2017 February Issue
Sermon Ideas For Luke 2:22-40 Part 5
The promise might have come in Simeon's youth when all things seemed possible and the future stretched before him like the sea. He heard it in the ebb and flow of an ordinary day on the coast with his uncle, fishing and docking and mending nets. The promise sounded immense enough to bring him to his knees, yet so much like the tide he almost missed it. It came in a whisper like a confiding lover, yet in a roar like a lion.
The Messiah will come. So what? How many grandparents of grandparents died leaving that promise to their children? But this promise was addressed to him personally. He did not hear words exactly, but he could tell the gist of it to anyone who cared to know: Simeon, the Messiah will come. You will see him. Just wait.
Each passing day since then could have convinced him to discard as vain fantasy the notion that God selected him to receive a note in a bottle. The passing days, years, and decades took their toll, but he never forgot the clear sound of the promise. Crises marked the chapters of his life: moving to Jerusalem, a fire, a siege, a sudden fortune, the madness of a friend, the unexpected love. Yet, the tide of moments, days, and years, the routines of appetite, the rhythms of light and darkness, the cycles of fatigue and energy stretching from promise to fulfillment should have eroded his hope. Instead they preserved it.
In scripture he found words for the mysteries, songs for the rhythms, stories for the long, foggy roads between beginnings and endings. Praying scripture, memorizing it, singing it, debating it, he let it train him to see the Messiah's face in the crowds, in the widow's eyes, in the outline of a fig tree. He could hear the Messiah's voice in the stillness, the wind, the clamor of the market, the whisper of the tide. He saw and heard the promise fulfilled with the help of scripture; yet, these epiphanies seemed fleeting, ephemeral, not yet constant and towering like the sun or the mountain that envelops it at dusk. He still waited to see the Messiah's face in the flesh, to touch him, to know his name, to rest at night trusting that tomorrow morning the Messiah will awaken nearby, stretching and greeting the day.
He knew that he did not wait alone, that others heard the promise in various ways. Anna, for instance, heard no message in the tide of time, only its grim march into tomorrow. She did not hear her name called in intimate whisperings. Rather, she saw the promise like a constellation in the scattered pieces of a shattered dream. She heard silence where once her husband snored, laughed, grunted, sang, complained, told tales, and slammed doors. He gave her a new name and promised with a wordless, hungry look to father her children. She lost herself in him and seemed to find herself in his arms. She dreamed of getting more lost in a sea of children and finding herself there too.
When he died, only she remained. The silence of his absence and of children never born oppressed her, almost suffocated her. Then one day she heard a bird's song, the same song she had heard a million times, but she heard it as if for the first time. It meant nothing at all except it changed the silence the way the silence changed for Elijah on Mount Horeb. The thick silence of death became the sheer silence of God, a silence so full of hope that it brought her to her knees.
Hope still had a human face, no longer her husband's face but the face of the Messiah. Messiah meant hope with a face. So she clutched her new, sweet silence to her breast like Simeon held on to the promise he heard in the tide. Simeon spent his life coming and going from the temple like a distracted man searching for lost keys. Anna spent her years in one place, the noisy outer court of the temple where the law allowed women and outsiders. By praying and fasting, she suckled the silence like a new mother.
As Simeon searched the faces on the street and in the temple and as Anna searched the silence in the clamor, both saw realities about the Messiah that no one else would see until too late. The world cannot tolerate the very Messiah for whom it pines. People long for a savior who brings good news for me or for us but not a light to the world. The world is suspicious of good news for others. It cannot tolerate unconditional love. We only accept the love designed exclusively for us, the kind of love reserved for family. Blood is thicker than water, but the promised Messiah will save through both blood and water. The world will not understand that mission and will violently oppose it. Few will recognize the Messiah, and those who do will suffer for their joy. He shuddered to think of the trials of the Messiah's mother.
So with wrinkles radiating from eyes wearied with a lifetime of searching, Simeon looked more closely in the temple's outer court where Anna waited. He found a young rural couple and looked into the face of their infant child brought for consecration with the meager offering allowed for the poor. In the most unlikely place and face, Simeon found the Messiah at last, and he trembled for the proud girl who held him.
Anna overheard the song of Simeon, the song for which she searched the silence until age bent her in a permanent posture of prayer. She joined him in song from their hearts and from the ages of humankind's waiting. The restlessness of waiting ended, and the promised hope had arrived. See the sleeping baby offering it to the world.
J. Marshall Jenkins