| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Message preached January 4,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Luke 2:22-40
Order of Worship
click to listen
Christmas day has now come and gone. No more tempting packages await under the tree for young eyes. The excitement of opening is past. The long-awaited moment is now history. Would this moment have been so special if we hadn't been able to see the brightly colored packages under the tree? If we didn't have to wait until just the right time, would it have been as significant? Indeed, in order to see the joy of Christmas morning, especially to experience it as children do, we need to wait.
Simeon's story, from this morning's gospel lesson, is a tale about a man who waited. Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was devoted to his God. He observed God's commandments to the best of his ability. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. Simeon longed for the consolation, the comforting, the salvation of Israel. That is, he was looking for the Messiah.
Now, of course, all Jews were waiting for the Messiah. But most had their own notion of what he would look like, and how he would appear. Even if the Messiah had come and stood before them, most probably wouldn't have recognized him. Well, as it all turned out, we know they didn't.
But Simeon was different. He was one of the few who waited patiently, quietly, without many of those pre-conceived notions which seem to get in the way of really seeing what God is doing in this world. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the anointed of God - the Christ, the Messiah.
One day Simeon was in the Temple. There, amid the crowds of worshippers, he met a young couple and their newborn child. They had come to present their son in the Temple, making an offering of 5 sheckels as required by the law. Simeon could see that they were not well off. It was the custom of the law that a lamb should be offered for the purification of the mother after childbirth. But the law made an allowance for the poor, who might not be able to afford a lamb. Two turtle-doves would be sufficient in that case. Mary and Joseph had no lamb.
Simeon saw all this, and then he saw the child, and something lit up inside of him, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was what he had been waiting for. He picked up the child, blessed God, and prayed. His prayer we find in the Gospel of Luke. Over the years this prayer has been called the "Nunc Dimittis," for, in Latin, that is how it begins. But, I'd rather think of it as SIMEON'S SONG. Let's listen to it again:
"Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."(Luke 2:29-32)
Simeon's story, as his song, is indeed a special story. There are four things about this special story that I'd like to mention. You might call them keys which help us unlock the true meaning of this story.
The first key is the word "sight", or "to see". That word is mentioned five times in this short story. Simeon is said to have been "looking" for the consolation of Israel(vs. 25). It was revealed to him that he should not "see" death (vs. 26) before he had "seen" the Messiah (vs. 26). After coming face to face with the Christ child, Simeon prayed, "My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people" (vs. 30-31). Add to the word "sight" the term "revelation," which is used three times, twice with a specific reference to "bringing to light" or sight, and it becomes obvious that "seeing" is important. To be able to see what the Lord has done, his salvation, is extremely crucial to this passage of scripture.
The second key has to do with the reaction of Mary and Joseph to all this. According to scripture, they were astonished at Simeon's words. Surely after all that had happened to them in the past nine months, they wouldn't be surprised at an old man seeing God at work in their child? Perhaps the fact that Simeon spoke of salvation and revelation being available to even the Gentiles, was a bit much for two good Jews to digest. Simeon spoke of a salvation universally available to all people. The magnitude of God's work can be astonishing.
Key #3 has to do with the destiny of this tiny child Simeon held in his arms as he prayed. This Christ-child, this Messiah, is seen as heading toward a cross, toward suffering, rejection and denial. Verse 34 says: "this child is destined for the falling and rising of many."
One way of interpreting this is to say that many will fall ... and many will rise, in relation to this child. That is, not all will choose to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and follow him. In so doing they will stumble and fall. But there will also be those who decide to follow him as their Christ, and they will rise. Indeed that proved to be the case. It continues to be so.
Another way of interpreting these words: "the falling and the rising of many," is to say that those who follow God in Jesus Christ will not tread an easy path. Yes, they will stumble many times, through their own weaknesses or, more to the point, through the persecution of others. However, they also will rise again. Jesus would himself fall (he would die upon a cross), and rise (in his resurrection); The same is true for his disciples.
