Old people

Advent and Christmas…are about old people. Shall I say that again? Advent and Christmas are about old people. But what about the children? someone asks. And I have to reply that they don’t feature in the story.

The Advent stories begin with an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, he a priest helping out in his retirement years, she a childless senior citizen. The Christmas stories end with another elderly couple. One is Simeon, a God-fearing man who regularly visits the temple. The other is Anna, an 84-year-old widow and prophetess. They are the people who witness Jesus being dedicated to God by his parents in accordance with Jewish tradition, and who recognise his uniqueness. And in between, we have three wise men, of indeterminate age, though if Eastern tradition is to be acknowledged, wisdom should be considered as the gift of years, not of youth.

I claim Advent and Christmas as a time for adults, not out of any dislike for children, but because I fear that by viewing these seasons as if they were devoted to and for toddlers, we avoid one of the quirks of God’s nature. God expects old dogs to do new tricks. God expects people whom the world would deem past it to initiate.

The beginning of Jewish-Christian history involves an old man, Abraham, a nonagenarian, and his equally aged wife Sarah, from whom God maintains a nation will spring. He could have chosen a fertile upwardly mobile pair of newlyweds. We would have. But God is not us. God expects old people— to be the sowers of new seed; to be midwives of change; to be the ones who recognise and name the new directions which society has to take; to be the ones who applaud and encourage young potential. Elizabeth and Zechariah become parents in their old age and Simeon and Anna recognise the uniqueness in Mary’s tiny baby, because God will not have people marginalised or written off on account of age.
And when we see three wise men worshipping Jesus and then going home by another way, we see God’s belief and expectation that older folk can change and will change when they recognise the truth.

John Bell,
Iona Community
(BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day from few years ago)