The first two chapters of Luke tell the heart of the Christmas Story. Most of us are familiar with Luke 2:1-20 – a narrative which is read, sung, and performed in many churches each December.
But these two chapters are also about four elderly folks: Elizabeth and Zechariah, who Luke says (rather delicately) are “getting on in years.” Simeon, who is gazing at the actuarial charts of his own mortality. And Anna who is simply “very old” – in her eighties. These four folks light up the Nativity narrative, and then disappear.
What does Luke want us to hear in their stories?
First, they are fully attentive to the presence of God. Elizabeth knows something is happening when Mary visits and “the child within her leaps in the womb.” Zechariah sees a vision, hears a voice while in church, and later sings out that “the dawn from on high has broken upon us.” Simeon is labeled as “righteous and devout. Luke says “the spirit is upon him.” And Anna is in constant fasting and prayer. These four are as fully attentive to God as any about whom we have ever read.
All four recognize something good and unique and mysterious in this child. None understood it completely. But they were attentive. God is in this somewhere and somehow.
They are also filled with hope. They did not have clarity, but they did have hope. Hope is a hallmark of faithful Christian living. The hymn writer says, “I have hope like a river in my soul.” Chardin writes, “The future belongs to those who give it the greatest hope.”
I am not sure how Christians are supposed to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But I think I know how we are called to celebrate the early days of each New Year—by leaning into an indefatigable hope!
One writer says, “Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna have a faith that leans forward into the promises of God, even when they have no idea how those promises will be fulfilled.”
I must admit some moments of doubt in recent weeks regarding America’s future. These are strange, conflicted, and uncertain times. As Michele Obama said in an interview with Oprah last week, “We are feeling what not having hope feels like.” Such doubts can sometimes cloud my sense of a deeper and more durable hope.
But as a Christian, I am called to move forward and lead into the future with fierce and unblemished hope. Richard Rohr wrote just before Christmas:
God can be trusted. God is like a loving Father or Mother who is involved in our lives and our world. So do not be afraid.
That is our common calling this first week in the New Year. That calling seems more of an urgent assignment than ever before.
Lead forward with an attentive hope. This is what Luke may be trying to encourage and convey to us in the stories of these four senior citizens!