When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
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. Guided 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, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then 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 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Light is one of the primary symbols of the Church. It is also one that we have let be stolen away from us. We surround ourselves with light. Florescent bulbs fill our work places, our houses are covered in screens and bulbs, lamps and appliances that all blink or shine out. We are wrapped in photons, we do not know what it is to be lost in the dark. Whenever we are left in the dark, we find ourselves unable to cope. We keep candles and flashlights in emergency drawers to make sure that we never find ourselves without light.
In making light commonplace we have created two tendencies of our mind. Firstly, we create a place in our life where we cannot function outside of the brightness we surround ourselves with. Even for those of us who like to sit in the dark sometimes, our enjoyment of the dark is usually dependent on our ability to end it at any time. The power we have over the dark removes its sting. Secondly, by surrounding ourselves always with light we have made it so that we cannot understand what light has meant to people historically. When we read metaphors that describe God as a light at our feet, or as the light in the darkness of the world, we have no concept of true darkness.
The destruction of light symbolically carries beyond our literal usage of light in worship or our homes. In our spiritual lives we have wrapped ourselves us in truism and comforting feelings to the point that when we enter into a place of distress, we have no idea what to do. We have understood our Christianity as a thing that makes life easy, that removes anxiety from our life, that means we will always feel the presence of God beside us. We have lit so many lights around ourselves – lights of comforting words without substance – that when they go out we have no idea how to make our way in the dark. Yet, for many of us, the dark encroaches more often than we would like.
For the faithful person the light of Christ is not always obvious. For the faithful person the light of Christ may seem far off and impossible to grasp. For the faithful person, assurance is not always just a bible citation away. Our faith is not made up of peaks of celebration, it is not an endless song of praise, it is oftentimes a place of pain and confusion, misunderstandings and questions. Like any relationship, it is defined by the hurt as much as the help we feel in our life.
Our scripture today tells us the story of two people who sat in a place of darkness. Each one a person of faith, but at the same time each one acutely aware of their position. One is given a voice, the other is kept silent – two responses we all face in those moments where we wait for Christ to come shine light into our life. Christ appears to both the silent and the loud, to man and woman, and as Simeon reveals, to foreigner and national.
Simeon is the first to speak, and the person who receives the most discussion from scholars. We know that his entire life has been waiting for God to end the Roman occupation of his people. He has waited for a Messiah to redeem him and his people. God promised him that redemption was his, and all he had to do was wait. As long as he waited he could depend on the eventuality of the Messiah. And he waited, and he waited, and he waited.
The Song of Simeon which we receive in verse 29 is Simeon responding to Christ after years without him. Knowing in his heart that God had not forgotten him, feeling the Spirit working in him, but nonetheless unable to see the deliverance of God. Simeon is only seen in scripture shouting his peace, “Lord, now you are releasing your servant in peace!” But the words of that prayer are telling… Now Lord, in this instant, at long last, I can depart in peace. Simeon lived a life full of service to God, of love of God, but only now was able to see God. A light in the darkness, a light of revelation for all nations.
Anna likewise tells us a silent story of waiting for God. We are told that she was a servant of God, a prophet who inhabited the Holy city. The scripture uses a convoluted formulation to tell us how long she had waited, fully dependent on God. While our translation read today says she was a widow of 37 years, and that she was now 84, a better reading of the text is as follows. “She had been 37 when he was widowed, and for 84 years she lived as a widow.” In other words, Anna was about 105 years old at the time she met Jesus.
Anna lived for 84 years as a widow. Though we cannot understand this today, widows in the ancient world had nothing to keep them safe. If they had children then they were obligated to care for her, but many widows were also childless. Her position as prophetess suggests she is one such widow. She lived with little to no income, she lived with only the Temple to protect her, she lived with the Spirit of God speaking through her, but only as much providence as could get her to the next day. Never more food than was set before her, never more security than the little bit the courts of the Temple would provide.
Anna is given no word of dialogue. She is said to have been worshipping God day and night. She fasted and prayed. Despite her seeming lack of words she had a faith few could match. Though she is silent, she is presented as more openly faithful. While Simeon gives us a prayer to pray, his life was one of weariness – Christ appearing to him was the relief he needed to finally come to rest. While Anna was silent, her life was one of outward focuses worship – Christ appearing was to her the moment she could rejoice most fully, the fulfillment of a life lived loudly.
The darkness of our life is not created so that we can see the light. The bad in life does not exist so we can acknowledge the good. However, if we are honest we will see the darkness around us. We try hard to live lives removed from pain or doubt or worry, but it is still there. The reality of darkness is not a tool to teach us to love the light better, but when we acknowledge it we will love light nonetheless. Consider how, when we leave the lights of even our rural existence, when we go deep into the mountains and see the stars spread out across the skies. The best I ever heard the night sky described is by Joseph Fink, “We understand the lights… We understand the lights But the sky behind those lights, mostly void, partially stars, that sky reminds us: We don’t understand even more.” That Christ shines into the darkness of our life means that there is one thing we can understand – warmth and love, Eternity and the Present, body and blood. Even as we find ourselves awash in trouble, in a world we cannot understand, we have peace and potentiality.
Today as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we come to see Christ. The bread and juice consecrated and broken is for us the presence of God among us. Can we, in our confession and our prayer in this moment, remove the artificial light we have surrounded ourselves with? Can we cast aside fluorescent platitudes and incandescent truism and let ourselves admit that, for some of us, we currently stand in darkness? For some of us the wait has been long, and for some of us we have just now found ourselves in the void. Wherever we are, in dark or in light, let us come close to Christ and look to his light. A light for revelation to all people, and consolation for the beloved of God.