Of all the things Simeon, Anna, their ancestors back to the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, the deportation to Babylon, the divided kingdom. Of all the things to look forward to, the consolation of Israel is perhaps the most fleeting. Of all the things Saint Luke, Jesusâ€™ disciples â€“ Jews and Gentiles alike â€” anyone, really down to today. Of all the things to look forward to, the consolation of Israel is perhaps the most fleeting. Simeon and Anna lived in a kingdom that was a dim shadow of its former self. Now a small outpost of the Roman Empire. Ruled by a puppet king. Saint Luke, who wrote about Simeon and Anna, and all of us who hear in wonder about them know of a kingdom, a Second Temple in ruin. Leveled and pillaged by the Romans in 80 of the Common Era. Of all the things to look forward to, the consolation of Israel is perhaps the most fleeting.
Yet, consolation was Simeonâ€™s hope. His confidence. Fulfilled in holding the Christ-child â€” Mary and Josephâ€™s baby Jesus â€” in his ailing arms. Despite the odds, consolation was Annaâ€™s hope. Seen in person, in the flesh. Her joy to proclaim. To everyone who longed for the redemption of Israel.
I am certain her joyful proclamation was not joyfully received or readily believed. Certainly not by anyone who saw Mary, Joseph and Jesus that day. Poor folks from back-woods Nazareth, who couldnâ€™t afford a sheep, the proper offering. But instead brought either a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. I am certain Annaâ€™s joyful proclamation was not joyfully received or readily believed. At the foot of the cross. When this One expected to redeem Israel is tried by a mob crowd, and killed by the Romans. I am certain Annaâ€™s joyful proclamation was not joyfully received or readily believed. By anyone who endured the Roman siege on Jerusalem. Soldiersâ€™ abuse. Arson. Rampage. Utter destruction. For not only was the Christ child of her dreams and of her song dead, her city, her temple, her homeland lay in ruin, too. The consolation, the redemption of Israel, nothing but fleeting.
Pundits pose the obvious question. Why believe in a God who cannot bring about consolation and redemption in Jerusalem or any other place? Why believe in a God who makes you wait a long, long time; a God who has abandoned you?
Why believe in a God who stands by and allows destruction, neglect, hardship, despair to harm so many people?
Punditsâ€™ questions. But, I imagine that if we are honest with ourselves, weâ€™ll admit these arenâ€™t only questions posed by pundits, but questions weâ€™ve grappled with, thought about, fought to avoid, cried over, too. For dreams inspire us, but sometimes shatter us. Loveâ€™s heart warms us, but sometimes burns us. Trust caries us, but sometimes betrays us. Hope lifts us, but sometimes lets us down. Consolation, redemption so very often seems so very fleeting. For us. For our neighbors in this City and throughout the world.
And yet, after the ash and smoke clear in Jerusalem and the nascent church is barely surviving, Saint Luke proclaims Simeon and Annaâ€™s confidence true. And we dare sing it amidst our own trouble, too.
A light to reveal you to the nations. And the glory of your people Israel.
Confidence in the light of Christ, because light has its very being in an irresolvable paradox.
Light is most clearly seen in the midst of darkness. A beacon in the midst of a storm. A single ray rising over the horizon. A star shining in the night. How brightly shines the morning star, we sing. And every star. Even more brightly, the darker it is.
Every once in a while when I find myself in the middle of nowhere. Far away from city lights. Iâ€™ll find a clear space to lie back and gaze at the night sky. The experience mesmerizes me. The more intently I focus on the dark backdrop of the universeâ€™s infinity, the more I experience dark and the more intensely light emerges. Suddenly more and more stars become visible. Double, triple in number. Their varied distance almost perceptible as they glimmer in the sky.
The church celebrates the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple with CandleMass. The blessing of light. At that point in the solar calendar when light begins to shine more and more intensely in the midst of darkness. The day is fixed. February 2 â€” the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Forty days after Christmas, and the point at which we turn toward the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter.
On this day darkness tips toward light; gives way to Christâ€™s own brilliant, ever-intensifying light. Not fully. But certainly underway.
For this light shines in the darkness. And the darkness does not overcome it. This light illumines even the grimmest of places along lifeâ€™s journey. This light never sets, never fades. But intensifies at whatever moment, and in the face of whatever shadow we find ourselves. Even the shadow of death.
I imagine death to be much like the experience of gazing at a star-filled sky. The more deeply deaths dark shadow comes, The more brilliantly Godâ€™s light shines. The more clearly we see God. The more closely we are to the one who is all and all. If in death, certainly in life. Which makes this irresolvable paradox our most trustworthy confidence. A promise given by God. That no matter how grim, how dim life might become, The light of Christ shines. The light of Christ persists. The light of Christ does not fail. As surely as the sun rises in the east, so too does the light of Christ illumine our path, glows in us, and shines in all the world.
We first come to see this light that shines in darkness at baptism, when as children or as adults, a lighted candle is presented with these words: â€ślet your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.â€ť Words that reveal the Word of Godâ€™s promise that no matter who we are and what we become; No matter the height of our success or the humbleness of our hearts; No matter our lifeâ€™s vocation, No matter lifeâ€™s delight or its sorrow, God is with us. Stands with us. Beside us. And for us. Always.
Iâ€™ve often been asked if we could be re-baptized. If, when dark times come in our life we can be baptized again. Much like birth, we cannot repeat the moment of baptism, our rebirth. But we can remember it, and by remembering it trust it, rely on it more and more, and grow more and more certain of its promise. Remember it daily so that when dark times come, when with Simeon and Anne consolation seem fleeting, we trust Godâ€™s promise, rely on Godâ€™s promise all the more. Perhaps by the cool of a morning shower at the dawn of the rising sun.
In water crossed over our bodies. Sprinkled at burial. God is with us.
And we are with each other. Each time someone is baptized we promise to support the newly baptized in this paradoxical way of life. Support because life like this is practiced. Which is why we come together. Which is way we gather together. In good times and in tough times. When we laugh and when we cry. To bear each other, as God bears us. In this mystical, interwoven, broken but ever-healing, dead but living body of Christ.
The body of Christ which nourishes us, feeds us, forms us. Not yet fully formed, but always being formed fully. Not yet fully new, but always being made new fully. Not yet fully healed, but always being healed fully. Not yet fully whole, but always being made whole fully. And wonderfully. Gloriously. In the sight of all people.
Life with God begun in the waters of baptism. And completed in the waters that flow from Godâ€™s throne eternal grace. With light along the way to lead us. Comfort us. Always. As surely as light shines. In this and every place.
Remember that promise. Rely on that promise. And come to know, with Simeon and Anna, and all the saints in light, its peace and its joy.