Eyes that See Salvation
The elderly Simeon and Anna had the eyes to see God’s salvation when the baby Jesus was presented in the temple. Can we see opportunities for salvation in our everyday experiences?
What’s on your bucket list? Or maybe you haven’t given it much thought yet. I think I started giving my bucket list more serious thought after that 2007 movie called “The Bucket List” came out.
It starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman who were terminally ill with cancer and they broke out of the cancer ward to experience some of the things they had dreamed about to do before they kicked the bucket, so to speak.
One of the things on my bucket list is to travel to Sicily and meet some of my long lost Italian cousins there. It might be hard because from what my parents told me based on their visit to that part of Sicily, “Intagliata” is about as common a name there as “Smith” is here in the US, or “Yoder” in the Mennonite Church.
But I’ve got some contacts who know some people who might help me find my relatives, and I hope I get to meet them while I’m still alive on God’s good earth.
The story in today’s scripture is about a couple of old people who had their own version of a bucket list, but theirs was not about meeting some blood relatives, but rather meeting someone we could say is a spiritual relative,
The long-promised Messiah who would come as the Savior of the people, or as it’s put in the scripture, “the consolation of Israel”.
Seeing the “Lord’s Christ” was the top priority on the bucket list of this old guy named Simeon, and I believe that it was also a deep desire of Anna, who was also in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to be presented,
which included the rite of circumcision, which I won’t go into much detail about right now.
Have you heard that song “Grown Up Christmas List” made popular by Amy Grant and also Kelly Clarkson? It really has a pretty cool message about what we wish for at Christmas.
In the song, the person talks about what she asked Santa for when she was young, and they progresses to very different things when she is older.
No more lives torn apart That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win and love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list
In a way, this song is about this girl’s bucket list. And what this girl is wishing for when she is older is very similar to Simeon and Anna are wishing for, hoping for as they are now in their old age.
They have come to a point in their lives where their wishes, their hopes and their dreams were not just focused on themselves, but they looked outward to what the coming of a Messiah and Savior would mean for the world.
Their wish, their bucket list, is for the salvation of God to come to a world which desperately needs to be saved in the same vein as the song mentions: saved from lives being torn apart, saved from the violence of wars,
Saved by bringing healing to broken hearts and friendship to those who are lonely and feel isolated from others.
That the salvation of God would bring a love that would never end, a love that is stronger than all the hate and prejudice that exists in the world.
Simeon refers to this salvation as “consolation”. And the Greek word for consolation that he uses is the same word used by Jesus to his disciples when he promises that he will leave them with the Holy Spirit.
Some versions of the Bible use the English word “paraclete” which is closer to the Greek root word, but since we don’t use that word much in English, other translations use words like “comforter” and “helper” to describe the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to carry forth God’s salvation.
The dictionary describes consolation as: the comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.
So the promise of the salvation that the Savior would bring, that Simeon, Anna, and all of Israel were longing for would comfort to those who were hurting, help to those who were down and out, and hope to those swallowed up by despair.
This is the message of good news that Simeon proclaimed in the temple, while holding the baby Jesus. Now let’s look for a minute at the messengers of the message, Simeon and Anna. I like the way that author Frederick Buechner described the scene:
When the moment finally came, one look through Simeon’s cataract lenses was all it took. He asked if it would be all right to hold the baby in his arms, and Mary and Joseph told him to go ahead but be careful not to drop him.
OK so we don’t know if Mary and Joseph said that, but the thought might have run through their heads. Simeon was a pretty old fogie, probably a bit frail and weak in the knees.
But what a cool scene, seeing this really old guy holding this really tiny baby, with an old woman next to him. What a great way to symbolize the idea that God’s salvation is for all people, from the youngest to the oldest,
For all cultures and nations, to give glory to the people of Israel and also to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, which means everyone else.
And how cool is it and maybe surprising to us that God chose two of the oldest people around to play such an important role in blessing the baby Jesus and announcing the good news of salvation that Jesus would bring to the world.
You see, in our American culture at least, we worship youth. If you want to sell mostly anything except medications or reverse mortgages, you put young, beautiful, fit people in your commercials.
Our society spends billions of dollars a year on cosmetic surgeries to help people look and feel younger.
But in God’s economy, you’re never too old to retire from being used by God to carry out his purposes and to serve as a bearer of the good news of salvation.
The book of Proverbs chapter 16:31 says : “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” For some reason, that verse sticks out to me now more than it did when I was half my age.
Also in scripture, those who are older are also presented as people deserving special honor and respect: Leviticus 19:32 says “You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old.
In Biblical times as well as in many cultures in our world, people older generations are seen as having valuable wisdom to pass down to younger generations. I’ve seen this in Asian cultures, African cultures and South American cultures as well.
Now one thing I’ve realized is that wisdom doesn’t automatically come with age. People aren’t automatically wise just because they are old;
No, wisdom comes through being open to learning valuable lessons, sometimes through the school of hard knocks,
It comes to people who have taken time to reflect on their experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant ones, knowing that all of our experiences provide opportunities for growth and greater understanding.
Catholic author Richard Rohr talks about how we obtain wisdom in his book called “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life”. In the book, Rohr distinguishes between two major stages in our life.
In the first half, he says that we spend our time and energy building a container for our life; this container is constructed of things like our achievements, successes, solidifying our identity.
