Words on the Word


Mal 3.1-4: The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into his temple.
Heb 2.14-18: A merciful and faithful high priest.
Luke 2:22-40: Lord, my eyes have seen!

There are several angles from which we might approach this feast. Let us consider it in terms of the stature of waiting. The protagonists of today’s Gospel are people who have waited a good while. I say, ‘protagonists’: the Lord Jesus is as always at the centre of the story, but he does not act in it. He is passed round, the way infants are, from one pair of arms to another, like a parcel. For all we know, he may have stayed asleep. 

The people who perform at centre stage are Simeon and Anna. They are attractive characters. Both are presented as old, very old. Old people are prone to look back. It is natural for them to turn over in their minds the way things were, to reminisce, to take stock, to revisit events that made them what they are. Simeon and Anna do nothing of the sort. They are described as people who look forward. They are driven by expectancy. 

That is why, I’d say, they both have such a spring in their step. They leap up to greet the infant Christ. They are alert. Their lamps are burning. Had they not been there deliberately waiting, this pivotal moment, when the Lord enters his Temple, might have passed unnoticed. Through decades of patient endurance they had learned to look out for God’s intervention in the world. They were ready for it, so could respond in fitting ways, blessing God, rejoicing, spreading the word to others. To nurture for hope, we need to pay attention and note what is going on. Such attention is an art to practise. 

The Presentation of the Lord is bound up with the consecrated life. Many religious renew their vows on this day. How did this link come about? A christocentric reading would see Christ’s consecration as the type of our own. It is a true reading, but it risks being too self-referential. 

There is a lot to be said for considering our call as religious rather in the light of Simeon and Anna. What is a religious, a monk or a nun, but a person who waits, who yearns for the salvation of Jerusalem, ready to greet the Lord when he comes? One sometimes hears monastic life spoken of as a life of spiritual luxury. The Lord, it is assumed, calls women and men into the cloister to pamper them, to fill them with mystical graces, letting them bathe in sweetness and light while they lie down, sated, in green pastures. Candidates thus minded tend to be disappointed when they discover religious life the way it is. Certainly, the Lord is good! To live in his house is joy! To serve him is a privilege! But he does not call adults to treat them like children. The monk, the nun has work to do. He or she must learn to serve God faithfully, by day and by night, in fasting and prayer, even when the Temple appears to be empty, when God seems absent, and the we anxiously ask, ‘Lord, when will you come?’ 

By waiting we learn how faithful God is. It is in the night, St John of the Cross is said to have said, that bird learn to sing. Simeon and Anna challenge us today to renew our sense of purpose. They ask: ‘And you, do you look forward to the coming of the Lord? Is your heart aflame with longing? Do you do what you can to nurture that flame?’ May we, like the two venerable watchers on the ramparts of Jerusalem, be people who look forward, not back; who look to Christ, not to ourselves. Then our lives shall silently resonate with joy. We shall constantly strain ahead, light and strong. Our life’s aspiration will be summed up in a singly cry to live by and to die by: ‘Come, Lord Jesus. Do not delay!’ If we stay faithful to that call, we too, shall by grace be a sign to the nations, a sign of hope and direction our disoriented times need badly as they hurtle ever further off the rails.

Come, Lord Jesus! Let us see your salvation! Reveal your glory! Amen. 

Rembrandt’s Simeon in the Temple, now in Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum.