Luke 2:22, 25-38
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also 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.
The Song of Simeon, just sung by our choir, is often sung at the very end of things: during evening prayers or compline. It often comes after communion, in order to say, “I have seen your salvation in this bread and cup and now I can depart in peace.” It is really an incredible thing to say, a liturgical, “Now that I’ve seen this, I can die happy.” As Simeon, long after he heard the promise that he would see the Messiah of God, sees this child and says, “With this I have witnessed the goodness of God and I can say that my life is complete.”
Most of the time, when we talk about bucket lists, we mean things that we want to do before we depart this life: places to see or things to try or perhaps sky-diving if somehow you seem to lack the very logical fear of falling from great heights. But what Simeon is singing of is in fact the opposite: not something Simeon wants to do but something he hopes he can see that God has done. Simeon is not asking to be the one to go to the heights or to save the world but just get a glimpse of the salvation that God is bringing, to get a glimpse and say, “Even this would be enough for my life.”
This song has a history. An article by Lauren Winner I read this week said that in 1860 at a political party convention they were in the midst of three tense ballots about who would be the Republican nominee, who would be the party’s candidate for president in 1860. And when the vote switched to Abraham Lincoln, one man started crying and another old man started quoting scripture at the top of his lungs, “Now, Lord, lettest thy servant depart in peace, for these eyes of mine…” And she goes on to say that, “Yes, Abraham Lincoln and the United States is not actually the same as the salvation of humanity.” But I was left wondering what on earth in this life we could see and say, “Yes, after this I can depart in peace.” What would be big enough to say, “This was God,” and to feel your life so wrapped in it in a way that to witness it is to feel your own purpose drawing to its completeness, its wholeness? How much of God’s justice would I need to see, what glimpses of mercy, what concrete pieces of gratitude and joy and hope would I need to believe and see in some way, but I have seen enough of God’s goodness to say that God keeps God’s promises, to look at this infant that is not yet grown and see the hope that promises I can depart in peace. And here’s the part where I say: sometimes I think I’m a bit calloused when it comes to God’s work in the world. I have a habit of saying to God, “Well, that’s great. Is that all you got?”
This week, on January 1, 5 million women in India joined hands to form a 385 mile wall to stand for women’s rights together. Five million people; 385 miles. But let me say, such apparently is my heart’s hardness that I read this news and said, “Huh,” and then continued on the tide of bad news that proceeded to pull me under. Yet even for those in the story we read today, what courage would it take for them to look at the world and say, “Yes, I believe that God is at work.” For Simeon, at this point in his life, he had had this revelation. It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he saw God’s Messiah. And you can imagine how immediately after this vision he might have jumped up with a little spring in his step, how he might have sought to get a glimpse of what might be coming, that as the powers of the world circled he might have looked at each leader as it rose and asked himself, “Is this one it?” Perhaps as a young man he thought he would get to be a part of that Messiah’s army. He thought that the story of his life would be one of conquests and glamour, the Messiah upending the powers of this world and that he would get to be a part. And as he grew older and watched the years go on, I wonder if he grew weary as the world around him only came to get more terrible and worse as the hopes seemed slimmer and the potential, let’s name it, less promising. And perhaps he questioned that fire that ignited him in the streaming moment years before. Perhaps he felt cynicism wresting its way into his bones as he guarded his heart to hope again, as he felt his body begin to fail him, as he let things go that mattered, until all that was left was this remnant of a promise that God would not forget.
I wonder what Anna did to be named a prophet. It is noteworthy for a woman to be named prophet in Scripture, and I wonder if she held that title in that seven years of marriage with her husband; was her voice then known or if, instead, it was in the wake of her grief. After her husband died she wouldn’t leave the temple: whether in the pain of loss, whether her spirit then grew thin, maybe even transparent enough for the light of God to come through. She, who in the wake of loss and grief and pain, she found that the only place she could find a home was on holy ground where she could fast and pray. For if this hole her husband left in her life she found that in its wake she found it hard to go to the market where everyone seemed to be acting like it was an ordinary day, whether if she found it hard to face the poverty of the home that would never be as she had dreamed and imagined. Instead, she traded it all to stay in the temple, for the place that felt the closest to where life and death would meet and where it was in that holy place where others who witnessed her devotion, how she saw that was a woman caught between worlds and it was there that they named her a prophet of God.
