Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Monday, May 20, 2013
Sermon 2010 01-17
Mike Turgeon “Simeon says” January 17, 2010
When the time came for his 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, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated, "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." Luke 2:22-32
Oh, this darkness. I should be used to it by now. At least I have these steps memorized in the dark. All 18 of them. Step over the wide hole on step number 17. Even this has become a ritual.
This temple is now my life. Daily worship, all my waking hours here. I try to make myself useful to the priests, but sometimes it feels as if they merely tolerate me. Simeon! Go home, they say. Or at least go spend a couple hours in the marketplace with the people. It would do you some good.
But, no, I must watch. I barely remember when I first heard God’s call to watch for the light. I live in the shadows of this temple because I do expect something glorious to appear.
Maybe a warrior to banish Israel’s oppressors. Perhaps a powerful king to assume a mighty throne. What better place to wait than here. My vigilance is a small cost, indeed.
“The Holy Spirit guides my actions, and my steps are pointed solely toward that day of restoration of God’s people.” These are the words I’m used to saying to those who question this waiting.
The Holy Spirit’s presence weighs powerfully upon me but I must admit to some moments of doubt. This is normal, is it not? After all, I am just a man, and the idea of messiah is so much larger than just one man waiting for the light to break through for his people.
Was it really God’s voice I had heard years ago, or was I placing my hope in the ancient prophet’s call? It has been over 500 years since the prophet, Isaiah, spoke The words still ring in my ear: “…I have called you in righteousness, I have given you, as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out from the prison those who sit in darkness…”
Surely, this light must be coming soon.” This latest decree by the Emperor Augustus, that all the world should be registered, has placed a burden upon the common man. Who can afford this, the means to travel, sometimes long distances, and on dangerous pathways?
Burden has become the fate of my people. Despite their official policy of tolerance these Roman occupiers are practically as vigilant as I am.
This very temple is now perceived as a threat to the state. This building was destroyed before, and they can do it again. Even casual observers can see the contempt in the eyes of the soldiers who seemed to be everywhere these days, making sure that people register properly, according to the particulars of their birth.
Ah! I see by the light in that window above that it is morning again. The first pilgrims for this day’s dedication ceremony should be coming in soon. There they are. I can see the bird offerings in the hands of the poorest of them. But there is something different about this first couple.
The mother seems but a teen-ager--is that bundle in her arms shining in some way? I must get a better look. END MONOLOGUE.
Simeon was a holy man, ‘righteous and devout.’ Had he been born 500 years earlier than he was, say in the time of Isaiah, he would have been considered a prophet. Had he been born 1000 years later than he was, he would have been a monk living in a monastery, seeking a direct experience of God.
And, of course, today he would largely be ignored.
We don’t hear any more about him in the Bible, don’t know what kind of life he gave up to devote himself to his vigilance in the temple. Don’t know how he died. But some dramatic change took place in this man’s life that caused him to drop everything and turn toward the light. The call of God touched him, and he responded.
It is tempting, especially in our youth-obsessed culture, to dismiss an old man like this, a bit player in the pages of the New Testament. It is tempting to dismiss the old completely. But we do so at our peril. The elders of a society carry the light of stored wisdom. How do they say it, “It’s too bad youth is wasted on the young?”
The gift that Simeon gave was his patient waiting. Some patient waiting has no happy ending, this one did. The payoff for Simeon came when he blessed the infant savior:
SLIDE: “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
This is a salvation text, there are many like it in the Bible. The message of salvation is this: darkness need not prevail. In fact, total darkness is no match for the light of Christ, and the light of Christ is no passive light, it is a cleansing light.
The question we must ask is, do you want this?
The light of Christ can be disturbing. All light is not gentle. Ever had the experience of being disrupted from deep sleep by glaring light entering a room?
Well the light this old man has waited for, is just such a disruptive light. It is jolting because God’s light has the power to change us. Every coming of God is disturbing because God’s comings meet our needs, yet violate our existing routines.
But if our deep needs are ever met, then the chains of our phony needs will no longer be required. We can choose to cast them off. And that is disruptive.
