Anna and Simeon, Model for Old Ages

Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | December 27, 2020

Luke 2: 22-40

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture for several reasons.  It’s not well known.  It shows up in the lectionary the first Sunday of Christmastide when many people don’t come to church.  The second reason I like this passage is that it features two of my favorite categories of people, a baby and a pair of very old people.  I loved old people even before I became one.  And finally, the very old people have been waiting a very long time, and they GET what they’ve been waiting for! A happy ending.

Now, last year on the first Sunday of Christmastide I went through this passage line by line.  I am certain that you all remember that sermon perfectly, so I won’t do that this year.  What I’d like us to think about is the importance of old people.

The older gentleman’s long-time physician finally retired so the man was forced to find a new doctor for his annual physical.  The young doctor finished examining the 80 year-old and remarked, “You are in excellent shape.  You are good to go for many more years.  How old was your father when he died?”

“Who said my father was dead?”  

“What!  You’re 80 years old and your father is still living?!”

“Yes, he’s 104 and going strong.”

“Wow!” said the doctor.  “Well, how old was your grandfather when he died?”

“Did I say my grandfather was dead?”

“Oh, come now.   You are 80 years old.  Don’t tell me your grandfather is still alive.”
“Still alive.  126 years of age.  Not only that, he’s getting married next week.”

“126 years old!…But why would he want to get married at 126?”

“Did I say he wanted to get married?”

American culture exalts and focuses on youth and ignores older folks.  This is a very rare phenomenon in the world.  Throughout history in almost every culture the old have been deeply respected, venerated, partially because not many people lived to be old!  Our Judeo-Christian tradition deeply honors our elders.  Throughout the scriptures the elders are revered.  They are respected because in a largely illiterate culture older folks are the bearers of the traditions.  They know the stories and are given the highly important role of passing on the ancient tales and lessons of life.  Older folks are also respected because of their own hard-earned wisdom.  By the time you reach 80 you have learned a thing or three.   And we who are younger are wise if we listen to our elders.  I read some time ago a comment made by a man in his 20s.  He wrote, “I make it a point always to talk to old people.”  That is a young man already wise.  I love my job and one of my very favorite parts is visiting with older folks.

In the sermon today I’m going to speak first to the younger folks, then to the older folks and finally to the subset of older folks who may be limited physically in what they can do now.

So, my first word is to any younger folks watching today.  Appreciate the amazing resources we have in our elders here at WPC.   People of faith and faithfulness, of wisdom and grace.

People who say they have no regrets simply amaze me.  I look back at my life and am quite astounded at what an idiot I have been in so many ways and so many times.  Here’s one: My dad, in his later years, was always after me to sit and chat with him more than I did.  I lived 40 miles away, so I was over to my parents’ home fairly often.  But not for long visits. I was so busy, always so busy. I thought I just didn’t have the time.  “Sit down,” he’d say, “I’ll supply the time.”  I still don’t get how that would work, but what would I give now for an hour conversation with my dad? 

Psalm 71 is sometimes called, “The Prayer of an Old Man.”  In it, the psalmist declares that from his birth he has leaned upon God and he praises God all the day long.  He says, “I have been a portent—a signpost, guide, mentor—to many… O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.”   He wants to continue to tell the story of God at work in his life.  We need you elders to be keepers of the flame of faith.

This congregation is blessed with a lot of older folks.  And I mean that: BLESSED.  One of the previous congregations I served had very few older folks and it was a significant handicap to the life of the congregation and to me as a young pastor.  We needed elders in that church, people with experience and wisdom and calm.  We are blessed to have that here. 

So to you younger folks I say, connect with older folks, learn from them.

We are blessed to have older folks who still have the health and energy to serve in so many ways.

Some of you are no longer able to serve in active ways.  A few words to you.  First, don’t feel guilty!  When I was a very young associate pastor with the Stillwater congregation one of the long-time members, Mrs. McCormack, was very old and quite infirm.  Mrs. McCormack had been extremely active in the church all her life.  She was Sunday School Superintendent for decades.  She had been a deacon, active with Presbyterian Women, sang in the choir.   You get the picture.  When I met her, she was well up in her 80s and pretty much bed-ridden.  

While I was visiting in her home one day she said to me, “You know, Pastor Bill, I can’t DO like I used to do.  And that’s frustrating.  But there is one thing I can still do.  I can pray.  I keep the church calendar next to my bed here.  And any time anything is going on, I am praying.  When you are teaching the Bethel teachers Monday evening, I am praying for you.  When you are with the confirmation kids on Wednesday evening, I am praying for you.  When the Session is meeting, I am praying for you.  Certainly, when the Sunday worship service is going on I am praying for you.”  Wow!  No one in that congregation of 600 members was serving more powerfully than that frail, bedridden woman.  Will you please follow the example of Mrs. McCormack and join me in praying for Wahkon Presbyterian Church each and every day?

Second.  Can we gracefully accept our limitations?  I’m preaching to myself here, because I haven’t so far been very gracious as everything starts to ache and I can no longer beat my daughter at tennis.  (She’s pretty good.)  

Arthur Gordon writes:  My friend is an Episcopalian minister, who through some hereditary affliction was very deaf and almost blind.  He went right on preaching, visiting the sick, listening to people with his hearing aid, laughing uproariously at jokes and having a marvelous time.

I remember going with him at Christmas time to buy some trifle in a crowded drugstore. On the back of the entrance door was a mirror, so placed that as we turned to leave my friend’s reflection came forward to meet him.  Thinking that someone else was approaching, he stepped aside.  So did the image.  He moved forward and once more met himself.  Again he retreated.

By now an uneasy hush had fallen on the spectators.  No one quite knew what to say or do.  But the third time my companion realized he was facing a mirror.  “Why,” he cried, “It’s only me!”  He made a grand bow.  “Good to see you, old boy!  Merry Christmas!”  The whole store exploded in delighted laughter, and I heard someone murmur, “That man has what it takes.”

What “it” was, surely, was my friend’s ability to accept his limitations, to accept them without self-pity, thereby gaining the power to transcend them.  (Daily Guideposts

Let us accept our limitations.

Third.  How many of you like to help people?  All of us.  That’s the way God made us: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”   For those of you who are getting up there in age, all your life you have been doing and giving and feeling good about that.  It feels good to give and to help.  So, for those of you who are  physically less able than you once were, I ask you now, cheerfully and graciously,  to allow others to help you.  That’s a gift—to be a gracious receiver and let other people feel good in the act of helping.

Finally, to you older folks I simply say, “Thank you.”  Thank you for your enduring faithfulness following Jesus.  Thank you for your example, like that of Anna and Simeon, for your steadfast prayers, for your service to this congregation and to the community.  God bless you!  Amen.

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