In classical church architecture and art there were often elaborate paintings or sculptures that adorned the walls above altars. This is at the point in history where all altars were still East facing, and the priest faced the altar with the people, instead of turning towards the people. The art was often meant to offer images to reflect on as the mass is said, images of Christ’s suffering or of Christ’s resurrection. Throughout history these altar pieces often became more elaborate, with multiple panels that would swing aside to reveal a different painting, and this offered the church the ability to show several different scenes from our holy scripture throughout the church year.
There is one altar piece in particular that came to mind when I studied the readings for today. The Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France. It’s on display in a museum now, but originally it was created in the 16th century for the Antonine Monastery in Isenheim. The Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony were a monastic order that existed for the care of plague sufferers. Their purpose was to take in those afflicted and care for them in the hospitals attached to their monasteries. These are all critical facts to understand why the altarpiece is so unique.
The most famous panel is the first one, and it depicts the crucifixion of Jesus. But why it’s important is that the painter chose to do something no one had ever seen before. He put plague sores all over Jesus’ body, reflecting the suffering of those that would have been in the hospital for similar illnesses. It shows patients that Christ suffers with them, that he knows their pain and that they do not have to fear their ordeal.
So often I see our faith trying to sanitize the image of Jesus’ life to leave out his brutal death at the hands of the authorities. We want to focus on ministry Jesus walking around the Galilean hills preaching and healing people. Or we want to focus on the triumphal post-Resurrection Jesus, who has conquered death and Hell and assured our salvation. Those are both wonderful and important aspects of our faith and the good news of Jesus Christ, but they are not the whole story and we see in our Gospel lesson today what happens when Peter tries to convince Jesus to leave that part out.
After Peter has spoken the truth of Jesus’ nature as we heard in last week’s Gospel, Jesus now pushes further in his education of the disciples about what must come next. No doubt this is hard for the disciples to hear, especially with the foundation established about Jesus’ divinity! Certainly now he must take Jerusalem and cast down all those that oppress them! But that is not the route God has laid out, and it is not our path as followers of Christ. To be clear though, none of this makes a difference if we didn’t have the assertion last week of Jesus’ divinity. Otherwise, this is just another martyr for a cause.
Charles Hambrick-Stowe writes, “The cross […] makes sense only in connection with knowing Jesus as “Messiah, the Son of the living God”. There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident. Only if Jesus is who he says he is – and he identifies himself as Savior and Son of God by blessings Peter’s confession – does the gospel build to redemptive climax and hope-filled conclusion.”
We often give Peter a pretty bad rap for how he responds to what Jesus says. Really Peter often ends up being the one to exemplify the wrong response. But it is no surprise that he reacts so strongly to Jesus’ assertion that suffering and death must come. Peter tries to find a different way, to argue that surely there can be triumph without defeat. He even pulls Jesus aside to convince him otherwise. We are told that Jesus rebukes Peter in a very strong manner… “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus’ rebuke is not fully directed at Peter though. Peter’s words take Jesus back to the desert and the temptation that the Deceiver offers him…all the world’s power if Jesus but bows down and worships. All of the victory with none of the sacrifice. This is not the way it is to be, and Jesus knows this. He is trying to teach his disciples the importance of this and because they are human, because they don’t know any better, they are looking for a resolution that doesn’t come at such a price.
Then Jesus gives us an even harder teaching to grasp. If we want to follow him, as his disciples, then we too are invited to take up our cross and follow him. Hambrick-Stowe writes, “Astonishingly Jesus offers crucifixion to those who would follow him. In a bold assertion of God’s boundary-crossing grace, Jesus takes as his logo the grim killing tool of the world’s superpower: “Take up [your] cross”. If you want to follow me, deny yourself; if you want to find your life, give up your life. Jesus dies in our place, but not to exempt us from the cost of discipleship. The gospel is an invitation to death before it bestows new life. This is how God’s love will redeem and resurrect sinners from the futility of life devoted to profit in this world. Because Jesus dies for our sin, we may now give ourselves to him and die to the powers that posses and control us. Atonement that is for us will involve us.”
