I think that an important part of a being a Vicar is listening. Alongside that, some of the most significant things you pick up tend to be in chance and short conversations. I’m sure you have probably had the same experience where you are walking along and meet someone and periodically stop for a conversation.
I always try and think back on the last week walking into town and at the bus stop met someone who was telling me of the death of his son, and then on another day someone told me that their husband had recently started treatment for cancer.
These are just short insights into what is happening in a person’s life and then you carry on with your journey.
I really appreciate at the Crib Service when people write prayers and bring them up during the service and we leave them by the altar. As these just give an insight into thoughts, concerns and hopes and the things that we carry with us day to day.
A few years ago there was a book published called “The Five People that you meet in Heaven.”
The main character loses his life saving a child at an amusement park and on his way to heaven he is introduced to the five people who have shaped his life in crucial ways.
Some he is not surprised by but there is one who he only briefly met and at one level only plays a small part in his life.
I don’t want to give to many spoilers but part of the message of the book is that nothing that happens, events or conversations is a random event.
We are all connected – every act we perform will have a direct impact on someone else.
We may not realise it, but someone will be affected. You never quite know what the impact of a simple good deed will do for someone else:
“…there are no random acts. That we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.”
There is the suggestion that truth can be found in what can easily be missed and the story today of Simeon and Anna in St Luke reveals the importance of the people in the Bible who play a small but important part in the story.
As the story reminds us Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem.
The story is describing the ritual acts of cleansing for a woman that took place forty days after childbirth.
It is here that they are approached by these two fringe characters or “little people,” who emerge from the shadows and then recede again into the darkness.
Yet, they are the two people in the temple who seems to recognise the significance of what is happening.
To them is given the eyes to see and the voice to say what God is doing in the world with this baby.
He will be the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel and Anna speaks about the redemption of Jerusalem.
All these are important themes in Luke’s Gospel and the insights are not given by Biblical Scholars, theologians and priests, but the fringe or footnote characters.
The important people in this story is the very young Jesus and the very old Simeon and Anna.
There part on the Biblical stage in the case of Simeon and Anna is very small, but extremely important.
In the present day with social media we are used to short film clips or photographs that tell a story and give a brief insight into a person’s life.
For the most part these are shared with family and friends but has become clear again over the last few weeks there is a more sinister side to how information is shared.
It is possible that you can have a thirty second clip taken off you and it might be viewed millions of times around the world.
A few weeks ago there was an incident in Washington that became national and international news.
The clip shows a young man grinning and staring a few inches away from a native American singing (Nathan Phillips), whilst in the background a group of young people with “Lets make America Great Again,” hats are laughing.
Within hours it had become national news with calls for the young man to be expelled from his school, demands for an apology and he and his friends being called a disgrace.
As the story develops the young student denied that he was being disrespectful but trying to diffuse a situation in which another group of students was shouting at them.
The student said in the statement: "I am not going to comment on the words or account of Mr. Phillips, as I don’t know him and would not presume to know what is in his heart or mind. Nor am I going to comment further on the other protesters, as I don’t know their hearts or minds, either."
On the radio there was an American academic and he made a very good point: The problem with social media is that we see a person for 30 seconds and on the basis of that we feel as if we are in a position to make a judgement about their life and who they are.
People are complex and intricate and we should not rush to instant judgements which are usually wrong.
This is very true and most of the things that we see on social media are forgotten and replaced by something else. Apparently 300 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute so nothing is going to stay around for too long.
Simeon and Anna although they have only cameo roles in the Bible story are not forgotten and his words to Mary hint at the complexity of what is to follow when Jesus is grown and starts his work.
Simeon's talk of falling and rising, of opposition and piercing swords (2:34-35) invites some sober reflection upon the depth and complexity of God's ways among us.
The Nativity, as Simeon says, is about social dislocation, about confused parents, and dark forebodings.
Already at the beginning of the Gospel Luke is hinting that in the future Jesus will come to Jerusalem under the shadow of the cross.
Maybe part of their importance is that they provide a reminder of the importance of listening, not making instant judgements and recognising that life has its fair share of complexities.