This first half is focused mostly on ourselves and strengthening our ego. It’s a time when we try to get what we can from the world and accumulate things and accomplishments and titles to go by our name.
Now Rohr is quick to say that this first half of life is not a bad thing in and of itself; he says that it’s a necessary stage for us to go through.
But then he says that in order to gain maturity and wisdom, we need to move beyond creating our container to the point of filling it with the things that really matter and last, which is the task of the second half of life.
Rohr calls the first half a survival dance, and the second half a sacred dance.
In this second half of life, we are more concerned with inner contentment than outward achievement. And we are more focused on doing things that benefit others rather than just ourselves.
While the first half is more of a journey outward, this half is more of an inward journey where we reflect more, do more self-examination, maybe spend more time in prayer and solitude.
And the fruit of doing these things leads to growing in wisdom, and generosity, and being more gracious and gentle with others.
I share all this with you for a couple of reasons. First, I personally find it really helpful for looking at my own life, and maybe you will find it helpful as well.
And secondly, I share it because as I look at the lives of Simeon and Anna in our story, it seems to me that they exemplify people with the maturity and wisdom of those who have grow into the second half of life, who have filled their container with the stuff that really matters.
They’re not flashy or powerful people by the world’s standards by any means. Just faithful old fogies who loved God and loved serving the community they were a part of. People like John Kliewer, who was a pillar here at Daniels Run Peace Church.
Simeon and Anna’s humility and life of prayer definitely gave them a sensitivity to recognize that the baby brought into the temple was Jesus the Messiah.
And like Mary, who was our focus last week, in Simeon and Anna we see God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things, people whose eyes see the salvation of God in their midst, and who are willing to be used by God to be messengers of that salvation, that consolation to the world around them.
If people like Mary and Simeon and Anna can have eyes to see salvation, so can any of us as well.
So what does it look like in real life to flesh out, to be messengers of God’s salvation, God’s consolation, comfort, help and hope to others?
Well, it can take shape in a lot of different ways. And I want to tell you a story of what it looked like for a guy named Tony Campolo when he was travelling in Hawaii.
You might have heard of Tony as a popular author and speaker. I’ve enjoyed reading many of his books and hearing him speak at Mennonite conventions, and he has been a spiritual mentor to me and to many others.
But what Tony Campolo did at a crusty all-night diner in Honolulu really could have been done by anybody.
Campolo was dealing with jet lag after a long flight from Philadelphia, and at 3 am was hungry and wide awake, so he went into a diner near his hotel for a bite to eat.
The only other customers in the diner at that ungodly hour happened to be some prostitutes who had just finished up for the night.
One of the women was named Agnes, and she told Tony that it was her birthday the next day, and she had never in her whole life had a birthday party thrown for her.
After the prostitutes left, Tony found out from the guy behind the counter named Harry that Agnes and her friends came into the diner every night at the same time.
So Tony, got this idea, and said “Harry, what if we throw a birthday party for Agnes tomorrow night?” Harry said, “sure, that would be fine, but “only if I get to make the cake!”
So the next night at 2:30 am, Tony was back at the diner with some decorations and a big sign that said “Happy Birthday Agnes!”. Well, the word about the party spread like a tidal wave in Waikiki Beach.
And by 3:15 am it seemed like every hooker in Honolulu was in that diner. At exactly 3:30 am, the door opened up and in walked Agnes. And everyone stood up and yelled at the top of their lungs “Happy Birthday Agnes!”
Agnes was stunned to say the least. And for the next while she and her friends celebrated and shared more joy than they had every experienced before.
After Agnes went home with what was left of her birthday cake, Tony led everyone who was still left in a prayer. He prayed for Agnes would experience God’s salvation, that her life would be changed. He prayed that God would be good to her and that she would feel his love.
After Tony’s prayer, Harry leaned over from behind the counter and said to him, “Hey, you never told me that you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?”
Tony thought for a minute and said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning”.
Then Harry said, “No you don’t! There’s no church like that. If there was, I would join it!”
That night at that Honolulu diner, Agnes and her friends saw for maybe the first time a glimpse of God’s salvation at work, and it touched their lives deeply.
Jesus came into the world as a Savior to seek and save those who are lost. Every one of us is lost in one way or another, and we are all in need of salvation.
And what took place in that diner in Honolulu reminds us that no place and no person and no situation we find ourselves in is outside of the boundaries of God’s salvation.
And just like Simeon and Anna, and people like Tony Campolo, you and I are invited to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to see and seize those opportunities to proclaim God’s salvation with our words and our lives.
God, thank you for people like Simeon and Anna whose life of humble faithfulness and wisdom enabled them to recognize the baby Jesus as the Savior of the world, and proclaim in the temple that day the message of salvation.
Their witness reminds us that you can use anybody to share the good news that Jesus is in our midst, no matter how old or young that they are, no matter how much or how little theological training they have had.
As we begin a new year, I pray that you shape us into people who grow in wisdom, and in generosity and grace toward others, as we make time to nurture our relationship with you and reflect on what really matters in life.
May our bucket list include asking you to sharpen our eyesight to see the possibilities for your salvation around us, and having the courage and passion to share it with others.
And here at Daniels Run Peace Church, empower us to be the kind of church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes a 3:30 in the morning. AMEN.