Both ways of interpreting these words are important for our understanding. Not all will choose to see and follow Jesus. Those who do, will go through a process of becoming God's people. There are times of fire, times of testing.
The fourth key to help us better understand this story, and our own lives by it, has to do with waiting. Simeon waited patiently in expectation, not really knowing what exactly it was he was looking for. But he knew when he saw this child that he had seen salvation. The ordeal of waiting brought its rewards. And, as if to underline this point, in our scripture lesson following Simeon's song, we learn of a woman named Anna, who waited day and night in the temple, worshipping, praying, fasting. Obviously, there is something about waiting that helps to open eyes, whether they be young or old, to see what God is doing in this world.
There's another story which I'd like to share, Tommy's story. I've shared it with you before, but it bears repeating. I came to know Tommy over 30 years ago when I was a counselor at Camp Swatara. Tommy was a very quiet boy. In fact he never spoke. He was what we call an autistic child. I don't claim to know much about this mental handicap, but as I understand it, an autistic child is missing a vital link in the brain, a connection to the outside world. It's as if a wire inside is disconnected, and the child lives in a world all his own. Tommy's parents sent him to a camp for mentally handicapped children. I was one of his counselors.
Our cabin decided to spend a night outside, and so we grabbed our sleeping bags and set up camp in the woods just behind our cabin. Now, sometime during that night Tommy decided to get out of bed. None of us counselors saw him do so. Come morning, we discovered his empty bag.
Well, you can imagine the commotion. The whole camp was gathered together. Everyone was asked if they had seen him. The director then assigned a few counselors to watch over the rest of the children while they ate breakfast, and led the rest of us in a search for Tommy, a proceedure we had practiced before camp began. After prayer, we spread out in comb-like fashion from the place where he had slept.
One boy in another cabin told me he thought hed seen Tommy walk by early in the morning, but he wasnt sure. So the path I chose went in a straight line from Tommy's sleeping bag past this boys window. This route took me through hilly ground, full of sharp rocks, thistles and (probably) snakes. I knew Tommy did not have his shoes and socks on. The way Id chosen to travel took me past the place we called the "Outdoor Cathedral," where I paused to pray.
After about a mile, my path led me to a huge rock field. In the middle was a bush. Under the bush was Tommy. There he sat with his arms outstretched. As I picked him up, I noticed that there was not a mark on him. His bare feet were unharmed. Only just a little dirty. Back at camp, the rest of the kids cheered when he came into the cafeteria.
What do these stories of Tommy and Simeon have in common?
Well, I remember vividly Tommy's outstretched arms, trying to speak, to communicate with my world as I approached. He had gone as far as he could go, then he sat and waited until someone found him, until he was "saved", so to speak.
I had to follow the leading I felt, to travel down a path, praying that Tommy would be found - "waiting", so to speak, for one of us to find him. (Whoever said that waiting involves just sitting and doing nothing?) I was used to find him. God was at work.
We, Tommy and I , saw God's salvation. The prophet Isaiah once said, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."(40:31)
Whoever said that salvation is only something you feel inside, or something that happens to you only after you die? Yes, it is an inner leaning, as well as a future hope. However Gods salvation is also something tangible, it can be seen and touched. Simeon held that little baby in his arms and saw in him Gods future happening in the here and now. And Tommy, well - I have no idea what he saw as he waited under that bush. He couldnt tell me. But when I picked him up and carried him back to the Lodge, I saw Gods salvation taking place.
God's salvation can be seen in our daily activities, when we come to realize that God is presence in our lives, now. Salvation can be seen, but because we are all still growing in the faith we don't see all that we could; which is okay (there is time to grow in God's grace). We are all still learning how to wait, falling and rising along the way. When we do see these glimpses of glory, though, they surprise us - even those of us who have been around a long, long time.
"My eyes have seen your salvation," Simeon sang as he held that baby. Can you hear the music? Do you see God's salvation also? Wont you join in the song?
(para traducir a español, presione la bandera de España)
©1989, 1997, 2009 Peter
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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