Catching a Glimpse

Luke 2:22-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26)

Simeon's song of praise ca. 1700 Oil on canvas, 89 cm x 116 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague (Aert de Gelder, Wikimedia Commons)

“Simeon’s song of praise,” ca. 1700 Oil on canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague (Aert de Gelder, Wikimedia Commons)

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful. Bethlehem is so crowded that the hope of the world is born, and most miss it.

Simeon is not going to miss it. He has been waiting a long time. Simeon has a feeling that he will not die until he has seen the Messiah. He spends his days in the sanctuary running after every woman who carries a blue blanket. When Simeon catches up with them, the young mothers smile and ask, “Would you like to see my baby?”

Simeon tries not to look disappointed. “I’m sorry. I thought he might be somebody else.”

The holy family, who would not have referred to themselves as the holy family, goes to Jerusalem for the baby’s dedication. The shepherds, angels, and heavenly hosts are long gone. Mary and Joseph have been left with a son to raise. Jesus is two months old, still keeping them up at night.

With both hope and helplessness, Mary and Joseph carry their tiny stranger through the temple.

Simeon asks the pastoral assistant, “What’s on the schedule this morning?”

“You have a counseling session with the Rabinowitz boy and his fiancée at eleven. Oh, and there’s a baby waiting to be dedicated. His name is Jesus.”

“Jesus, you say?”

“Simeon, this is no royal birth. His father is a carpenter. You’ve dedicated hundreds of babies and dozens named Jesus. What makes you think this one is different? And what makes you think you would recognize the Messiah if you saw him?”

“But how can I stop believing? The hope keeps me going, so if I chase strollers around the temple, humor me.”

When it’s her turn, Mary steps forward, presenting her child to be blessed by the ancient rabbi.

Then Simeon looks at Jesus, and his heart begins to race. He knows. He is not sure if he should laugh or cry.

“May I hold the baby?” he asks Mary, trembling as he holds out his arms.

Cradling the child, with tears streaming down his cheeks, Simeon says the most astonishing thing: “Now I can pass away in peace. This is the hope we’ve been waiting for.”

Years will pass, and Simeon will pass away long before this child shares a word of God’s grace, feeds the hungry, or calls would-be followers. Simeon beholds only the beginning of the promise, but it is enough. Like a slave addressing his king, Simeon asks to be dismissed: “God, you can release your servant, for these old eyes have seen your salvation.”

Imagine expecting “gitchy gitchy goo” and getting “This child will be the light of revelation for all people.” Joseph is tongue-tied. Mary does not know how to take the part about her heart being pierced with a sword. The two of them spend the rest of their days not quite sure how to respond. Simeon does not understand everything either, but he knows hope when he sees it.

We are usually too distracted to recognize God’s presence. We spend most days preparing for the next day, treating our present circumstances as stepping stones. But this place and this hour are the only place and hour available in which we can make a place for God. The sacred wish at the depths of our hearts, the wondrous hope that we rarely think about, is God with us.

At the Lord’s table, we glimpse our salvation. The supper is an opportunity to recognize God’s presence and give ourselves over to hope.

time_for_supper_cvr_c_fwOriginally appeared in Time for Supper: Invitations to Christ’s Table by Brett Younger.

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