2017 February Issue
Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:22-40 Part 3
Luke tells us something important by beginning his gospel with endings. Simeon at the end of his life heralds the new life of the infant Jesus, which, through his death and resurrection, will mean new life for all. Endings signal beginnings in this gospel of conversions and transformations. Conclusions trigger initiations. God's gracious cycle of death and life continues.
Simeon inherits a long prophetic history of waiting and watching for the Messiah. The Savior's birth in Luke's gospel is the hoped-for culmination both of one life and of a people's historic imagination. With this event comes salvation and confrontation. T. S. Eliot articulates the belief that the infant's birth augurs the eventual death of many, since the arrival of the Messiah begins the establishment of God's reign. He writes in "A Song for Simeon" (quoted only in part):
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children's children When the time of sorrow is come? They will take to the goat's path, and the fox's home, Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation Grant us thy peace. Before the stations of the mountain of desolation, Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow, Now at this birth season of decease, Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word, Grant Israel's consolation To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.1
Madeleine L'Engle examines a similar theme of divine love splicing history in her poem "The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973:"
This is no time for a child to be born, With the earth betrayed by war and hate And a comet slashing the sky to warn That time runs out and the sun burns late. That was no time for a child to be born, In a land in the crushing grip of Rome; Honour and truth were trampled by scorn— Yet here did the Saviour make his home.2
Simeon with his eighty years represents Israel's tradition of expectations held and fulfilled. He has spent his life gazing into the future, hoping for a glimpse of eternity. This capacity to bring the distant future into the present shines through in Frank Conroy's essay "Think About It," where he describes two old black men whom he encountered one summer while he worked selling hot dogs in a subway station snack bar. The elderly men ran a shoe-shine stand in the subterranean darkness of a subway stop. Conroy explains that these two individuals spent their lives looking off into the distance, scanning the horizon.
"As the weeks went by I realized that they never looked at anything in their immediate vicinity—not at me or their stand or anybody who might come within ten or fifteen feet. They did not look at approaching customers once they were inside the perimeter. Save for the instant it took to discern the color of the shoes, they did not even look at what they were doing while they worked, but rubbed in polish, brushed, and buffed by feel while looking over their shoulders, into the distance, as if awaiting the arrival of an important person...A powerful mood was created, and I came almost to believe that these men could see through walls, through girders, and around corners to whatever hyperspace it was where whoever it was they were waiting and watching for would finally emerge."3
Simeon represents all who scan the horizon for some glimpse of God and God's purposes at work. His vigilance is rewarded, and he obtains a peace which is well-deserved. Because of his faithful watch, Simeon sees the future brought near and even established in the birth of the infant Jesus.
Judy E. Pidcock
1. T.S. Eliot, "A Song for Simeon" in The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980). 2. Madeleine L'Engle, "The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1972" in Glimpses of Grace (Harper Collins, 1996), p. 330. 3. Frank Conroy, "Think About It" in Harper's Magazine, 1988.