God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"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. "
This is called the Nunc dimittis, a canticle that is part of the service of Morning Prayer. It comes from the gospel lesson that we have just read, from what Simeon says after he holds the baby Jesus. Simeon has been told by the Holy Spirit that he will see the Messiah before he dies.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, the day when Mary and Joseph follow the Jewish law of presenting their son 40 days after his birth for the rite of purification. The law stated that "every first born male shall be designated as holy to the Lord." Women were considered unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son and 80 days after the birth of a daughter, and they could not enter the temple or attend any religious celebrations until they were cleansed.
The parents are to bring a lamb and a pigeon for sacrifice, but an exception was made for those who could not afford that. The poor could bring 2 pigeons instead, and that is what Mary and Joseph did. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were poor. They knew the struggle to make ends meet. They knew what it meant to make things last as long as possible.
So Mary and Joseph bring Jesus, now 40 days old, into the temple. Simeon, who we are told was filled with the Holy Spirit, was guided by the Holy Spirit to come to the temple that same day, at that same time. When Simeon sees the baby Jesus, he knows that this is the Messiah that he has been waiting for. This is the Messiah that the world has been waiting for.
We can picture Simeon in his old age, holding the baby Jesus in his arms. We can imagine the peace that envelops him as he gazes upon this precious child, the son of God. He has been waiting for this day. Now the Messiah has come. What the Holy Spirit has told him has been fulfilled - he will see the Messiah before he dies. The infant that he carefully cradles in his arms will be the savior of all people, Israelites and Gentiles alike. Now it is okay for him to die. Now he can die in peace.
Obviously, Mary and Joseph are amazed at what has been said about their child, the one who wakes them up at night wanting to be fed, the one who can fall asleep anytime, any place, the one who can cry unconsolably from time to time. But this man Simeon says this is the one who will save the world, who will be a light in the darkness. How can that be? How can this child that Mary knows intimately, be the Messiah? We wonder if she thinks back to the day of the Annunciation, when the Angel tells Mary that she will bear the son of God? Had she forgotten about that? Had she not believed it would really happen?
Simeon goes on to say that Jesus is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel. But many will oppose him, and even Mary's soul will be pierced. He tells Mary that she will suffer for her son. Her heart will be broken, the depths of her soul will be in agony. Of course, Mary does not understand what he is talking about. At this point, she is trying to take care of her newborn baby and her husband, figure out how to get through the sleepless nights and long days, trying to make ends meet, and enjoying this bonding time with her baby. Mary does not know what lies 30 years down the road.
We are told about the prophet Anna, who worshiped and prayed in the temple day and night. She, too, says this is the child that all were looking for, who would be the redemption of Israel. This unknown prophet reinforces what Simeon has said.
How did Simeon and Anna know that THIS baby, THIS child, was the son of God? The Holy Spirit tells Simeon that he will see the son of God before he dies, and the Holy Spirit leads him to the temple in Jerusalem on that day. But we can imagine that the temple was filled with people. That was the gathering place for the community. How did he know that it was THIS child, Mary and Joseph's son? What did he see? What did he feel? How did he recognize Jesus?
When the infant Jesus was brought to the temple, he was received by Simeon and Anna - devout elderly people who had waited their entire lives to see this Holy Child. Their obedience to God enabled them to see God when others did not. They waited until God chose to send Jesus into the world.
Most of us do not like to wait. Whether its sitting in traffic, or in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a doctor's appointment, we become impatient. We see it as wasted time, time when we could be doing something else. We are used to getting things instantly - on the internet, overnight delivery of packages, fast food restaurants. We are always in a hurry. Waiting is the empty place between where we are and where we want to be.
But these periods of waiting can provide new insights and opportunities to see God revealed in our lives in transforming ways. The scriptures are filled with times of waiting. Noah waited for the flood waters to recede, Jacob waited to marry Rachel, Abraham and Sarah waited until their old age for a child of their own. The Israelites waited to enter the promised land, and waited again to return after the exile.
For centuries, the world waited for the coming of the Messiah. For the last two thousand years, we have waited for the return of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
Author and theologian Henri Nouwen says, "The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy or prediction. That is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."
Because of their waiting, Simeon and Anna got to see the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God, before they died. Because of their faithfulness and their listening to God, they were drawn to the temple at the right time, to see and to hold the Savior of the world. May we, too, be faithful and patient in our waiting as we listen for the voice and direction of God. Amen.
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