Let’s take a few moments to look at a picture of Simeon taking the baby Jesus into his arms in the temple.
This must have been an amazing event in Simeon’s life, and for Mary and Joseph, who were amazed themselves at what Simeon was saying about their baby. Such a small child and yet with so much before him.
When we hold a baby in our arms the future is completely unknown, this child could be a future Prime Minister, mother, father, research scientist? Who would know? Even when I look at my own children the future is still completely unknown, but Simeon knew the future of the child he held in his arms.
He had seen with his own eyes the salvation that God had sent into the world for all peoples, not just for the children of Israel, but for the Gentiles as well. He was asking God if it was now time for him to be dismissed, to go, in peace.
Yet there were also words of warning for Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and 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 soul too.” The life of this baby would not be without its challenges. Simeon was prophesying a difficult time for both Jesus and Mary, for Jesus it would be his suffering and death at the hands of those people he had been sent to save. For Mary it would be watching the incredible suffering of her son as he gave his life for you and me.
Perhaps only a parent who has lost a child can even begin to comprehend the feeling that Simeon described, a sword piercing your soul. No parent ever wants to go through the pain of losing a child; it’s something we all fear I think, from the time of conception. Not one of us wants to experience that shock, horror, dismay, the sheer emptiness of the death of a loved one, especially one who is our own flesh and blood, given to us by God.
Whether that death is in the first few weeks after conception, at birth, as a child, or in the teenage years or much later, the pain of their loss is earth shattering. Mary knew that pain, Jesus knows that pain and they share it with you. They went through it for an important reason that we still find difficult to comprehend. Because of the suffering and death of Jesus we have hope.
No longer do we need to fear death, because it is in death that we pass to something better. Simeon was now prepared to depart in peace, according to the Word of God. He knew that his salvation had come and the salvation of all people with it. He didn’t fear death, he was now prepared for it.
Early this year I was at the bedside of a dying man, I saw a peace in this man’s eyes that I had never seen before. As he lay there knowing that his time was very near, he looked me in the eyes and said quite simply and quite calmly, “I’m with Jesus.” The image I have in my mind is a reversal of the image of Simeon and Jesus, I see that man in Jesus’ arms, being held closely at a difficult time in his life. That moment for me was peace personified and I think it was for him too. Jesus was there with us, I have no doubt.
Our theme throughout Advent has been “Here with us”. Christ came to be with us, so that we might be saved. Today the sub-theme is, “Here with us, to bring us contentment.” Perhaps it should be “here with us to bring us peace.” I’m not sure we can ever be content to experience death, we will always mourn, we will always go through the various stages of grief and we will all do it in our own way, but we can experience peace. Peace in the knowledge and hope of the resurrection. In knowing that our loved ones are now at peace themselves, in the arms of Jesus, in that place that he went to prepare for them, and knowing that he is still here with us.
He is here with us, present in his sacrament, given to us on the night when he was betrayed, before the sword pierced the soul of his mother, given to us for the forgiveness of sins. When we come and receive his body and blood in the bread and the wine, we hold him in our hands and in a tangible way receive him bodily for the forgiveness of our sins.
Having done so, we regularly sing the words of Simeon as we are dismissed from the Communion table, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, in the presence of all people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
He is not just some intangible God off there in Heaven he is here with us, Immanuel. We hold him bodily just as Simeon did. He came as a humble child, born in a stable, lived a humble and obedient life before being sacrificed for your sake.
He gave his life so that you could live in the peace and knowledge of your salvation.
As we prepare to begin a New Year, I pray that you too can experience the peace that Simeon so clearly proclaimed as he held the baby Jesus in his arms all those years ago.
As you continue to mourn the death of loved ones, as you care for those who are still alive, as you contemplate your own mortality, do so with rejoicing, because Jesus came to prepare the way for you and provided his sacraments so that he could still be here with us, even after his death and resurrection, so that we might live in peace and hope and love and share his message of salvation with everyone.