There is a reason that Simeon was able to see what others could not.
interpreted by Deborah
In Jerusalem there was a decent and devout man named Simeon who expected God to give Israel a break any day now — after the many years of turmoil and distress. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died.
Led by the Spirit, Simeon came to the temple; and when the parents brought in the baby Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, “Lord, now I can die in peace, because, as you promised, I have seen with my own eyes Your salvation, right here in our midst; lighting the way for the Gentiles, and bringing glory to Your people.”
Joseph and Mary stood there, amazed.
After that, Simeon blessed them and told Mary, “This child is destined to shake things up; a sign disputed and denied — it will cut you to the heart, one that will reveal people’s secret thoughts.”
Then there was the prophetess, Anna. Like a guardian angel she kept watch in the temple with fasting and prayer night and day, never leaving. She was quite ancient, having been married for seven years after reaching womanhood, and then living as a widow for another eighty-four years.
She appeared while Simeon was speaking, and began to praise God. She told all who hoped for Israel’s salvation about the child.
When they had done all that was required by the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary went back home to Nazareth in Galilee.
And the child grew strong and wise and beloved of God.
Despite the trials and troubles the people of Israel had endured, Simeon hadn’t given up hope. Instead, he looked for “God’s consolation,” believing that the Eternal would bring comfort and joy to those who lived in sadness and despair. He lived in faith-filled anticipation that God would be as God had always been: gracious and merciful, patient, and abounding in steadfast love; a God who is always looking to forgive and restore.
And it turned out that he was right.
God did bring illumination to the Gentiles and glory to the people of Israel, just as Simeon had foretold — but in a surprising and unexpected way. The One we call “the Messiah of God” didn’t command an army or rule from a palace, he wasn’t rich or powerful or strong; nothing about his life resembled that of King David. Jesus wasn’t the one most people were looking for. (He still isn’t.)
After all, who would take notice of yet another baby being brought into the temple — and from Galilee, no less! A peasant child born to a couple of country bumpkins; no one would expect anything worthwhile to come from that! (John 1:46)
But the Spirit abided with Simeon; he could see what others overlooked.
Simeon lived in confident expectation of God’s goodness. He was certain that, eventually, the Messiah would be revealed to him. But there had been a whole lot of days when it had not come to pass; days and weeks and even months — perhaps years, when no divinely-sent leader appeared. And yet he continued to hope; to live in faith: to believe where he had not yet seen. He continued to wait, and watch. For a long, long time.
What would it mean to live with such faith: to “wait on the Lord”? For us moderns, it’s inconceivable: we don’t do that kind of thing. Patience is unknown to us. Our lives are based on instant gratification; a 3-minute microwave meal leaves us tapping our toes in annoyance. A moment’s delay — an indecisive customer in front of us, a slow train, a commercial on tv — and we’ve got our phones in our hands, scrolling through messages and posting our frustration on Instagram. We want it, and we want it now!
The trouble is, we don’t know what “it” is.
Be still and know that I am God.
~ Psalm 46.10
We have become a people who hurry even when there is no reason to rush. If nothing is happening to engage our attention this very instant, we frantically begin searching for something that will entertain or amuse or distract us — anything to avoid the terror of “boredom.”
Anything, so long as we don’t have to stop. And be still. And quiet.
Anything to avoid the fearful, roaring silence that alarms and enchants us, the deep that calls to deep: the divine lovesong directed to our soul, awakening in us delight and desire, understanding and unrest. No, anything but that!
We are right to be afraid; for in that stillness we will see and hear things that can challenge us, change us, discomfit and disturb us. We will become aware of the world around us: we will see trees and clouds and birds and weeds — and even other people. We will look and truly see places and faces; we will encounter life as it is, not in a filtered, “virtual” version. We will become fully alive.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
~ Psalm 118:24
To be still is not merely to “shut up and listen” — though that is a part of it. It is to see and hear as Simeon did; expecting “divine consolation” in spite of the voices of doom and gloom. It is to look and listen with faith in God, believing that we will find reasons for hope, signs of beauty and goodness, and causes for joy and thanksgiving. It is to “seek righteousness”: to look for the best in ourselves and in others. It is to hear the holy rhapsody of love and compassion always playing in our hearts, setting the tone, wherever we are, in whatever we do.
To live with faith is, as I’ve said before, supremely counter-cultural — and very difficult to do. It is hard to be compassionate and caring, to encourage the downhearted, and seek the Good in a world filled to overflowing with enticements to despise and fear and hate. Hatred has become an acceptable response from one human being to another.
And that’s where “waiting on the Lord” comes in. If we are awaiting Wisdom’s inspiration (“be still”), we won’t leap into outrage or condemnation, but will seek what is holy; we will look upon others (and ourselves) with hearts of compassion. We will be patient, merciful, forgiving, and kind — treating others as we would wish to be treated. We will behave as true children of our loving God.
When we learn to wait on the Lord, living in holy expectation, we will be blessed; for we will truly have eyes to see. Beauty will surround us; the divine will be visibly in our midst.
Hatred clouds our vision, causing us to see the world as through a glass, darkly. It obscures the beauty of the world, the humanity of our neighbors, and our own divine nature.
It takes faith — a confident trust in God — to continue to look for signs of hope and outpourings of grace and goodness in spite of incessant messages of fear and hate. It takes faith to stop and listen for Wisdom’s voice beneath the shouted slogans and subtle threats. It takes faith to see that we are not enemies of one another, but sisters and brothers: God’s children, in whom the Beloved takes great delight.
Simeon lived with faith, anticipating that God would do something wonderful. That faith gave him eyes to see the Light of the World in the midst of troubling times; it gave him hope when others were sunk in despair. That faith enabled him to recognize the Messiah in a most unlikely face.
There were many people in the temple that day who might have seen the glory of the Lord, but they were in too much of a hurry, or too distracted, or too cynical, or too angry to see what God had done. May we be spared such tragic blindness!
This new year, let us endeavor to live with confident faith in God’s goodness.
Praying every blessing and joy be with you throughout the days ahead,
In the midst — of distress, anger, outrage, impatience, or simple busy-ness — take a moment to “be still,” and listen for Holy Wisdom’s gentle voice.