“For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…..” Those are pretty heady words for just having a first look at a baby, aren’t they?
I’m not sure how much I’ve really thought about this Gospel lesson. Simeon and Anna are just the “churchy folks” I’ve known from every congregation. They are the stalwarts, the elderly man, the old widow, the people whom you can’t imagine not being around the church. I have grown accustom to just expecting old Simeon and Anna to show up and make their pronouncement. They are the fixtures in the Temple scene
They were Willie and Mabel from Emmanuel Beatrice,
They were Hy-D and Mary from First Lutheran Avoca,
They were Roy and Lucille from St. John’s in Richland Center.
They were Dean and Phyllis… maybe in our context. You know them if you have been in a church for any length of time. They are the “old eyes,” and old eyes tend to see things what younger ones will miss.
Simeon is waiting to see the Consolation of Israel.
Anna is the the elderly widow who spends day and night in the temple because there really isn’t any other place in society for her and here she carves out a place of meaning.
What do old eyes see that younger ones cannot?
For one thing, “old eyes” tend to see context better. They understand the community, its rhythms, connections, and the “who belongs to whom” weavings.
Maybe it is because they have lived through much, and seen things come and go.
Maybe it is because they have resigned themselves to the pace of change. It never happens fast enough for some things, or slow enough for others. Never fast enough in times of pain and hardship, never slow enough in times of joy. Time moves at its own pace and with “old eyes” you begin to sense that you are more often swept along than swimming against it much. They know and see how things are connected.
Old eyes also tend to take things in stride because they have seen so much. They have adjusted to the observation of Ecclesiastes that there really is “nothing new under the sun.” Old themes come back again under new guiles. The names change, but the issues repeat themselves.
If Anna is in her 80’s and beyond she has seen two King Herods come to power, and neither one better than the other.
She has watched the back-story politics of the Temple from her vantage point of being there day in and day out, and noted that while High Priests seem to come and go. Nothing ever much changes in the day to day operations, or in the trajectories of the Temple, the people, or the nation.
They still live under Roman occupation.
They still live burdened with occupation taxes.
They still wait for Messiah, and the promise of the Consolation of Israel.
This is their context, the world in which they live and the world as they have known it.
I do not know if Simeon and Anna spoke with each other before this day, and even here they are not so much in dialog as each in turn giving their blessing, observation, and prophecy.
Old eyes seem keenly aware when something is afoot, when a change is looming, and somehow both see in Jesus something they have not seen before.
We are not told what it is exactly that they see in Jesus.
We are told how they see it.
It is a work of the Holy Spirit.
It would appear that long days and night spent in worship and in prayer are not fruitless efforts. They give old eyes a different kind of vision.
Anna’s life of prayer and fasting has given her insight.
Simeon’s devotion and righteousness has given him the gift of recognition. His life choices have tuned his senses to wait and to watch. He is the keeper of this mysterious promise made by an even more mysterious Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen God’s salvation. This has kept his eyes ever watchful, and when the mother, father and infant enter there is some trigger that goes off. This is the one!
How does he know? We’re not privy to that, but we can assume that it does have something to do with his choices, his devotion, his way of living. Something has prepared his old eyes to see what we cannot, at least not yet.
And maybe that is another gift of old eyes that I think might be starting to develop myself. It comes with the birth of a grandson, and it is less a new insight as the kindling of an old one. Taking my grandson in my arms triggered the memory of holding my own son, my own daughter, and wondering out loud what it was that they were destined to be, and what this world would hold for them.
When I hearken back to those memories and feel them stir in me again, I’m not so sure that Simeon is being all that profound in his words. As you look at them again, they very well could be spoken to any child.
All children are destined to see the fall and rising of many… wherever they are born. Some will have more opportunities, run in more intense circles of power and influence, or “greatness” in the eyes of the world, but the rhythm of life will mean that as a matter of course they will see mentors and friends, rise and fall. In fact, who did Jesus see rise and fall exactly? It was mostly rough folks, the outcasts, those in the hill country of Judea and by the shores of Galilee.
The “rise and fall” of many did not happen until long after his time on earth. He was part of it as his influence stretched forward in time and lives, but we really hope that is the case for all children, that they will make a lasting change, that this world will be a better, different place because of them.
All children are born into a world that will oppose them to some degree. Jesus’ opposition was found in all the places you might expect it. He found opposition in the established leaders who did not like his “new” ideas.
He stirred up opposition whenever he challenged the “status quo.”
He attracted the eyes of the state when his teaching and gathering of crowds made him a perceived threat to established power.
There is nothing in that much different from anyone who dares to take a stand and question “why?” We all hope that our children will take a stand for something, make a difference in this world.
All children tend to expose the inner thoughts of people. They will, at very least, expose the inner thoughts of their own parents as the parents cry out in exasperation! But they will also expose the inner thoughts of siblings, future boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses and eventually their own children. We are born to raise eyebrows and cause ponderings and often to stir up things in the lives of others.
Oh, and the “a sword will pierce your own soul also?” Every parent knows that as well. They learn the disappointment, the heartbreak, the hunger to have your child do well and the utter devastation when things do not go as planned, or as predicted or as hoped for.
When you think about it, Simeon’s words would translate to almost any child, so maybe the point of his blessing is less that it is uniquely given to Jesus and has more to do with his “old eyes.”
For, there is one more thing that old eyes begin to understand that younger eyes do not always understand.
There is a time to entrust things to a new generation and let go in order that the new may emerge.
It is not insignificant that we are told up front that death is looming and the promise given is only that you will see the consolation of Israel… not participate in it.
This too, is something that old eyes have to learn, for sometimes we are so tightly bound by our own expectations. We cling so tightly to how we think things ought to be, how we think they out to play out, that we miss the Lord’s Reign in our midst.
We are too busy working on our own vision of the Kingdom, as we think it should unfold, to see what God might already be up to.
So here is the last truth of “old eyes.” They know they have to shut and trust God to see things through.
The old eyes pass away.
Willie and Mabel are gone
Hy-D and Mary are no more.
Roy and Lucille have passed from life into the promise of the resurrection, as have Dean and Phyllis, but God is not done with the places they hung out at.
God is not done with God’s people.
Things that none of these people with their “old eyes” could imagine have taken place, and will continue to, and that’s really what Old Eyes yearn to see.
They yearn to see not the world as it still is, or as it was, but the world as it opens up for those upon whom God has placed his Spirit.
The “old eyes” once looked upon us and gave blessing and entrusted the mission and ministry to us.
We will one day be the “old eyes” who will entrust the ministry and the mission and the message to the next generation.
What they do with this may not look at all like what we did with it, and may not take the shape that we would have hoped for, expected, or imagined.
But “old eyes” have a dream, and they trust in a God who is at work in this world, even if they cannot see the end of it or be a part of it.
This is the truth of the matter, what Simeon’s old eyes, what Anna’s old eyes see is the future. Not one that they will be a part of, but one that is still in God’s keeping and one that will see the Kingdom one step closer. That’s the promise of Christmas One, and a good promise to remember in a coming New Year