Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Simeon: Man of Hope

Luke 2:22-35 speaks of a man of hope: Simeon. There’s nothing in the text to confirm it, but Simeon may have been an older man. Indeed, the Nunc dimittis, the song he voiced at seeing Jesus, and which we use in the office of Compline, suggests it. Artists have depicted him as a venerable, white-haired elder, with clear, alert, sparkling eyes: indicating his waiting and watching.

Simeon makes only the briefest appearance in Luke’s Gospel. His name appears to come from shama Yahweh = Yahweh has heard. He was in Jerusalem, presumably a resident. Luke describes him as “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel”, and he says the Holy Spirit was upon him. Simeon had apparently been given God’s assurance that he would see the Anointed One, the Messiah some time before he died. On this day, at this time, when Mary and Joseph were bringing the newborn Jesus to the Temple to fulfill their duty as observant Jews, Simeon had felt the Spirit’s urging to go there also.

It isn’t clear how he finally recognized them, but when he did, he took the baby in his arms and blessed God: “O God, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior...” In the midst of their consternation and amazement, Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, then speaks to Mary those cryptic words about Jesus’ destiny, and about the suffering she’ll endure. And that’s it! We don’t ever hear of Simeon again.

The message here is as simple and unassuming as Simeon himself was:

- Because you and I have accepted Jesus as Lord in our baptismal covenant, we no longer have to prove anything to anyone. Our value, as one who is “in Christ”, is in being who and what our baptismal commitment calls us to be: viz., righteous, i.e., right with God, our neighbor, and our self; and devout, from the Greek word meaning to receive well, be circumspect and aware, to catch on well.

- Simeon helps us appreciate the importance of the unseen, the unclear, that there’s always something more to see and learn in the depths of people and situations in our lives. God is a God of surprises, popping up in the most unexpected places, people, and events, where we ourselves might never bother to look.

- Through the Holy Spirit, Simeon saw God’s presence everywhere, all-pervasive. Simeon is for us a sort of preview of Pentecost. And because of the Spirit’s presence in his life, Simeon was filled with hope. How must it have felt for him to await what God had promised him? Can you imagine how he faced every morning? “Perhaps today is the day!

In our Baptism, you and I, too, have been in-spired, breathed-into, by the Holy Spirit who unveils for us the promises of God. In the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Hebrews, in the New Testament, the promise is always the same: “...I will never leave you or forsake you.

Simeon received and lived for the promise of which God had assured him. He prayed, watched, and hoped. And what happened? An old man got to hold a baby, which is a big thing in families, as you know. Everyone grabs a camera and has to have a picture. But there weren’t any cameras that day in the Temple. Just an ordinary couple, Mary and Joseph, and this old man, Simeon, holding an extraordinary baby, Jeshua = The One who saves.

As he was for Simeon, so for each of us, too, Jesus is salvation. May we take him to our hearts and lives, sustained by the hope of God’s promises. May we daily share him and his Holy Spirit, visible through our words and actions, with one another.

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