God’s transforming light jars us. We may want to paint Jesus into a tidy little corner, but that never works. The light of Christ burns away the dark by shining into the shadowy and mediocre parts of our lives. Without Christ’s saving light, darkness wins.
It sounds funny to say but we get so familiar with the darkness that it starts to feel like an old friend.
A number of years ago, comedian Robin Williams appeared in his first dramatic role in a film called “Moscow on the Hudson.” It was an okay film with one great line. He played a desperate Russian immigrant to America who was trying to make it by scratching out a living any way he could.
When asked what he missed most about his homeland, his face lit up. “Oh, without a doubt, I miss our suffering. We may have nothing, but at least we have our misery.”
Simeon was terribly familiar with darkness, but he was able to give it up when the moment of truth came. Suffering is seductive. Sometimes when we can’t feel anything else, we can feel our pain.
But joy is what we are promised in Christ. Salvation is the struggle for wholeness. The root word of salvation is ‘salve,’ health. Often in the New Testament, Jesus commands the lame, the blind, the paralyzed to ‘take up your palette and walk, for your faith has made you well. Trust in me and your true health is restored. It’s a team effort.
In Philippians, Paul exhorts us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” Be bold, but don’t go there alone. Seek the healing force in the touch of Jesus Christ.
In him, the darkness has now been pierced, Simeon says, the revealing light has come. He turned his eyes turned toward that light, should we not do the same?
We sometimes become expert at deflecting the light instead of absorbing it. Whereas we hear Simeon praise his dismissal from God’s service now in peace and light, we are sometimes dismissive of God’s power and light to make us whole, to heal our darkness.
Salvation has fallen on hard times. As the world becomes more secular, our ways of talking about how God acts in our lives changes. Salvation and redemption begin to sound quaint, even tainted at times. Yet, what is underneath does not change, cannot change, will not change.
We are spiritual beings, having a human experience. Like Simeon responding to God’s call, we seek to build meaningful lives.
“Without a vision, the people perish,” is the way the hymn writer said it. Without a light to guide our vision, we wander aimlessly in darkness.
You ever stop to think how dependent we are on the light? Even in a world of all-night shopping opportunities, there is a deep part of us that needs the light of day, not artificial light to survive. Now, I’m no scientist, but physiologically, we require a daily dose of light, it’s a chemical thing. All of creation depends on some form of photosynthesis, transforming the light into the energy we need to live.
Workers on graveyard shift generally suffer weird sensations and maladies if they miss the light long enough. There is even a light-deficit syndrome--Seasonal Affected Disorder, SAD. Winter time, even in temperate California, is a fine balancing act with depression for some. The need for light is real.
In a way, we are all mystics; we are all seeking a direct experience of God. It’s why we crave the candlelight singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve. Don’t let the darkness overwhelm us, we plead. As long as I have at least a candle, there is hope. Simeon had less than that. He only had a wobbly vision, one that came and went the longer he lingered in those temple shadows.
We have the searing, cleansing light of Christ. Let it shine, brothers and sisters!
Our moment of truth is in every moment. With the light of Christ, each moment is a sacred one. To be vessels of love is why we are created. Don’t tell me otherwise. Don’t tell me we are here on earth to get our own way all the time, to be pre-occupied with pettiness, to spread toxicity and negativity! As followers, our only option for how we behave is to love--ourselves, the world, our enemies.
How much does the light of God’s grace in Jesus cost us? Everything we don’t need. Submitting to the light of salvation and healing costs us our mediocrity, our fear, anger and resentment, our insecurity, our illusions, our darkness. Once you are fully cast in the light, darkness is banished from the secret rooms of your soul.
The consolation of Israel that Simeon waited for in the lonely hours has now been revealed as the restoration of God’s people. Let us live it, church!
It was one thing for Simeon to spend a lifetime waiting for the light, it is another matter altogether to spend a lifetime turning away from it.
God’s grace never comes in the form or size that we expect. Where Simeon sought a warrior, God sent a peaceful child. Where Simeon looked for a powerful king, God sent a humble one. Simeon was changed and dispatched from his life of service. We must allow the light of Jesus to guide us to ours.
Simeon says: “Be disturbed; be disrupted; be cleansed; be saved.”