Advent...a time of waiting within the Christian tradition. A singular anticipation leading to Christmas.
Yes, in the midst of the seasonal flurry—the “Ho Ho’s” of a shopping center Santa, the flickering lights and fluttering expectations, we are waiting. As if keeping one foot in the present, we step the other into ancient history and mystery, alongside a very singular person.
Yes, the heavens proclaimed the “impossible” birth of this child of YHWH. Yes, the Magi drove their camels across deserts to track and greet him. And yet...well, and yet there was Simeon.
Simeon was there. He was at the temple, where the extraordinary ordinaries of Judaism’s spiritual life were centered—where the newborn sons of Israel were “trimmed” into inherited righteousness, readied by the formal, ceremonial proclamation and introduction into the life of God’s people. There, the obedience of Joseph and Mary became ordinary society’s usual religious news. The infant became simply an identified member of the Jewish faith. An ordinary first-male-child of ordinary people. Except that Simeon interrupted.
And there the miraculous became. The infant Son of God was awaited by no one but mis-matched and inexperienced parents trekking in from a local village and an insistent God-speaker, a prophet—Simeon.
He was probably well known around the temple, this frail old man who haunted the outer courts. He had a mission, a fixation that would not rest easily in the back of his mind:
Before he left this earth, he would hold in his arms the Son of God.
Son of God? An inconceivable concept! And if it weren’t, why would the Ancient of Days choose Simeon for the privilege? Simeon had been plucked from the small world of the prophetic—that exclusive and historic assortment of Called Ones who spoke for YHWH. How many years had Simeon walked this earth, haunted by this incredible secret? How many times might he have wanted to waver or admit that he might have imagined that “still, small voice?” A stubborn old fool is what some would call him today.
But then, at last, they had come—anonymous, ordinary, and no doubt travel-weary, this couple with their swaddled infant. Jostled by those entering and leaving, they were oblivious—focused on the ancient rite before them, that exacting pain to be inflicted on their son. Clingjng together, they entered the inner sanctuary, the sacristy of the altar of the Begetter of all life.
We’d like to think that Light spilled down upon them, and from them. That the dim corridors could not contain such Shekhinah glory. That not only Simeon, but all who entered were immersed in the sudden radiance. That the very temple was bathed in it. But probably the only light was deep behind the old man’s eyes. That’s where it always begins, in each of us, invisible but to the seer.
There in the dust and bustle and eventual hush of familiar religious practice, the Old and New Testaments interwove suddenly, quite simply. Between God’s unlikely prophet, and the newborn—the oh, so unlikely One foretold.
Perhaps the young mother looked up and saw before her the face of love, the stream of tears. Perhaps she knew that he knew.
Simeon held out his arms and received the Son of the Great I AM. He cradled this little one, spoke his now-hallowed words, trembling with the miracle of this child in his arms. And then Simeon went home to die “completed,” as God had promised.
The child was handed over to priestly hands, and the ancient dictum and its requisite ceremonial cut was carried out one more time. And so it was done. The parents cradled their probably wailing babe, and “marveled at what was said about him.” The scriptures were fulfilled on that day...the circumcision of the earthling born of GOD, as God enfleshed.
The handing over of God’s eternal torch to the Son, The One who lights the way.
And we hold it now, this torch—as God’s People have since Jesus left us many centuries ago. At some bright moment, some Shekinah moment in our own souls, we recognize that we have been waiting, long waiting to carry this child in our own empty hearts. And no, we are not sent home to die, but to simply bear witness to the eternal one. To bear the light of God and speak God’s name continually.
Like Simeon, we are granted to hold this Truth in our frail and ragged souls. With awe and trembling, with unexpected joy...the Gift of the ages, the oh, so unlikely, so perfect Gift of God.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout—cautiously and carefully observing the divine Law—and looking for the Consolation of Israel.
And the Holy Spirit was upon him and it had been divinely revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
And prompted by the Holy Spirit he came into the temple enclosure, and when the parents brought in the little child Jesus, to do for Him what was customary according to the Law, Simeon took Him up in his arms and praised and thanked God and said,
And now, Lord, You are releasing your servant to depart this world in peace, according to Your word. For with my own eyes I have seen your Salvation, which You have ordained and prepared before all peoples, a Light for revelation to the Gentiles—to disclose what was before unknown—and to bring praise and honor and glory to Your people Israel.
And His father and mother were marveling at what was said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed and destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the secret thoughts and purposes of many hearts may be brought out and disclosed.”
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