This doesn’t mean that we affect our own salvation. God has assured that. What this invitation does do is offer us a path to follow Christ, as we so often proclaim that we do. But we want the easy way. We want to carry a cross for a few miles that has a wheel attached to the bottom of it so it makes it easier. We want to carry a cross that is about a minor hardship. In Jesus’ time, the cross was not a symbol of hardship, it was a symbol of death. Christ calls us to life that puts us in harm’s way. When we stand for the Justice of God, the Love and Peace that God calls his people to, we will be standing against the world that lusts for power and control.
We want to look for the easy way, to put the values of the world above the values of God. We don’t want to hear when the Gospel contradicts our way of thinking. We argue that it sounds too political, or too antiquated. Perhaps that it just doesn’t apply in this particular situation. But deep down we know it does. We know that time and time again we fail to live up to Christ’s invitation to take up our cross. Whether it is because we are afraid of the consequence, or the wood is too heavy, or the journey seems to hard.
And yet, Christ knows as well that we will fail to do as asks. He knows that we are imperfect, that we cannot measure up. He moves ahead with the plan of salvation all the same. Just because we know that we aren’t perfect doesn’t excuse us from following Christ, from taking up our cross. There are examples we can look to, Dietrich Bonheoffer who stood against the Nazis, Jonathan Myrick Daniels a freedom rider who died protecting a black girl from white supremacists in 1965.
There is still so much suffering in this world, so much worship of power, of wealth, of domination. We are called to stand outside of that as followers of Christ and to be willing to take up our cross…an emblem of death… for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The old hymn says, “Take up your cross; let not its weight; fill your weak spirit with alarm; Christ's strength shall bear your spirit up; and brace your heart and nerve your arm.”
Second Sunday in Lent Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Many of you know that I grew up attending a non-denominational evangelical church in Oregon. It is one of those places where the preacher talks for at least forty five minutes, where the baptistery is behind an old velvet curtain at the back of the stage, and where every single word in the bible is expected to be taken literally, without context. In that kind of church memorizing verses is a highly prized activity. As someone attending youth activities and a pseudo-boyscouts-esque church group called AWANA, I was tasked with memorizing verse after verse, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, and of course John 3:16 all ring a bell for me. We would get awards for how many we could memorize and recite perfectly, and looking back, I can also tell you I had little grasp of what I was reciting.
I don’t think it’s too big a statement to say that John 3:16 is one of the few verses in the Bible that has captivated billions of Christians throughout the centuries. While it certainly has a place now in the modern Evangelical culture, and by extension perhaps you recall the use of it in Professional Wrestling and other sports, even Martin Luther found this verse to be highly regarded. He wrote that this verse was, “the Gospel in a nutshell.”
Yes, it does sum up the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that hits the high points: God’s love, Christ’s redemption of the world, the path to salvation. It’s a good starting place when explaining the good news, but it’s nowhere near enough to fully explain it. And as much as I’m sure there are people here today who can recite John 3:16 from memory, I would suspect that number would drop to probably zero, including myself, that can recite John 3:17 from memory.
As I studied today’s Gospel reading, one of the two pieces that captivated me most was that last verse, 17. So often our theology of redemption relies heavily on the verse before it that the next one is lost. It leaves me to wonder what sort of faith I would have grown up with if the words, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” were just as important.
John 3:16 is a great verse, when it isn’t used to guilt people into a Christian faith, which is how I saw it used most of the time. Adding on verse 17 offers us a more robust theology. God did not arrive on Earth, incarnate as a human to condemn anyone, but to assure that we would have access to the Kingdom of God at the end of all things. No matter how broken we are, how bad we are, how many times we fail or frankly no matter how many times we succeed, our salvation is assured by Grace because of God’s steadfast love for his creation.
That’s really what Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus in the first part of the gospel reading. Nicodemus has come to him and told Jesus that he likes what Jesus is teaching, and that Jesus must surely be sent by God to be able to do what he’s doing. But Nicodemus ultimately stops short of recognizing Jesus and the messiah and of being willing to step into the light as a follower of Jesus in this moment.
Jesus is offering to Nicodemus an explanation that foreshadows of course the crucifixion. This is the second thing that really caught my attention in this passage. Jesus refers to the story of when the Israelites in the book of Numbers, had been speaking out against God and Moses. So God sends serpents into their midst, and people begin dying from the bites of these serpents. God then tells Moses to create a serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. Anyone who looks at the bronze serpent will be saved from the bites of the real serpents. All they have to do is look at it and they are saved.
