The Song of Simeon: Thoughts on waiting faithfully and trustingly (4th Sunday of Advent)

The Song of Simeon

We have reached the last Sunday of Advent and have come to the last Christmas song of our series.

We have heard Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song, the Angels’ song and now we close Luke’s birth narrative with the Song of Simeon.

Jesus family is now in Jerusalem at the Temple concluding the post-partum requirements of the Jewish law.

There they meet Simeon.

Simeon has been inspired by the Holy Spirit to search for the Messiah, which is a bit different that we have seen in the prior pregnancy and birth announcements.

They were all angelic announcements.

Simeon is not inspired by angels but by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit’s involvement here, like the angels in the other announcements, can be difficult to imagine.

But today is not a good day to describe or define who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.

That is for another day.

Today, I choose to describe Simeon’s role in the birth narrative and the “movement of God”.

The urging of God to particular action.

I think most, if not all of us here, have experienced something like that and so can identify with Simeon.

Simeon, simply put, is a man on a mission.

A mission to find the Messiah.

A mission he dearly wants to complete.

 Luke 2: 25-35

25 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

I want you to imagine a scenario that might be familiar to some of you.

Your child is of an age where they go out for an evening.

It could be to a friend’s house.

It could be to go to some event.

It could be a date.

The last thing you say to them before the door closes is one of two things.

What time will you be home?

or

You will be home by your normal curfew.

There is an expected time.

Off they go.

You wait for their return.

You are patient and calm and unconcerned.

Then something changes.

The time agreed on for the child to come in the door arrives and departs.

No child.

How long before you reach for the phone to send the friendly “where are you” text?

How long of a wait after the text remains unanswered before you call the child?

How long after you don’t get a return call (they never answer) before your anger begins to boil over and you begin to pace and begin planning the punishment.

How long before your anger turns to worry, and you begin calling their friends?

How long before you call the police?

I am going to go out on a limb and say that the post deadline move from calm to terror is about 30 minutes.

This is true even though the child has been out for hours before the deadline and you had no worries at all.

Why is this the case?

Psychologists report that we are more than happy to wait for a particular event so long as we know when the waiting will end.

But when the expected time comes and goes, we have no patience whatsoever.

The usual time for this change from calm to blood pressure spike is three minutes.

Three minutes!

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of the book “The Happiness Project” this is what that looks like:

People wait more calmly when they’re told, “The doctor will see you in thirty minutes” than when they’re told, “The doctor will see you soon.” Maister gives an amusing illustration of a phenomenon that I’d noticed in my own life: if I arrive someplace thirty minutes early, I wait with perfect patience, but three minutes after my appointment time passes, I start to feel annoyed. “Just how long am I going to have to wait?” I think.

What has happened is that there is no set time anymore.

You don’t know when the wait will be over.

The uncertainty is intolerable.

And what is really interesting is that when the wait ends, it does not take long for you to sort of forget the angst.

The child is home.

The doctor has seen you.

This issue of waiting can be used to manipulate you as well.

Back in the day, before the internet, people would call L. L. Bean to make an order from the catalogue.

You would actually speak to a person and they would take your order.

I want two shirts.

They take down the information and your payment method and then the order taker would say one last thing.

You can expect your shirts in 5 to 7 days.

Fine, thanks.

When would the order arrive?

Three days.

Wow!

What great service!

I’m going to buy all my shirts from them.

Here is the secret.

L. L. Bean knew the shirts would get there in three days.

The order person was told to say 5-7 days because they knew when you got the shirts in 3, you would be impressed and happy.

And you would never have been “waiting”.

What does this have to do with the scripture reading?

Well, Israel had been waiting for Messiah.

For centuries.

Unlike L. L. Bean, the prophets did not specify a date when this event would occur.

So, there was never any expected timetable.

No ETA.

This never-ending hope for something that never seems to happen reminds me of Kate Bowler, the Duke Divinity School professor who was diagnosed with incurable colon cancer.

She undergoes an experimental treatment that will hopefully cure her.

But she has to have tests performed every three months to determine one of three things.

She is cured.

She is stable.

She is dying.

Her hope is for the cure.

She can manage stability.

Her nightmare is that the treatments have stopped working.

If she were Israel, she would be waiting for the promised Messiah.

Stability until the cure.

And not dying before it happens.

Which brings us to Simeon.

Who was Simeon?

He was a man in Jerusalem who was righteous and devout and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah whose ETA was unknown.

This is the Kate Bowler scenario.

It is just hope.

And it had been going on for a very long time.

But it had been revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Nice.

But Simeon also had a problem.

He was getting older.

Still, no Messiah.

He was approaching the time where he could wait no longer.

I have this vision of him going to the Temple every morning and running from child to child, young man to young man, looking at each one to see if he was the one.

Every night, Simeon would head home and wonder if he would see the Messiah the next day.

Kind of like Waiting for Godot, for you literary folks.

But then, one morning he sees Mary and Joseph and Jesus.

We aren’t told how old Jesus is here but let’s assume he is still a baby.

Simeon runs up to the family and examines Jesus.

And Simeon just knows.

This is the one!

And Simeon sings:

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

Simeon is singing praises to God because the Messiah has now come.

His mission is over.

He is dismissed from his call.

Simeon can now … well … die in peace.

Time to rejoice.

Kind of like retirement.

But there is this.

Simeon has no way of knowing what this Messiah is going to do or how Israel is going to be consoled.

All he knows is what was in his song.

The Messiah, the consolation of Israel, the savior of the peoples, the revelation to the Gentiles, the glory to Israel, was here.

But even so, without knowing what any of that was going to look like, Simeon had peace.

How could he have peace?

Faith has been rewarded.

Hope satisfied.

No need to know more than that.

And there is something truly commendable about Simeon’s response.

There is no mention of “eternal life”.

The promise of a resurrection is nowhere to be seen.

All Simeon wanted was to see the Messiah, the consolation of Israel and the salvation of humankind.

This child would keep the promises of God, in whatever way God willed and that was sufficient for Simeon.

What that might actually look like was not something he was concerned about.

And that should be sufficient for us, too.

The birth story describes the incarnation and the songs celebrate Emanuel – God with us.

And because of the incarnation, we are changed.

The future of creation is changed.

But what that looks like and how it all shakes out is still a mystery.

But we should not be concerned.

There is this, though.

Simeon tells Mary that there will be conflict.

That a sword will pierce her.

That is what happens when the Kingdom of God intersects with the kingdom of the world.

Mary will witness it.

And so, will we.

But it is our faith that in the end, the Kingdom of God will prevail, and we will all live in that kingdom.

But until then, we need to live like Simeon.

Confident that God will keep God’s promises, even though we cannot imagine what that will look like.

It is enough.

So, rejoice.

The Messiah has come.

But because of that birth, because of the incarnation, we know that it will be an ending worth waiting for.

It is after all Good News.

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