“Flickering Faith, Kindling Light in the world.”
Luke 2.28,30. Candlemas. Series C. Pr. Rodriguez
“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying…
my eyes have seen your salvation (Luke 2:28, 30).”
Kindle Thy Light within us, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The last I spoke with you, our marathon of Christmas services were ending on a high note…. or rather on a crying note from our first baptism of the church year. Our lesson focused on the only account of Jesus’ adolescence when he stayed in the temple for three days, listening to the wisdom of the elders and worrying his parents. On Candlemas, what the church had celebrated as the end of Christmastide for centuries, we return back to the start of Christmastide to comprehend the significance of Jesus as consolation of Israel. In our lesson, Simeon appears as an ancient of days, led by the Spirit, embodying the collective wisdom of Israel; a wisdom of struggling with God. Anna, over an entire life-time perhaps as old sage Judith (Jud 16:23, 105 years perhaps), devoted her life to the kinds of spiritual practices that nurtured her sense of openness to the divine movement. And just with a moment, like a flash of insight, their decades long-spiritual journey comes to a climax. Here is a child. His Mother. Father. As Simeon receives this child in his weary arms, he praises God, exclaiming, “my eyes have seen your salvation (Lk 2:30).” I may now rest in peace. I saw the Light! Anna lends her voice to the nunc dimittis. I think Hank William’s famous song captured this moment best, when the chorus says, “I saw the light, no more darkness, no more night, Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord. I saw the light.”
Have we seen the light, as it flickers, as it wanes in our lives? At the end of our liturgy today, we ask God to help us embody the wisdom of Simeon and Anna by, “never to forsake the light of Christ.” The sermon, “Flickering Faith, Kindling Light in the world,” speaks to how we may be enlightened by the wisdom of elder Simeon and Anna. So we shall focus on our Gospel lesson, and in particular starting in verse 28 when “Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God…”
Simeon and Anna saw the light of the Christ-child during a key flickering moment in their lives. Our sage and prophet both were of long-suffering character, having been in touch with the deep hungering in their hearts and the yearnings of their people. Being devout and righteous, like Elizabeth and Zachariah, Mary and Joseph, they knew how their forebearers endured much in the wilderness and exile. At Peniel, Jacob wrestled God face to face throughout the entire night until he demanded from God, his blessing (Gen 32:26-28, 30): he and his descendants were the Israelites, i.e. those who wrestle with God. After these same descendants descended into Egypt and their descendants were enslaved for four hundred and thirty years, God delivered them and lead them through the wilderness appearing to them as, “pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light (Exod 13:21).”
Though the Lord would be present to his people at Solomon’s temple (2 Chron 7:1) through the cloud, the prophet Ezekiel saw the departure of God’s glory and presence (Ezekiel 10:19). A now as they faced Roman occupation, Simeon and Anna diligently hoped for the words of the prophet Isaiah to pass that, “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isa 60:1).” The letter of Hebrews commends Simeon, Anna, and our forebearers in the faith who suffered long and yet, “through faith and patience inherit[ed] the promises (Heb 6:12).” Their faith flickered. Their hearts hungered for God even in the midst of their own immediate needs of comfort and redemption.
Anna lost her husband of seven years and spent decades of her life in spiritual practices, hoping such practices would hold her through until the appearance of God’s glory. Simeon was seeker. He sought God’s glory, coming to death’s door with no resolution to his search but a flickering hope. His heartfelt the Spirit’s promise that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” The Light! Image yourself. Hope long-delay is hope denied. Moments flowing into the hours, passing into seasons-spanning-lifetimes.
They learned what theologian and preacher, Howard Thurman called, “the simple lesson of trust.” Trust is best received through discipline….an easing up of the self, a relaxation of one’s spirit into God’s Spirit. Rather than become zealots, or legalists or Essenes, they sated their hunger through flickering hopes of prayer, lectio, and fasting. Simeon and Anna provided for us a way to learn how trust God especially when our expectations do not line up with our hungering of life. Think of your own hungering heart, and the expectations of your family. What/who have you been waiting for to be your consolation? To bring spiritual, emotional, physical, or psychological peace for your soul.
All of us have known Simeons and Annas before, who taught us how to watch and fight and pray and live rejoicing every day. My grandaunt Chabela was my Anna, when I would rush to get the first tamale of Candlemas or as I grew older, contemplated what I was to do with my life. She had this gaze that would gladden ones heart. Her words would dispel the discontent and dis-ease settling in my soul. She had seen the light. She had known the light of Christ. She would always see that light in me even when I faced the loss of my grandmother and sister, the failure of my business, the poverty of my graduate school years. She taught me now to watch and look to Christ Child. His light would show me the way, the way to still the hungering heart.
Many of you are Simeons and Annas. I have seen that Light, that true light, which enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9), and how you have held through your signs of care and welcome, the presence of the Christ child in your neighbor. To ask God never to forsake the light of Christ means to ask God that we will never not be Simeon and Anna to others. We will never stop praying, watching, rejoicing at the presence of the Christ-child among us. We will kindle the candles of others in need of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. So let your faith flicker like the embers of a half-spent candle, worn out by years of searching around for God. Let the Spirit ease you into the light like he did for Simeon and Anna in their hungering for God. As you are led into that light by faith, you shall see span of your life as marked by the cross of Christ forever. You will see the light of life and exclaim with Simeon, “my eyes have seen your salvation. Praise the Lord. I saw the Light.” Amen.