In a way Jesus is teaching that we have to be willing to look, to gaze upon the instrument of our salvation, or more clearly put we must take an action rather than to just really like what Jesus says, like Nicodemus. Our salvation does require more from us than a cursory luke-warm okay-ness with Christ and the Gospel. Our faith requires action…it requires us to take a step and be reborn as Jesus says, in water and spirit. We must be baptized into the body of Christ, and we must live our faith, always striving to improve. We must look upon the act of saving love by God. The result of taking on his shoulders all the evil that exists in the world.
Mthr Mary Ann Hill writes, “But evil isn’t then healed, as it were, automatically. Precisely because evil lurks deep within each of us, for healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process. This doesn’t mean that we just have to try a lot harder to be good. You might as well try to teach a snake to sing. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust: to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him.”
Nicodemus struggles to find that trust in Jesus. He comes to Jesus at night, in the darkness, to hide from the world his interest in Jesus. This is the first of two times that Nicodemus visits Jesus in the darkness, the second time is near the end, and Nicodemus does try to intercede with the Pharisees on Jesus’ behalf. But still he is unwilling to step into the light as Jesus says we must all do. He is willing to fully commit and be born again, though clearly in this first encounter that terminology is just very confusing for him.
Author George Stroup, writing on this passage says, “For many Christians, the gospel is summarized by the words in John 3:16. Everyone who believes in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life. Some Christians, however, understand faith or “believing in Jesus” to be simply what one does with one’s mind. In John’s Gospel, being born from above and believing in Jesus are clearly not so much about what one does with one’s mind as about what one does with one’s heart and one’s life. […] In John’s Gospel believing and doing are inseparable. Nicodemus lives in the darkness and the shadows of this story until its conclusion, when he emerges publicly with Joseph of Arimathea, who is also a “secret disciple”, to bury Jesus.
Christ calls us to do more with our faith than passively letting it sit on a shelf collecting dust. We are meant to be reborn, to step out into the light, to herald the good news to a world mired in fear and sin. The good news that not only God loves the world so much that he takes our form and bears the burden of our sin, but also, as verse 17 reminds us, that Christ came into this world not to judge us, not to point out when we fail at our faith, but only to save us and to be where we cast our gaze when we need to be reminded of God’s love and salvation.
Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
When you attend seminary and are trained to be a priest, one of the classes you have to take is homiletics, the study of writing and giving sermons. There were many sage pieces of advice, like being wary of ending your sermons with a salad…as in ‘lettuce’ (let us) do this or that. Another piece of advice was never lift the curtain and let people see how it’s all done. Don’t say things in your sermon like, “on my drive here this morning” or “while I was writing this last night”.
One piece of advice that I found particularly helpful was that one did not necessarily need to address all three of the biblical readings in your sermon every Sunday. Before that I would try and find the common thread, thin as they often are, that the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary had, in their great wisdom found between all the readings chosen. In fact I believe the advice was that I had a lifetime of ministry ahead, and plenty of opportunities to write sermons on the same readings, so really I ought to pace myself.
That advice is solid, and I have found that addressing one, maybe two at the most, of the readings we hear on a Sunday offers an opportunity to focus richly on one topic. But today’s readings are different. Today’s readings are all so blatantly related, that it’s hard not to weave them all together. Our lessons offer three distinct but related aspects of God’s covenant with humanity, and the veracity with which the Gospel is ultimately preached.
All three readings point to the transfiguration of Jesus, which is always heard on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, and act as a transition moment between Jesus’ ministry and his passion. This is not to be confused with the actual Feast of the Transfiguration, which falls on August 6th. We ourselves are pivoting from the season that comes after Christmas, where we focus on the ministry of Jesus throughout Galilee and Judea to beginning the last journey, the journey to the cross. In Jesus’ life, the transfiguration is the moment where everything changes, where the last days for his earthly ministry are set, where he is in sight of his death.