Because I wonder what it was that called to Simeon, perhaps when his hope had run out. And I wonder what it was that called to Anna when grief was still holding her in its grips. And I wonder what it was that caused Simeon and Anna not just to speak but to sing. Simeon’s song is one of four songs in the first two chapters of Luke, but the other three are all sung in the wake of angels. We have Mary’s Magnificat, we have Zaccariah’s Song, we have the angels themselves, but this one here, there are not celestial beings to show up and usually scare the bejesus out of you and then grandly make announcements. It makes sense to sing after you have seen an angel. But Anna and Simeon, they might have received a promise years ago, but here in this moment they are on their own. They are faced with the weight of years and it is only with a vision of their own eyes that they look upon this couple and their child and they see the fulfillment of God’s promise. They are the first that are not given divine intervention, to point out that something remarkable is happening before them. And so, if you are like me, shockingly low on angel sightings, Anna and Simeon are the closest we have of those who like us don’t get a cheat sheet to the holiest encounters in our life. But when they see this child, they see and believe and are moved to sing.
I think on most of the encounters in my life and realize the effort it takes to return to the temple once more to see, to hope and to look with eyes that might see Christ in his infancy, even here. And so I was trying to think back on this past week or so of where that might be. And I think to this prayer shawl we sent as a church to the only open and affirming church in Singapore, along with this congregation’s letters of encouragement, friendship and connection. And I got a note in this last week that they received this and they had given it to a member of their church that was dying and he had it with him for his last days and then they gave it to his partner so that he could continue to hold the prayers of this church in his grief. And I say, “Look at this thing of grace here.” And then I start thinking about all the stories we hold in our community, about how this church has such a culture of love and welcome that I know folks respond with love to those in our midst. I speak to the elders in our church, I hear their stories and I hear the deep wisdom of our children and I witness the actions of truth and I see a community rally in the midst of tragedy and in each one of these here there is this chance and moment where you can say, “Look, see how there is this glimpse here of how Christ can be born. See how there is this shining hope.” And in each one you have a chance to say, “Yes, maybe this is God’s salvation; maybe even this could be enough.”
David Steele wrote a poem called Simeon, and he writes it imagining himself listening to a preacher and he says:
This preacher claims scholarly research had documented that Simeon, of Simeon and
Anna, had pronounced the very same blessing, the one in Luke 2:27-35, over all of the babies presented to him in the temple, in those formative years of life. He was pulling my leg, of course, but then, when I read the blessing and I thought about it, I began to wish he was right about Simeon and those babies and I began thinking about our babies. And I wish someone, maybe Simeon, might hold my own grandbabies high and yours, the born ones and the not yet, and proclaim to them with great conviction, “You are the saviors of the world,” meaning it so absolutely that those young’uns would live it and love it and make that happen. And I hear this because I am inspired because I do not want to be stingy in my praises of God. I do not want my eyes to be so overwhelmed by the hopelessness that I miss the miraculous before me. For I want to say that when cynicism whispers and fear tells its bold lies, when grief digs a hole from which I fear to emerge, to say instead, “I see the glory of God. Here I see a piece of your salvation. Here I see your brilliant radiance. Here I see your glory streaming for all people.” So that after seeing these many glories and naming each baby in the temple as God’s hope that when Christ should come I should be ready to dedicate my life to its arrival saying, “This is enough. Dismiss thy servant in peace.” For thanks be to God, I have seen your salvation.
And so it is that we as a community come to this piece of glory, this glimpse of God’s hope. For a star appeared on a silent and holy night and it brought with it God’s hope, peace, joy and love in the form of a baby.
This holy infant, tender and mild, was a sign of new life, a sign of holy vulnerability, a sign of your presence in flesh in our human form. This would be the light that showed forth the truth that all humanity is beloved and called us to care for each one as beloved.
Jesus gathered people around tables and showed their radiance as Jesus gathers us around table and says, “This is my bread and cup and light for you. Because I shine in you, let your light shine for the world.” For after Jesus had died and then rose, on the road to Emmaus he travelled with the disciples who did not know them. But when the bread was broken their eyes were opened that they might see Christ in the face of a stranger.
As we gather at this feast we pray that in the breaking of the bread our eyes might be open to see Christ. We pray that in the sharing of this cup our communion might be made new.
Pour out your spirit on us and these gifts. Transform us into the light of your love for all, dear God, and make us one in you. Thanks and praise be to the creator, the redeemer and sustainer. Amen. Come, for the holy feast is ready.
Will you be with me in a spirit of prayer? Holy God, who meets us where we are and gives us the bread we need for this day, thank you for the glimpses we have of your salvation., We pray that your blessing might be with us that we might serve you in our life and depart with you in peace. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
© Copyright. Lisa Horst Clark. 2019. All rights reserved.