When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
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.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We were on vacation on the island of Kauai about eight years ago and visited a local church for Sunday worship, as we try to do whenever we travel. We happened upon the yearly visit from the Bishop of Hawaii, so the church was packed and there was a high level of excitement present at the gathering. One of the great things about worshiping God in the Episcopal Church is the familiarity of the liturgy, no matter where you go, but there are still subtle nuances in each individual parish which make it a distinctive experience, and the Bishop’s visit was certainly a factor making this visit even more unique. We were about halfway through the sermon when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear…”Do you know who that is?” and he pointed to a gentleman sitting in the pew in front of ours. Let’s start with this – I have a terrible memory. I also need a lot of scaffolding to keep information safely in my brain and I couldn’t place this guy at all. David tried to give me a few subtle hints, but I was getting nowhere. Then he shared that it was Beau Bridges, the actor and brother of Jeff Bridges. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts (as most of the worshipers were as well) and he passed the peace to us later in the service like he was just another guy and without any hint of his fame and fortune. We chatted with him later and learned this was his home parish, and he welcomed us as parishioners should always welcome any visitors to their church.
But I didn’t recognize him at all. David not only recognized him, but was able to name many of his appearances in movies and on TV. Once I was told who he was and what roles he had, I was able to make the connection in my memory. Without the help of my husband (whose ability to remember and recognize people from his past is LEGENDARY!) I would have never even noticed Beau Bridges. For me, it took someone to make that connection for me – then I was a bit starstruck and distracted the rest of the service, admittedly.
Simeon knew that he had to meet God’s Messiah before dying. He knew to go the temple the day that a little baby named Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to be presented as he was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to be there that day to meet him. I am sure that Mary and Joseph knew that their roles as parents to Jesus were a bit out of the ordinary based on the experiences with the archangel and the whole “born in a manger” thing, but they still may not have understood at that time the significance their little boy would have on them and the world. Simeon didn’t necessarily know that either, but the prayer he speaks following his meeting of a little child in the temple speaks loud and clear that he understood something huge had just happened to him and to the world. That prayer has been so important in the life and development of the Christian church that it is found in our Book of Common Prayer, specifically in the service of Compline found here.
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 all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
His parents seemed to be surprised by this spontaneous prayer from a stranger who recognized the significance of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Simeon hugged Jesus and then told Mary a great foreshadowing of her life as a mother and the powerful impact on the world that Jesus would have. He RECOGNIZED both the greatness of Jesus’ life and the pain that would come to Mary as a result. There were most likely others in the temple that day, but Simeon was the one who knew that this small child would change the world. After Simeon, the elderly lady named Anna had a similar experience. She appears to have spent her nights and days in worship at the temple around the clock, and must have seen folks coming and going all day long. But something was different about Jesus. She wasn’t afraid to go and tell all who came after of the saving grace of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Beau Bridges was lovely and welcoming to us that day in church, but Jesus is so much more to all who turn to him. As we look ahead to more severe winter weather, the picture for today’s entry is that of the flower called the Snowdrop flower. It is a winter flower that appears around February 2nd for the first time, the day some refer to as Candlemas – celebrating the cleansing of Mary following the birth of Jesus when the baby is brought to the temple for the first time. It looks like such a fragile flower but has an incredible design that encourages it to bloom in the darkest and coldest times of winter.
We don’t always feel equipped to face the dark and cold times that challenge us in our daily lives ourselves. But the strength comes from somewhere beyond us and directly from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simeon would have missed out on his lifetime opportunity if he had ignored the will of the Lord. Anna’s deliberate existence in the very presence of the Lord gave her the chance to speak to others about Jesus in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t stayed the course. God gives us strength to face our challenges and provides us all we need if we will just take a moment to recognize it, even if it is hidden right in plain sight.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, and we accept the call to recognize Your Presence in our lives. The gift of your son was life-changing and in an enduring influence on our work in the world. Thank you for always finding ways to reach us and have us see you in the face of others. In your name we pray. AMEN
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus words from the Gospel of John speak about one of great mysteries of the Christian faith. Christianity is monotheistic; we believe in one God. But within our God is the belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – all three in one, making up the Trinity. Yesterday, we celebrated Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost.
That our God is complete only within the Trinity is too complex for us to understand at the deepest levels. The Book of Common Prayer has in the catechism this simple question and answer about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit
Q. What is the Holy Spirit?
A. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.
God the Creator was present from the beginning. As was foretold in the Old Testament (Isaiah especially), God sent his Son to live as one of us and die for our sins – the second piece of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was sent as the one true Advocate after Jesus ascended to heaven for the last time after his death and resurrection (see last week’s blog post here https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-fire-of-gods-love/) This was the final piece of the Trinity revealed to God’s people. One God in Three Persons; the Blessed Trinity.
Now, I am a simple girl that sees the world as pretty black and white. I love the structure that comes with rules and tend to be literal in their interpretation. But let’s face it – literally speaking, the Trinity makes no sense. Is it three Gods? How does God come as a man then rise from the dead as Jesus? The Holy Spirit???? Kind of creepy if you just focus on this formless and shapeless being that does God’s work in the world without the context of understanding that this just isn’t for us to fully understand. But I like to understand my world and so I need a little something to help me.
For me, the Trinity is a system. To compare, we have a nervous system in our body, along with muscular, digestive, skeletal, reproductive, respiratory systems, etc. Any one of those systems cannot make our body work as a stand alone. The muscular system helps us to move our arms, legs, and bodies to move throughout our lives. It is useless without our nervous system to tell which muscles to move and when. There is nothing for the digestive system to do if we don’t have muscles moving to get the food to the stomach. We are an intricate melding of systems to make the one body work. Science has helped us understand these systems and many others in the world, providing structure and order to a complex concept.
I like to think of the Trinity as a system. God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all are necessary for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in the world. God created us and gave us the talents and capabilities to do the things he has designed for each of us. Jesus came to the world to save us from the unfortunate decisions we make and give us a promise of eternal life with God. And the Holy Spirit resides in and around us, guiding us to do the work God the Creator intends us to do. I’m sure it is way more beautiful and simple than this rudimentary explanation, which will be revealed to us when we are granted complete healing upon our death; but for now, this systems thinking of the Trinity helps me wrap my brain around the awesome wonder that is our God.
For me, awakening to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is my focus. I just came back from a Centering Prayer Retreat at St. Mary’s in Sewanee, TN (http://www.stmaryssewanee.org/). I feel closer to the Holy Spirit part of the system through the learning of the technique of Centering Prayer and hope to develop this habit fully in my prayer life. Each of us is called by God to do his Kingdom Work. I pray that I may feel the power and presence of the Holy Spirit every day as I discern how God is planning for me to live out his Word.
God the Creator, thank you for the gift of the Trinity. Your grace and mercy in our creation is awesome and we praise you. Send us out in the world to serve and honor you in all we do and say. We ask all your blessings through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN