Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Please find the Song of Simeon on page 120 of the Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray.
Lord you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see; a Light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father ... Amen.
We say these words each week, as we say Evening Prayer. I remember when Olivia and I began praying together every night, when she was a little girl. I prayed with all of my children, but she is the only one who will still, mostly, let me pray with her. The Song of Simeon is one of those prayers we would say all the time, so that she had (at one time) it committed to memory. There is something hopeful and peaceful about the Song of Simeon, as it is called in the BCP and yet, if we look closely, it is bold and powerful, too. The Song is lifted straight out of today’s lesson from Luke, as the Evangelist continues to unfold his stories of the young Jesus. I find that the words of Simeon, who is mentioned no other place in the Gospels, go to the very heart of our Christian hope. Jesus is presented at the Temple and he will be the Temple; it is His coming out party in Luke. The day is filled with wonder, grace, and unexpected proclamation of Jesus as Messiah by two old but faithful and hopeful folks.
There is another story unfolding that Luke tells, as well. Simeon tells Mary that this child will be the cause of the rise and fall of many, as some (billions over the millennia) will ultimately embrace the reality of the Messiah in Jesus and many others will not. He promised Mary that a sword would pierce her heart, too. We are promised, as disciples of Jesus, that our lives will be marked by hope and blessing, grace and mystery, but heartbreak and pain will be part of it too, sometimes, as a result of our being followers of Jesus. Luke, connecting the story of Jesus with the story of the Old Testament ancients, brings together the past and the new life for Israel and us all: Jesus is presented, Jesus is present, and our freedom will be the final result.
What does it feel like to be old? I am sure that I don’t really know but I am beginning to ... slowly and very surely. I minister, as you might expect, to many folks who are aging, sometimes at the very end of their lives. As I watch my father age - my mother having already succumbed to a long illness - my thoughts turn to Simeon and Anna, from Luke today. What does old age teach us about humanity, expectant hope, and perhaps, salvation?
I have watched my dear friend Fred Gonzalez, priest and friend to many, on his journey over the last ten years. He is almost 83. When I first met Fred, he was 72, but looked and seemed to be much younger. He was working as a priest part-time but he does nothing part time, and he worked hard to build up the Spanish-language congregation, Santa Maria, in Columbia, SC. He attended to them, cared for them, advocated for them, went to visit them in detention, the hospital, and earned their trust through his humble and gentle Christ-centeredness. I have met no one in my life who more exemplifies the Christian hope and life: he truly and honestly believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; being in relationship with God has changed his life and, lest we think it is because he is a priest, he was 70 when he was ordained.
Over the last two or three years, my friend has begun to experience many difficult challenges. He has had cancer twice (both times when he was younger); he has a bad back and some difficulty walking very well now. He struggles to sit for very long. He has glaucoma. He has had difficulty with his vocal cords, too. He is having surgery next month in hope of regaining strength and stamina in his voice and, maybe, even be able to sing again, which he can no longer do. You will rarely hear a more beautiful voice than his, even a few years ago. He still sometimes struggles with the loss of his eldest son to suicide, even though it happened more than thirty years ago. But my friend Fred has not become negative or curmudgeonly or critical of others. And if you ask him why, he will tell you: because of God in Christ, the saving love and grace given to him by Jesus, continues to give him purpose and expectant hope for not only eternal life with God but the possibility of this day and of tomorrow, to communicate the passion and hope of that saving love. “Old age ain’t for sissies,” as Norman Mailer (I think it was) famously said. But in no stage of our lives are we separated from God, and in no crisis or darkness, because of Jesus Christ.
Simeon reminds us that Jesus gives us the ability to be presented new, holy, and forgiven, as Christ lived the life that made our renewal possible. The Book of Hebrews says this week, “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death He might destroy the one who has the power over death …Therefore, He had to become like His brothers and sisters in every respect, so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service to God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because He himself was tested by what he suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested.”
Paul’s letter to the Hebrews promises us that we have a Savior who understands us because He is One of us – perfect, without sin, but understanding what pain, poverty, humiliation, anger, anguish, and death are all like and he experienced them all. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is at once Savior of all the Universe, the one who was, is, and will ever be and also the One who ate the same dirt as us, the same heartache and disappointment. God used Christ’s humanity to save us – burying our human sin and death with His most human pain and death and redeeming it in His resurrection. Not old age, illness, broken hearts or bodies can separate us from the love of God known to us in the most human and, at the same time, most Holy Jesus Christ, our Lord.
On this feast where we celebrate Jesus’ entry into public life, His presentation at the most Holy Temple of God, we should thank God for His solidarity with us in Jesus. We know life isn’t always easy; no, it is not. And there is little that we can do about so much of the experienced pain of the world. But we can breathe the saving love of Jesus into the lives of as many of God’s wounded people as we can. We can attend, we can abide, we can watch, and we can speak words of God’s truth to the hurting, human, fleshy world that God in Christ chose to inhabit. We can cry out, “Lord, you have set your people free to go in peace, as you have promised.” God never fails to keep His promises to us. Jesus is the guarantor of God’s promise of salvation. May we live in the expectant hope and reality of God’s always present and promised love.