There was a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
All parents want the best for their children. We want them to grow up into balanced, sociable and successful adults. We hope that they will avoid the mistakes we have made and that, in time, become good parents in their own right. We all want the very best for our children. But … do we share a common awareness of what ‘the very best’ might look like?
In today’s reading, which comes just after Simeon’s encounter with the baby Jesus, the prophet Anna, began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. Such language would probably make little sense if it were used of our children, but why?
None of us know what the future holds for the children we cherish and hold so dear. In the 12th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians Paul speaks of the ‘spiritual gifts’ that come from God. He speaks of wisdom, faith, healing and the working of miracles. He speaks of some being apostles and others being prophets, some being teachers and others being gifted in communication through the speaking and interpreting of different tongues. These gifts come to us from God as we surrender ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. None of these ‘gifts’ involves social acceptability and financial success. The true gifts of God are rooted in acts of faith.
When we wish the best for our children we would do well to nurture them in the life of faith, just as we promise in the service of Holy Baptism. Rather than teaching them to nurture their skills in ‘coming out on top’, we should be helping them to fan the flame of faith that will fill their hearts with the true joy that comes from God alone.
We know little of the childhood of Jesus. But, at the end of today’s reading we hear these words: the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him. As we seek to provide the best for our children, let us pray that we might not focus on that which is of this world, but on that which is of God. Let us pray that they might grow in strength, in order that they might become true and faithful disciples and apostles. Let us pray that they might be filled with wisdom in order that they might discern the gifts that have been bestowed upon them by God. Let us pray that the favour of God might be upon them for the whole of their earthly lives.
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