One of the most overwhelming moments of my life was when I became a parent. When I held my newborn son for the first time, I was on the verge of losing all composure. His little eyes were wide open and staring at mine, and the fact that he was there, alive and healthy...I can't put it into words. There were a lot of factors that went into the emotions I felt that morning when he was born. The delivery had been hard on both my wife and the baby, so holding him knowing that they were both safe and sound was accompanied by a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude. The tension in our waiting for his arrival started before that day, though. Though he was born in Texas, my wife and I had lived in Guatemala for the majority of her pregnancy, and much of that time hadn't gone smoothly. We lived in a foreign country, and she had been on bed rest for a significant portion of the time (and I didn't know how to cook). There were a lot of days when we were anxious about the survival of our baby.
Even before that, the day that we found out my wife was expecting was an adventure. She was in a Guatemalan emergency room with pneumonia. Just as the staff was getting ready to run some x-rays on her, her doctor happened to be on duty and said, "let’s make sure we can do this." They took some blood, ran the test, and a few minutes later, he answered the phone, then hung it up and said, "Congratulations!" It was an interesting and unexpected beginning to what would be a difficult nine months.
To go back even further: my wife and I were married for six years before she 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 that pregnancy's result wasn't the baby boy I held in Texas. We never got to hold that baby––the pregnancy ended early in a miscarriage. Our hopes that had built over the years, and which went through the roof when she was expecting, came crashing down with one visit to her doctor when there suddenly was no heartbeat. We were crushed, and our waiting continued.
All of that and more went into the rush of emotions I felt when I held my baby boy that first time. We had waited, and waited painfully for his arrival. The feeling of the expression that was on my face on that day when he finally came is permanently etched into my memory, and it was full of a lot of waiting, a lot of pain, a lot of hope, and an immense amount of joy.
Since I can still feel the look that was on my face that day, it makes me wonder what Simeon's face looked like when the moment came for which he had spent a lifetime in attentive waiting on God:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)
What was the look on his face that day? What was the look when "the Spirit guided him into the temple"? What was his expression when he saw the peasant couple from Nazareth? What would anyone have thought who saw him as he approached the young family and held out his arms? What was the look on his face when he held that baby for whom he––and in fact all of Israel, and all of the world––had been waiting so long?
Obviously, we don’t have a picture of the old man’s face on that day, but we do have his words. They're rich words, and they tell us a lot about Simeon, a lot about that baby boy that he held in his arms as he said them, and a lot about how you and I would be wise to live in light of both of their lives.
As we mentioned yesterday, Simeon's waiting was characterized by soaking his mind in the scriptures, and in this brief prayer we see the part of the scripture on which he had focused his attention. Again, it's Isaiah 40-55, the "book of comfort," which not only communicates God's compassion on Israel, but it looks forward to the one through whom God's deliverance and comfort would come to his people. It speaks of God's salvation being made evident and visible to all the nations of the world, "a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness."
So, when I wonder about the look that would have been on Simeon's face as he rejoiced at the fact that he was holding the newborn Jesus in his arms, I again have to take into account how deeply Simeon had soaked the scripture's message into his soul. And then, 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...
...the one who would fulfill Israel's longing for the a true heir to David's throne, who would deliver Israel from their oppressors once and for all...
...the one who would fulfill Israel's longing for the Temple, the place where heaven and earth overlapped and interlocked (and even if Simeon couldn't foresee it, Jesus would somehow do so by being that heaven-and-earth-place himself)...
...the one who would satisfy Israel's longing for the Torah, as the true King had to do, by fulfilling the Torah himself and enabling the people to do so as well...
...the one who would usher in the fulfillment of Israel's longing for new creation, as the King who would finally have the wisdom to bring about the time when everything would be made new and made right...
In thinking about what expression would have been on Simeon’s face, I’ve got to factor in this bubbling up and pouring out of his knowledge of these scriptures, 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 in wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder...it was all reaching its climax, it was all coming to pass, it was all going to happen––in that infant baby peasant boy.
Simeon had waited, and waited painfully for that boy's arrival. Finally the day came, and he held the Messiah in his arms. The expression on his face when he did so surely showed a lot of waiting, a lot of pain, a lot of hope, and an immense amount of joy.
If Simeon hadn't waited like he did, he wouldn't have had the overwhelming joy of that day with the infant King in his arms. If we don't wait through Advent, the joy of this day won't be as thorough. But now, we have waited, and he has come, and we should therefore celebrate as if we are people whose every deep longing has been met in a surprising, shocking, instant. Because that is indeed what happened in Bethlehem, what happens every day that you and I abide in him now, and what will happen when he comes again.
Alleluia! To us a child is born: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia!
See—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them... (Revelation 21:3)
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Readings for Christmas Eve*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary.