When I was a kid, me and my friends loved to ‘play out.’ We lived in suburbia and one day we decided to play football in a cul-de-sac round the corner from us. We were boisterous, the 5 or 6 of us and we obviously annoyed one of the residents of the street who came down his drive and yelled at us, ‘Clear off or I’ll call the fuzz!’
It wasn’t the first time we were caught out by local residents, but many a time we made our way away from wherever we were followed by a call of ‘Remember, I know your folks!’
A few years ago, Hilary Clinton in part quoted a Nigerian proverb, when she said that she still believed that it took a whole village to raise a child. Many of us as adults here will remember ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ who played significant roles in our childhoods; adults looked out for children more generally. But nowadays many of us would be afraid, and I do mean that, to intervene if we saw a child out on their own at an odd time or in an unusual place, for fear of being reprimanded. It’s somehow no longer my responsibility.
Prior to the passage we hear as this morning’s Gospel, in characteristic detail, Luke records Jesus’ birth, and He is surrounded by a host of people influencing even His earliest days - Emperor Augustus, Governor Quirinius, angels and shepherds as well as His parents. The child is born into occupied land & welcomed by those outside - socially and spiritually. He is welcomed as a child of Israel as he is circumcised and named at 8 days old and then is taken to the Temple in thanksgiving as was the custom.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Andy Murray was widely reported in recent days that he would leave the Australian open tennis championship to ensure that he could be with his wife Kim if she went into early labour. Given a chance you wouldn't want to wouldn't you, as the hopes and dreams we have for our children begin at precious moment one. And it’s not just parents - I can remember my parents and in-laws all waiting impatiently at our house for news of the arrival of Matthew. Whilst focused on Jesus throughout, our Gospel reading also records the responses of the adults around him to the child and asks us some key questions about all children: What expectations and hopes do we have for our children as they grow toward adulthood? What responsibilities do all adults have for children, regardless of whether or not they are related to them by blood or marriage, to keep them safe and to help them learn our social and religious customs?
Then Simeon… said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…
When my boys were small we had to find times in the liturgy for them to be able to come and see me and for me to be daddy. Many Sundays I would be praying for God’s blessing on us (with them making the sign of the cross too) or processing out with my children in tow. this became the norm for them and they did this with visiting priest and bishop alike. They were learning what it meant to be in church and how to worship and it was ok. But how is it ok for the Vicar’s children and not ok for others to come to the symbol of the presence of God here - the altar rail? Why is it not ok for them to dance to the music of our hymns as we praise God?
This child, Jesus, will be the falling and rising of many in Israel. But what of this child? Or this one?? And all too often, because of them, the inner thoughts of many will be revealed by a look that says - I wish they would be quiet; what are the parents playing at etc. Jesus wont have been the only child in the temple on the day, in the midst of it’s hustle and bustle but when parents with their children are here in this temple, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When parents are here with their kids, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When parents with their kids are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn't about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as an extended family where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When parents with their kids are here, I have hope that these pews won't be empty in 10 years when the kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they can learn how and why we worship now, before it's too late. They are learning that worship is important. Oh and let's not kid ourselves that the children are the church of tomorrow because the simple fact of the matter is that unless we care for and nurture our children in the faith and support and encourage their parents, there won't be a church of tomorrow! They are the church of today.
What is Jesus asking of us? Both Simeon and Anna saw the hope of God in this child, not just for the future, but in the now - cradled in their arms. The church is one of the very last organisations where ages and stages and differing backgrounds all mix together. It is our shared responsibility to help our children learn how to worship - parents that is perhaps by finding new places to sit so the children can see worship and not just staying down the back. It’s also about helping them understand the different things we do - stopping and being still in prayers, listening to the Bible as it is read. Adults it is about encouraging our children and supporting their parents with a kind word not a scowl or a moan to a Warden. The children only learn they are not wanted or loved that way.
At the heart of our Gospel today is a child, young adults and the elderly all gathered in the presence of God in the Temple; family members and others together discovering the presence of God in their midst in this child. Simeon reminds us that the hopes of not just these parents but the hopes of the whole world are vested in this child. In this child.