Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Peaceful Passing

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:22-35)

You will sometimes hear people say, “I can die happy, now.” This is a great exaggeration. There is nothing “happy” about death, and with all due respect to Simeon, there is little that is “peaceful” about death either. Death is not “natural.” God did not create death. God created life. Death only came into the world as a result of people’s sin (see Genesis 3:19). Because of this, death is always a great tragedy, though in some cases, it is welcomed as a release from suffering (as long as the person has the assurance that the life beyond death is in Paradise, and not a greater suffering.)

Simeon, however, was given a great gift. God the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he saw the Christ, the long-awaited savior of mankind. Yet what did Simeon see there at the temple in Jerusalem? Simeon saw a helpless newborn baby and a young family far from home who were struggling with cash flow problems. The baby Jesus looked and sounded and felt and smelled like any other baby His age. He couldn’t talk, He couldn’t walk, He couldn’t feed himself despite the fact that He was the almighty creator and ruler over all things visible and invisible.

It wasn’t the appearance of Jesus that made Simeon praise Him. Many other people saw Jesus with their eyes, and did not receive the great blessing that Simeon received. King Herod saw Jesus, but was unimpressed and felt disappointed. Judas saw Jesus nearly every day for about three years, and was a student of Christ’s teachings, yet, Judas did not believe and lost the salvation which was so close, yet so far away for him.

Many people view faith as a matter of feeling. We are sensual creatures and we often rely too much on what we take in with our five senses. It also wasn’t just how Simeon felt about this baby which made him identify Him as the Christ - he could have felt more strongly about someone else, and would have been wrong. Remember that Eve (Genesis 4) felt that her firstborn son was the promised Christ, but she was tragically wrong. What Simeon had, which blessed him so, was the Word of God!

Despite what Simeon saw, felt, heard, and smelled, he believed God’s word to him that this baby was the promised Christ who would redeem the world from sin. It didn’t matter to Simeon that this child had not accomplished any of this yet. All Simeon knew was that God had promised that it would happen and this baby, Jesus, would do what was necessary for our salvation. That was good enough for Simeon.

Simeon sings a prophetic song of praise to God, though he does briefly mention his experiences. He says, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Note that while he mentions what God had revealed to him, Simeon only praises God and not himself. Simeon rejoiced in his salvation, not because he was convinced by what he saw, but because he believed God’s promises to send a savior who would redeem the world from sin.

Simeon also notes that God did not do this in secret, but had “prepared [this] in the sight of all people.” This was the task that God had given the Israelites from the days of Abraham (who was actually, Israel’s Grandfather) until the fulfillment of the promise in Christ and then the spreading of the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Jesus is the “glory of Israel” because all believing Christians praise God for the Israelites who were faithful to Him and remained faithful up to Christ’s birth of the Virgin Mary. We also praise God for all those Christian Jews like St. Paul who also spread the Gospel message to the world during the first century Roman persecution (and subsequent persecutions).

Christ is a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” because before that time God’s promises of salvation were largely forgotten and unknown by the whole world except for the Israelites. Only Israel knew the true God and kept His Word in the Holy Scriptures, though as we read in the Bible even Israel forgot about God from time to time and needed some gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) reminding about who God is and what He has done for us.

I don’t know if Simeon died happy. I do know that he was at peace. He knew that God had kept His promise to send a savior to redeem the world from sin. In this respect we are no different from Simeon. Just as Simeon trusted in God’s Word more than just what his senses told him when he met the baby Jesus, so we, too, can trust in that same Word from God.

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