a more effective tool for our mission. The tasks we face are daunting but there was at the very least a flickering flame of commitment and desire to live up to our calling. But is that enough to turn ‘We might’ into ‘We can and we will’?

You might know the word synergy, the principle that what you bring to the task and what I bring to it, along with everyone else, produces a result that exceeds the sum of those different bits and releases the kind of energy and potential that we see in our Gospel reading today.

From a Christian point of view if we believe that the task is God-given, we must also believe that by his Holy Spirit he will enable us to do it. Perhaps we should prepare to be amazed. Of course we are only human. Our enthusiasm wanes, our focus is distracted. We get things wrong. Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in Jerusalem, for heaven’s sake. But we are as dependent on each other for our growth as the Body of Christ as the infant Jesus was on his parents and everyone else who had a hand in his upbringing. And together under God’s guiding hand we can reach our potential. As we come to Communion, we can light a candle and plant it alongside the candles of others. It’s cross shaped. Let’s do it mindfully and intentionally, letting it represent our commitment to each other and our determination to present ourselves as servants of God and in company with others so that God can do his work among us.