I can literally still feel the look on my face from these two moments, even though each of them were years ago:
The top picture is of the first time I held our son, our firstborn. The bottom picture is of the first time I held our daughter. I can still feel the smile on my face holding her for the first time. Her birth was a real celebration for us. Everything went pretty smoothly with her, and we were ready for her. We had three years of practice at parenthood under our belts, a bedroom in our house ready for her to live in, and it was all smiles when she came.
Holding my son for the first time was no less joyous, but it was very different, and the look on my face with him was less about big smiles and more about trying not to completely lose it. Things didn’t go as smoothly with him, and so the fact that he was there, alive, healthy... I can’t put it into words.
And there were other factors that went into the expression on my face at that moment. We weren’t nearly as ready for him, having just moved back to the U.S. when my wife was eight months pregnant. When he came, we didn't yet have our own place to live, or even clothes that would fit a newborn.
The emotions behind my facial expression when I held him that first time went back farther than that. Before moving back from Guatemala, my wife spent more than a month on bed rest during her pregnancy, and there were times we doubted whether we would ever see him. Back farther: we found out she was expecting when she was in an ER with pneumonia, so he had a rough start from the beginning.
And back even farther: We had been married for six years before my wife became pregnant. We waited a long time, and we were more excited than we ever had been before when we found out she was expecting. But neither of us ever held that baby as the pregnancy ended early in a miscarriage, and our hopes that had built over the years and went through the roof when she was expecting came crashing down with one visit to her doctor when all of the sudden there was no heartbeat. We were crushed, and the waiting continued.
All of that and more went into the look on my face when I held my son for the first time. I had waited- painfully waited- for that boy... until finally the day came, and I held him in my arms. The expression on my face when I did so was full of a lot of waiting, a lot of hope, and a lot of joy.
As I look back to those moments when I first held my kids, and how I can still feel the expressions that were on my face with each of them, I've wondered what Simeon's face looked like when he held in his arms the baby boy of a peasant couple from Nazareth. The eyes that stared at that baby boy had seen plenty of suffering during Simeon's long lifetime. Simeon is described as "waiting for the consolation of Israel," and he had waited through a lot. His lifetime in Jerusalem likely included Israel's suffering under the brutal rules of the Hasmoneans, then the Romans, then through them, Herod.
And back even farther: Simeon's people had been desperate for God to intervene and make things right ever since they were carried off to Babylon as captives around 600 years before the day that Simeon held that baby boy in his arms. We don't know a lot about Simeon, but from the way that Luke tells his story, we can tell that he soaked in the writings of the book of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah from around the time of that exile. The few words that we have recorded from Simeon drip with Isaiah 40-55's prophecies which spoke of God’s return to Israel, and Israel’s return to God. They told of the suffering servant who would take God’s people’s punishment upon himself and bring about their healing. They spoke of God’s promise coming to fulfillment of blessing all the nations of the world through Israel.
So when I wonder what the expression on Simeon’s face was at that moment, I think about how deeply Simeon had soaked Isaiah's message into his soul, and then added his own lifetime of waiting on to the centuries of waiting that had preceded him. At that moment, when he saw that baby- the baby who by some means God had told him was to be the King of Israel, the King of the world, his knowledge of those Scriptures bubbled up and poured out, combined with his faith that they would be fulfilled, and his joy that right there- in that baby whom he held and at whom he surely stared... it was all reaching its climax, it was all coming to pass, it was all going to happen. In that peasant baby boy.
Simeon had waited- painfully waited- for that boy... until finally the day came, and he held the long-expected Messiah in his arms. The expression on his face when he did so surely showed a lot of waiting, a lot of hope, and a lot of joy, as well as a lot of pain, since the Isaiah prophecies he knew so well also spoke of the suffering that surely awaited the child.
All of that has helped me to understand more of why this prayer of Simeon, which he spoke when he held the infant Jesus in his arms, is included every day in the prayers that I am reading throughout this year when I pray with other people's words:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised.
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for the world to see:
a Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
I want to live like Simeon. I want to wait on God, and wait on God, and wait on God, and soak in the Scriptures, and listen, and I want to do so for the entirety of the rest of my life until I too can go in peace just as God had promised Simeon.
(Read Simeon's story in Luke 2:22-35.)
Something I've prayed this week:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(A Prayer for the First Sunday after Christmas Day from The Book of Common Prayer)
[This is 12th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]