Holding on in Hope

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
February 2, 2020 ● The Presentation of Our Lord
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Mthr. Hymes’ sermon on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, “Holding On In Hope.” Gospel Luke 2:22-40.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 2, 2020

No doubt, many have heard miraculous stories about dying people, who appear to delay sure death as they hopefully anticipate the arrival of a loved one. I have witnessed, this phenomenon at bedsides of the dying, and most often in the ER trauma room. When the dying patient hears from the nurse or the chaplain, “Hold on, your mom is on the way;” or “Hold on, your husband is almost here;” “Hold on, your children are coming,” the life within appears to fade less quickly and death seems to slow its march.

While many may describe what I call, “holding on in hope” as a result of an individual’s sheer will, I invite you, as faithful people to consider that “holding on in hope” is a collaborative action of the human individual and the divine Holy Spirit. Our gospel passage today beautifully illustrates what “holding on in hope” looks like through the experience of a man named Simeon, which was witnessed and shared by Jesus’ parents and the widowed prophet in the temple, Anna.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man, faithful to Jewish Law.  He, like any other Jewish person was already “looking forward” to Israel’s deliverance from oppression by God’s promised Messiah.  What distinguished Simeon from others waiting for the Messiah, was that he was assured by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Messiah.  Hold on to hope, Simeon, Christ is coming!  The Holy Spirit acted on him, in him and through him in order that he might be the divinely positioned instrument for proclaiming the identity of the Christ child. What we know about Simeon, in this text, is revealed in light of the clear actions of the Holy Spirit, not by Simeon’s own sheer will.  First, the Holy Spirit acted on Simeon by resting on him. This action of resting on Simeon depicts divinity not just coming near to Simeon, but taking the initiative to intimately be with him.

Second, the Holy Spirit acted in him, revealing that Simeon would not die until he had seen God’s promise manifested. “Hold on, Simeon, the Lord’s Messiah is coming.”  Simeon would have known Malachi’s prophecy, heard in our Old Testament reading today, “Thus says the Lord…the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1).  For Simeon, God’s promise of the Jewish Messiah was not an empty proposition; it was a truth yet to be revealed. His hopeful anticipation of the coming Messiah was never a matter of “if” God would send the Savior, but when. The collaborative work of the Holy Spirit, acting in him, uniquely equipped him with the ability to recognize the embodied consolation of Israel, in the form of an infant, in his presence.

The third way that the Holy Spirit acted through Simeon was by guiding him into the temple.  This holy leading divinely positioned him to witness and testify to God’s truth—that the light which would reveal God’s truth to Gentiles and bring glory to Israel—had come (2:32).  It is in this sacred space of the temple that Simeon encountered the holy family, setting in motion the unfolding of what had been told to him by the Spirit.

Mary and Joseph, also righteous and devout Jews, had come to the temple in Jerusalem to do for their child what was customary under the law of Moses—to present their first-born male child as holy to the Lord (refers to Exodus)[1]. As such, today we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

The operating Jewish law, which brought the holy family to the temple that day, had to do with the blood purification for women after childbirth. Women bearing sons were ceremonially unclean throughout the 40-day blood purification during which time they could neither touch anything holy nor enter the sanctuary.[2] Mary’s purification precedes the presentation of the male infant.

The parents also offered the designated animal sacrifice according to what was stated in the law.[3] The writer of Luke emphasized that Jesus’ parents acted in accordance with Jewish law because Mary and Joseph were, like Simeon, righteous and devout. And their child would be raised under the law.  That adherence to the law of Moses brought the holy family to the temple on that appointed day, to do what they were bound by Jewish law to do, at that divinely-appointed time, in that sacred space of worship and holy meeting.

Simeon took the child into his arms, and as he held him, a song of praise poured forth from him so powerful that it is woven into Christian liturgy. The intimate, epiphanal encounter with the Christ child was the climax of Simeon’s life to which he responded, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised…” The Song of Simeon or the Nunc dimittis (which in Latin means “now you dismiss”) is used in our Evening Prayer and Compline services.[4] In the four verses of this canticle, we are assured two things: The Savior of all people has come and God keeps his promises.

Jesus’ presentation in the temple was a holy collision of Simeon’s expectant hope in waiting for the Messiah and the realized hope manifested in the Christ child. His testimony in that sacred space inspired the prophet Anna, to talk about the child to all seeking the redemption of Jerusalem.[5]

The stories in the Bible narrate the complex layers of the human experience and the human condition of suffering, so much of which was caused by humans oppressing humans.  And because the stories of the Bible are our stories, we stand in solidarity with humankind throughout the ages who lived in hopeful expectation, and held on to hope in times when the world around them held on to, and even created, despair.

The atrocities of today, perpetuated by humans against humans, are not new. Slavery, human trafficking, the slaughter of innocents in our schools, workplaces and houses of worship, poverty and the perpetuation of corrupt, unjust societal structures—in myriad forms, only calls out a few.  If humanity could just look up from the cell phone for even a second, we might notice—even care—that the world around is dark, steeped in despair and broken.

But Simeon’s song of praise reminds us that there is an antidote. He describes God’s preparation of a Light to enlighten the nations and the glory of God’s people Israel for all the world to see. That Light is Jesus Christ. And, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are sent into the world as reflections of Christ to enlighten all about the good news of God in Christ.

As hope bearers and Light bringers, we proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And, we must never stop looking forward to God’s deliverance of this broken world as we await the sure coming of His kingdom.

Let us be ever mindful, that holding on in hope is not a Lone Ranger endeavor.  Nurture your prayer life. Pay attention to your spiritual formation, using the gifts of Scripture and our faith tradition, to make space within your soul to invite the Holy Spirit to come and rest on you. In that divine collaboration the Holy Spirit gives us, like Simeon, eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to recognize the Light of the world in this world.

So, hold on in hope, and do not despair.  Christ, the Light of the world, is coming.

Amen.

 

[1] Exodus 13:2

[2] Leviticus 12

[3] Leviticus 12:8

[4] The Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). BCP, pp. 120, 135.

[5] 2:38