In Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit starts her work through a few chosen people. It’s easy to envy these people their clarity – of course Simeon could be faithful when the Spirit was directing him! – but that same Spirit is filling and guiding us now.
Vicar Jessica Christy
Presentation of Our Lord
Text: Luke 2:22-40
I wonder if Simeon woke up that morning knowing that the day had finally come. When the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Now, today is the day,” what was that like? Was it a voice? A vision? A sensation in his bones? What does it feel like to be grabbed by the Spirit?
Because Luke tells us that the Spirit had a special role in Simeon’s life. Not just that, he says it three times in a row: the Spirit rests on Simeon, she reveals to him that he will see the messiah in his lifetime, and when the time comes, she guides his steps to the temple. Simeon has been eagerly waiting for the Christ, but he has been living with the Holy Spirit for a long time. Because of the Spirit, he can live in the marvelous hope that he will witness God’s salvation. Through the Spirit’s eyes, he can see that a poor young couple is God’s chosen family, and that their ordinary baby will deliver his people. And it could only be the movement of the Spirit that builds such instant trust between Mary and Simeon, that she places her newborn into the arms of a stranger. The Spirit transforms his life, his sight, his relationships. Because the Spirit is upon him, Simeon can see God’s reality shining through the surface of the world around him, and that changes everything.
But what the Spirit reveals to Simeon isn’t entirely joy and light. He sees that the arc of this baby’s life isn’t going to be an easy one. He blesses the little family, and then he confirms what Mary already knows: her child is going to bring turmoil into this world. Mighty people are going to be brought low, and lowly people are going to be lifted up. Jesus is going to reveal things that the world would rather keep hidden, and so people are going to resist him, resent him. None of this is news, but then Simeon goes farther. He tells Mary that this turmoil is going to touch her. A sword is going to pierce her soul. This precious, promised baby is going to bring her unimaginable pain. Simeon has seen God’s salvation, and yet he knows that the world isn’t quite saved. Not yet.
This could be reason for mourning or fear, and yet Simeon rejoices, because by the Spirit, he sees through the pain to what lies beyond. There’s going to be hurt and confusion, but out of those wounds will come God’s salvation. He isn’t going to see God’s plan fulfilled, but he’s seen its beginning, and he knows how it will end: with the glory of Israel, the illumination of the whole world, and the healing of the nations. Whatever conflict is coming, the Spirit has shown him that conflict will not have the last word, and so he can depart in peace.
I envy Simeon’s clarity. He’s righteous, and patient, and so full of hope. God has given him this amazing gift of experiencing life under the Spirit’s guidance. Not only does he get to see Christ, but he knows that he’s seeing Christ, and he knows exactly what Christ represents. He’s given such perfect insight into God’s plan, and he fulfills his role so faithfully. And it’s a beautiful story, but it’s a hard one to live up to. Simeon feels like one of those untouchable saints. Yes, of course he knows what to do – the Holy Spirit is giving him personal instructions. Where does that leave the rest of us who are waiting and hoping to see Christ? Because in this fallen world, God’s will for us isn’t always so obvious. We don’t always recognize Christ’s presence, or respond when the Spirit is pushing us to get up and go. When we see all the disorder and ill-will around us, we might falter in our hope that we will ever witness God’s salvation. Not all of us will be able to face death with such certainty or such joy. So what does Simeon’s clear vision have to do with all of us who still see God through a mirror, dimly?
But the good news is that Simeon’s gift isn’t anything special. He might look exceptional, but that’s not the story that Luke tells. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is hard at work transforming the world – and she does start with certain chosen individuals. She fills Mary and John the Baptist. She leads Simeon to the temple. She greets Jesus at his baptism, guides him through the wilderness, and enlivens his teaching. But then, at Pentecost, everything changes. The promise that God made to the prophet Joel is fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Tongues of fire appear over the apostles, and through them, the Spirit fills the assembled crowd. And from there, she spreads like wildfire. When Peter is speaking to a group of Gentiles in Caesarea, she falls on everyone who hears the word. The circumcised believers are astounded by this, but Peter asks them, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” The Holy Spirit is setting the whole world ablaze, and nothing is going to stand in her way.
That same Spirit is in us now. We might not experience that in the same way as Simeon, but our gift is no less than his gift, and we are just as empowered to see this world through Spirit-filled eyes. Like Simeon, we can see through this world’s appearances to recognize God within. Where the world shows us despair, the Spirit shows us hope. Where the world shows us strangers, the Spirit shows us beloved siblings. Where the world shows us the least of these, the Spirit shows us Christ. And where the world shows us death, the Spirit shows us abundant new life. We’re still waiting for God’s plan to be fulfilled, but like Simeon, we know how this story ends. We know that peace and life and love win. That’s not what our senses tell us. That’s not what politics or science or even common sense say, but it’s what our faith tells us, and by the Spirit, we can believe that it’s really true. And that means that we get to carry that truth, that reality into the world.
Like the candles that we carried in tonight, we all bear the Spirit’s flame. Even if we doubt, or falter, or fail to recognize God’s call, the Spirit has been given to each of us, and she will never leave us behind. Even now, she is filling us with the light of Christ for all the world to see. So with Simeon, we can proclaim: look, Christ is here. God is now healing the world. Come and see for yourself. Come and find God’s light. Come and find God’s peace.