I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Let’s start with Moses. I think most of us have a concept of Moses and his time on Mount Sinai formed by Charlton Heston and the 1956 film ‘The Ten Commandments’. But what might be lost is how terrifying this ordeal really is for most of the Hebrews. The God that they worship is not the, “Jesus is my buddy” idea of God we have today. There is very little that feels friendly or ‘nice’ about God. This is an entity to whom blood sacrifices are required, and recall that the more formalized style of temple worship hadn’t been established yet. There is a wildness and danger to this early time for the average Hebrew traveling with Moses and those who have fled Egypt. They don’t know if Moses is coming back down. He’s disappeared for over a month to the top of this mountain where a God that has demanded blood is dwelling. What sort of mountain top experience is this going to be?
Ultimately though, this experience establishes the covenant between God and the Hebrew people and begins a more formalized relationship. This ties of course to our Gospel lesson not only being on a mountain top again, but also as appears with Jesus during the transfiguration this is a direct connection to the experience on Mount Sinai, and a clear reference of that relationship which was initially cemented with Moses. This time is different though, unlike with Moses no blood sacrifices are necessary to ascend and stand in the presence of God. This relationship with God shifts. No longer is this the remote and terrifying God but the God who touches his disciples and says, “do not be afraid.”
Before the voice from above, the disciples, Peter and James, see Jesus first transformed into this blinding radiance. The author of the Gospel tries to convey the intensity of this by saying that Jesus’ face, “shone like the sun”. I don’t think this is metaphor. I think they are trying to convey how incredibly bright and blinding this light was. The disciples then see Jesus standing there with Moses and Elijah, two key figures in the covenant of the Law, which Jesus has come to fulfill.
I used to think that Peter was just acting the fool here when he suggests that he build huts for them to stay in. First of all I’ve been to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration and let me tell you something…it’s darn cold! There is no way I would want to stay up there permanently. Second, surely Peter knows they can’t just stay there forever. But as I reflect on this, I wonder if this isn’t the point where Peter is finally really excited that Jesus is about to the messiah they had hoped for. Now that he’s all sparkly, maybe Jesus is going to start doing the things the Hebrew people expected of their messiah, like tearing down the kingdoms of the oppressors, running the Romans out, setting God’s chosen people back on top. Maybe Peter is just so caught up in his own hope and expectation that it is finally going to happen when he suggests they make this place their base camp.
Which brings me to our epistle reading. The reading from the second epistle of Peter is his own recalling of the experience of the transfiguration and the affect it has on Jesus’ followers. In the film roll that always plays in my head I would see Peter, sitting down to write this section of his epistle, and then the screen would go all wavy and we would do a cut scene to a flashback of the Transfiguration as we then hear it from our Gospel reading. But what Peter is writing isn’t just a retelling of his experience on that mountain. Besides, he clearly leaves out the part where he says they should build huts and stay there!
What Peter is writing hits at the core of the veracity of our faith. When this epistle is being written, the author is surrounded by cults and religious traditions rooted in myths of the ancient world. I recently read a commentary on some of the cults that existed, and let me just say that some of the things that were required of followers is only appropriate to discuss during prime time. Here Peter is saying that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not, “cleverly devised myth”, it isn’t something some folks made up to build a structure of control and wealth. He was there. He saw the transfiguration. The root of proclaiming the Gospel is in the real experience of Jesus’ own followers.
As we turn our attention towards Lent, towards celebrating and confessing and acknowledging our mortality, in the midst of all that, recall what Peter offers us in his writing today. None of what we do is founded on clever myth. Our faith is built upon the real experiences of people like Peter who bore witness to incredible life changing events in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Whether it is shouting it from mountain tops or living it out day to day, carry with you the conviction of what we know: that God shared our very human nature, through baptism, through transfiguration, and in the end stood as the final and ultimate redemption of the Universe. Peter saw it. He told us about it. Now it’s our turn to go share it with everyone else.
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
As a big brother, seven years older than my little sister, I was just at the right age when she was in her preschool years to find it incumbent on myself to be a bit of a pain. One way I found that worked very well was the tried and true method of ‘got your nose’. The one where you put the tip of your thumb between two fingers and act as if you’re ripping off the nose of another person, then proudly displaying it to them. Even though I’m sure my little sister had experienced this before from my grandfather or someone else, when I did it, it was followed by screams of terror and pleas for the nose to be returned. Of course, as the big brother, it was my job to refuse. On second thought perhaps I should call her this afternoon and make sure there isn’t any lasting trauma.
