Text: Luke 2:21-40 (Jesus is named at the Temple) — this is a short reflection presented on Christmas morning, December 25, 2016
In today’s reading from Luke, an old man named Simeon is prompted by the Spirit to go to the Temple in Jerusalem right after the first Christmas. When he gets there, he meets the infant Jesus. Simeon picks Jesus up, cradles him in his arms, and claims that in this baby he has seen Israel’s Messiah and the world’s salvation. Having finally met the Messiah, Simeon says that he can now die in peace. This is a remarkable thing to say after seeing a baby, wouldn’t you agree?
The Messiah (which is a Hebrew word), or Christ (which is its Greek translation), or Anointed One (which is an English version) was to be the long-awaited King of Israel. The Messiah would bring Israel back to the glory of its days under God’s Anointed, King David. And yet Simeon somehow is able to say that in the baby Jesus he has seen this Messiah. And further, this Messiah is not just to be the ruler of Israel, but will also be a light of revelation to the rest of the world.
While Simeon’s vision is healing, it also contains the shadow of the cross. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and then says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simeon’s blessing is one that comes with a cost!
In a nutshell, Simeon has laid out the entire Gospel. The Good News says that all of us are blessed by the coming of the Christ, but that a sword will pierce our souls and that his coming will lead to the falling and rising of many. The falling is the cross and the rising is new life in Christ.
Somehow, in holding this newborn baby in his arms, Simeon experiences salvation in an instant. This salvation involves dying to an old way of life, which can feel like a piercing sword. The good news is that after dying to our old way of life, we are free to rise to a new one, which is a life in which we are healed.
Imagine cradling a newborn baby in your arms, looking down at it, and seeing the Christ there. In really looking at a newborn baby, sometimes we forget about our worries and cares. We stop centering our attention on our small selves, and instead see life as it should be — whole and divine. The baby lacks power, but it contains infinite potential. It bears the image of God and will grow within a family, neighbourhood, and global culture.
In seeing the divine in a baby, we might also be reminded of our own fragile but divine status; and when we receive the grace to see like this, we touch salvation.
There is a Celtic Blessing that captures the message: “May the Christ who walks on wounded feet, walk with you on the road, May the Christ who serves with wounded hands, stretch out your hands to serve. May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love. And may you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.”
Simeon looks at the newborn Jesus and has the grace to see there the face of Christ. I also believe that when Simeon looks up at Mary and Joseph, they too see the face of Christ in Simeon. Because in this moment, Simeon’s old life has fallen away. He is living a new life of Christ, which is one freed from fear. Feeling blessed in that moment, and no longer afraid, Simeon says that he can now die. It is not that he needs to die, even though he is an old man; just that he no longer fears death. He is “in the moment;” he is following the prompting of the Spirit; he is free.
Simeon does not need to live another 30 years to see what the adult Jesus will do, to puzzle at his parables, or to experience Jesus’ death and resurrection. For Simeon, it has all happened in an instant when he sees salvation in the face of a baby.
Simeon’s epiphany is also ours, that in the face of Jesus we see God and meet our own salvation. This is an epiphany that we can experience each time we look at one another with love.
It might be easiest to see divinity in a baby. But we also see the face of Christ in seniors, in mid-lifers, in youth, and in children. Simeon saw it, I see it, and you see it. At worship each week, we remind ourselves of this reality and we celebrate the divine Love that flames inside each and every one of us.
And so we read again the story of Simeon and Jesus in the Temple. It is about babies and salvation; piercing swords and crosses; a fearful old way of life and a trusting new way.
Perhaps this seems like a lot to find in a short Scripture reading. But this is Christmas. And so with a heart filled with Christmas gratitude and joy, I say “Thanks be to God.”