If you can, I’d like you to picture in your minds eye Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
I would like to paint a picture for you today. Imagine, if you will, that vast space, full of people all dressed up. Imagine that space buzzing with excitement as sixteen deacons are about to become priests, released into their parishes to preach, baptize, bury, do communion and weddings!
Imagine their friends, family and parishioners dressed in their finery, all sat neatly in the pews.
As you look towards the entrance of the Cathedral, the processions comes down the middle of the rows of chairs. There’s the choir, there are lots of clergy, those to be ordained, the archdeacons, and finally, in their deep red and shiny gold copes and mitres, the Bishops. The robes are beautiful and crisp, many big candles are lit and all is ready for the ceremony.
The Cathedral, as ever, is not closed to the public at this point, but it is clear that something very special and important is happening.
To the side is stood Anna, the oldest, slowest and most committed of the Cathedral stewards. For many years, she has faithfully served the Cathedral as a sidesperson and a volunteer, and she always comes to as many things as she can. She watches the procession of important people go past and she smiles.
Sat in the Cathedral café, sipping a coffee and watching at a distance is Sim the scouser. Sim has long been heartbroken at the state of the country and he has been praying for change for many years. Sim once heard God say that he would meet the person who could bring about change before he died. Earlier that morning, Sim had felt compelled to go to the Cathedral and watch the ordination, although so far he has been left completely cold by all the pomp and ceremony.
As the service begins and the organ plays and the choir sings. Quietly, a couple enter the Cathedral by the door at the back. The woman, Mary, holds her newborn baby boy. Her husband Joe walks beside her. The two are dressed as well as the can be for a family on universal credit with a newborn baby. They are not here to see the ordination, or the Bishops, or the people in their posh clothes, but instead they just want to light a candle and give thanks for the safe delivery of their new baby.
The family walk down the side of the nave and they pass by the information desk, the ‘give a fiver here’ contactless payment stand, the bookshop and the café. They eventually get to a candle stand and carefully put into it the suggested donation of a pound, in the form of a 50p, a twenty, two tens and two 5p coins. It’s what they had spare, and was made complete by Joe finding that last 5p down the back of the sofa last night.
As quietly as he can, Joe puts the coins into the coin slot while Mary cradles the cooing baby. Joe takes a candle and lights it, and the little family stand and pray quietly, all while the grand service is taking place.
Sim the scouser notices them before Anna the steward does. Sim was aware of the couple walking down the nave and initially he thought they were latecomers to the ordination. But as they draw closer, he is drawn to them. He goes to sip his coffee again, but before the cup reaches his lips, he is suddenly struck by the realisation: this is him, the one I’ve been waiting for.
Without any hesitation, he puts his cup down, hurries down the café steps and rushes over to the family gathered at the candle stand. As he approaches, Sim is absolutely sure, this is the messiah.
He greets the family, looks at the baby and prays:
‘Almighty God, I now know that I can leave and live in peace to the end of my days, because your promises are true. In this baby, my own eyes have now seen your saving power, which you have prepared for all people, for those near and far, for those religious and not. Thank you, Lord. Amen.’
Mary and Joe are astounded. Simeon now looks at them and says, with tears in his eyes: ‘your son has been born to turn the world upside down. Through him, many will believe. Through him, many will have to turn around. He will change the world. But as his parents, a sword will pierce your own hearts too’.
When Sim was walking towards them, Anna, who had been watching the ordination intently, turned her old eyes to the scene at the candle holder. Anna too, is strangely pulled towards the family. Something in her spirit is moved. Over the years, she has seen millions of people pass through this space. She has seen thousands of people light candles. But nothing has ever moved her like this.
The light from the lit candle is flickering on the face of the infant in such a way that makes him look angelic, no, more than that: holy.
Anna too, goes over to the family. She listens to Simeon, looks at the baby and is filled with a hope that she’s never felt before. ‘He’s something special, that baby’ she says. ‘I’ve never seen anything like him!’.
‘Psst! Debbie! Come over here and see this baby! Oy, Graham! Come and meet this family!’ She calls, as quietly as she can, to her fellow stewards.
And that was it! Anna couldn’t stop telling people about the baby. Long after Sim the scouser departed, long after Mary, Joe and Jesus went home, long after the service was over, long after the Bishops, clergy and new priests posed for photos, Anna was still telling people about the baby, the one would change the word.
So really, what I want to say about Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joe is this: Simeon was no Bishop. Anna was not the wife of anybody famous. Joseph made tables. Mary was nobody special. Yet because of their faithfulness and obedience, God worked through them.
This story sets the tone for the rest of Jesus’ life. Jesus did turn the world upside down. Jesus was not half as fussed about the holy people dressed up at the front as he was about the people on the edges of society.
God is working in all of us, yes, in those up front in churches and cathedrals, in those who pray, preach, read and serve, but he isn’t just working in the obvious places.
God is also working in those people who are on the edges, those people just in the corner of our eyes, those people who are seemingly unimportant and forgotten. God is a God of surprises: he is not only where you expect him to be.
My question for you today is this: Are you ready to believe that God is doing stuff beyond these four walls, beyond our church communities, beyond what is obvious and expected? Because he is.
What we need to do is be ready to see God working in the lives of people we don’t expect, and in our own lives in ways that are beyond our imagination.
I’ll say it again: Simeon was no Bishop. Anna was not the wife of anybody famous. Joseph made tables. Mary was nobody special. But these are the people, the ordinary, faithful and obedient people, with whom God shared his biggest and best message: Jesus is the messiah.
He came to turn the world upside down. He came to seek the lost and the lonely and the poor. He came to seek the unimportant people in the unobvious places. If that’s you, then have heart. He is here for you.
Photo by NatWhitePhotography on Pixabay