I suppose I got to thinking about that as I contemplated the words of Jesus this week, about his teaching to his followers to cut off or take out the parts of the body that cause them to sin. We hear Jesus’ teachings today, in short succession on several topics. Unfortunately, because of when Candlemas fell, we didn’t get to hear what starts this several Sunday set of readings, the beatitudes. Jesus begins all of this by teaching his followers who is blessed in the Kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn. […] Blessed are the meek.” Etc. Jesus is turning the values of the world on its head and showing a new way, a Kingdom way for those that would be bold enough to answer God’s call. Then he moves into the comparison of salt and light that we heard last week.
So then we come to the rapid fire succession of teachings we hear today. I’m going to tell you something that might seem a little presumptuous. When you take the readings we heard today in the context of everything that surrounds it in the Gospel of Matthew, I believe it is clear that Jesus turns the dial up on the standard of Sin to a ridiculous level, a level he knows no one can reach to exemplify instead the nature of salvation.
Jesus starts with murder, but then he says really even anger is too much. You have to seek reconciliation instead. In all fairness, that’s not a bad idea, and we even have poetic use of this particular passage in our Anglican tradition. From the earliest prayerbooks, there were exhortations and warnings about communion and taking it in an unworthy manner. Much like Jesus says here if you remember something that is clouding your relationship with another person, you need to ensure your heart is reconciled before offering your sacrifice.
On page 316, our modern exhortation reminds us, “If we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.
Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”
Then Jesus goes really far, telling his followers that even THINKING about a sin, lust in this case, is as bad as committing it. If you have a part of your body that causes you to sin, then you should cut it off. But we know, I certainly hope, that this isn’t meant to be taken literally. Otherwise our congregations would look more like pirate crews with eye patches and prosthetic limbs! We know that this is overstating the point because frankly, you’re going to run out of things to cut out of yourself. It must be acknowledged that as humans we are sinful creatures, even when we are trying to do our best. Jesus knows that you could never cut off and take out everything inside of you that causes you to sin.
Jesus takes away even the things that are allowed under the law of Moses…now he says if you get divorced it’s a sin. This is something that would go against the teachings of the religious tradition at the time. I tend to think that Jesus once again knows the complicated and broken nature of the human heart, and so here again is trying to make a point. All of this portion, from the thoughts that are sin, to the amputations from sin, to the things that these people would have been told was permissible, Jesus turns raises the stakes on all of it and highlights our broken human condition.
So I suppose the question is, “why?” Why would Jesus make it harder for us to live, why would he point out all our flaws and raise the bar higher than we can reach? There is one simple answer to that question. The bar gets raised out of our grasp because we weren’t ever going to get to it anyway. Jesus raises the bar far too high to teach us that once again, our salvation is not of our own doing, and nothing we do to try and live a holier life will ever get us to a perfect point. Jesus does that for us. His sacrifice, his saving action is what takes all of this away. It is the moment that fulfills the Law that God has given to his people, fulfills the promise of salvation, and ultimately justifies us in the presence of the most High.
That is not to say that you should just go ahead and run amok in this world. We are still charged with striving to do good, to follow Christ’s example, to live reaching for that bar. But we should also never be anxious that we can’t reach it. Jesus spans the distance for us, taking on everything we are unable to do for ourselves in relation to our sin. Our work is to show the world, as best as we are able, what the kingdom of God could look like. All the while, we live in the sure and certain hope of our Savior’s resurrection and the time when all things will be made whole once again.
Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, Year A, 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
I saw a note on Facebook this week that explained why one should use incense on the Feast of the Presentation. In fact, this statement made the case that one should be using huge amounts of incense. It explained that in this wise and ancient tradition, everyone knows that on the February 2nd, if the thurifer can see their own shadow, there will be six more weeks of Winter!
Now of course that’s convoluting a couple of the three very sacred things happening today. First, February 2nd, regardless of what day it falls on, is Groundhog day celebrated in the United States and Canada, and this Sunday is always the sacred feast of the Super Bowl no matter what the actual date on the calendar is, and then, I certainly hope most importantly, February 2nd is always the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, also known as Candlemas.
Candlemas is observed forty days after Christmas. It marks the traditional end of Christmas, so for those of you with decorations still up, not to worry, you were just waiting for the correct day to take them down. The thing about observing Candlemas today though, is that it is always 40 days after Christmas, and since Christmas moves around as to what day of the week it will fall on, so does Candlemas. We don’t often get a chance to observe it on Sundays.
The readings for this feast day focus on the arrival of the messiah, on the promises fulfilled by God. This all centers around Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem as the Mosiac law required. They had to bring an offering and sacrifice to God, and Mary had to be purified by the ritual at the Temple. For those of you who know your Leviticus, you’ll recall that a woman who had given birth was considered unclean because of the bodily fluids she would necessarily come in contact with. So they all go to the Temple for these two reasons.
This particular story from the Gospel of Luke is overflowing with meaningful details. For instance, we actually get a window into how Mary and Joseph lived, by the description of their bringing a sacrifice. In the book of Leviticus, chapter 12, it outlines what is required for this sacrifice. The preferred sacrifice is a lamb. But, in the event that it is too expensive, you can bring two turtle-doves or two pigeons. So we can surmise from this that Mary and Joseph had a fairly simple life. They weren’t very wealthy if their sacrifice was what Luke tells us.
That detail is small but, I think, very interesting, and exemplifies how we can use scripture when studied contextually to understand the broader picture of the story we are being told. But the main event in this particular story, the most important detail, is what happens with Simeon. Now we don’t really know anything about Simeon other than what the author of the Gospel of Luke tells us. There are stories that have come out of Christian traditions about him, but they are all conjecture. From the Orthodox Church, we have stories that put him at well over two hundred years old when he finally sees Jesus. In truth we don’t know any of that. What we do know is what he is waiting for.
Simeon is told by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he has seen the messiah. Can you imagine the kind of patience that would require? Scripture tells us that this is very important to Simeon, that he was, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” If you recall at this point, right up to the birth of Jesus, it had been four hundred years since the last major prophet had been reported, which was Malachi. So this is a period of silence as it pertains to God’s active word to the Hebrews. I’m not saying that Simeon has been around for those four hundred years, what I mean is that this is a period of time where hope is scarce supply. Yet, Simeon gets the promise from the Holy Spirit. So he waits. We don’t know how long he waits, it could have been a day, it could have been decades. But imagine getting a promise from God that you will not die until the most important event to occur happens, and all you can do is wait.
When he sees Jesus he knows instantly that this baby is the answer to all his prayers and hope. This little baby, about forty days old, is the long awaited messiah. Simeon praises God and gives us the Song of Simeon. This is the revelation by someone who was not present at the birth with the angels and the shepherds and all the chaos, proclaiming again that the messiah has come. This man who has waited for the, “consolation of Israel” says something very curious while praising God. He says that this child, the messiah, will be, “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.” He knows that the Light of Christ that is shining in the world will be a light for everyone. He knows that the salvation that the incarnation of God will bring about is offered to everyone, not just the Hebrews who have waited for this messiah to come.
The Song of Simeon, his praise to God, is a much loved canticle used in Evening Prayer in the Anglican tradition, even in the 1662 Prayer Book. It is used in evening prayer because it reminds us of the religious practice of monastics throughout the ages. Their last prayers to God before going to sleep, the words of Simeon, praising God that the work is done, who then says, “O Lord you now have set your servant free to go in peace as promised.” These words are Simeon himself thanking God that the work is done and he can now die and be at peace that the Messiah has come. He can finally let go.
This passage teaches us of patience and steadfast faith. It shows us those who are rewarded as God promised, with seeing the messiah finally come to save all people. Simeon’s words remind us that Christ is the one true light that enlightens all people, that he brings the light of God into a dark world that has nearly lost hope. We, as followers of Christ, are commanded by Jesus himself to proclaim the good news of this light that has come. We are tasked with carrying this light out to everyone and sharing it with those who need it most.
As we pray the Song of Simeon, as we contemplate what it looks like to have patience for God’s revelation in your life, on this Feast of Candlemas, remember that Christ’s incarnation has brought the light of God into the world. Share that light with those who cross your path. Be like Simeon, proclaiming the good news that salvation has come and the light of the World is Jesus Christ.