Let me tell you a little bit about Simeon, some things you may not know, some things that might surprise you.
Simeon is often identified as one of the seventy Hebrew scholars who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, what we know as the Septuagent. He surely was aware of Malachi’s prophecy, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” Simeon, as St. Luke tells it, had also been promised that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Simeon has been waiting, anticipating, and preparing a long time for the fulfillment of that prophecy and promise. Not just years or even decades but centuries. Our sacred tradition says that Simeon was more than 270 years old when he received Jesus in his arms. It’s no surprise then that Christian iconography shows Simeon to be old and hunched over, as if the years of waiting weigh heavy upon him. But there’s more. Our tradition also says that Simeon was blind.
How can this be? Two hundred seventy years old? Blind? What could a 270 year old blind man possibly see? None of this makes sense. Blind men don’t see. So, do we deny the tradition and declare it to be untrue, just wrong? Do we discount Simeon’s own words, “My eyes have seen your salvation?”
That’s the tension in this story and it says something about our understanding and experience of God, life, and the world. For most of us the world is limited to the physical, the tangible, and the sensory. We have come to believe that reality and truth are defined by what we know, what makes sense, and what we understand. More often than not that is determined by our five senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Seeing and blindness just don’t go together. That makes no sense. They are opposites. So Simeon either has sight or he is blind. Which is it?
What if it’s both at the same time? What if Simeon is blind and he does see? At some point we have to admit none of this makes sense. That admission is the beginning of learning to see in a new way. It is our opening into a larger world. As long as we try to make sense of this and resolve the tension between seeing and blindness we will miss the beauty, deeper meaning, and invitation of this story. We will live unaware of the presentation that is taking place every moment of our lives.
The tension between Simeon’s seeing and his blindness is not an issue to be resolved, it is our entry into another realm. It is the doorway into the temple of our life and another way of being, another way of seeing, another way of knowing.
Seeing is more than sight. That day in the temple Simeon saw more than what physical eyes could perceive. Physical sight would see Jesus, a forty day old baby. But that’s not what Simeon says he saw. He says, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Which is it? Is it a baby or is it salvation? The answer can only be, “Yes.”
It’s not just “yes” for Simeon. It is also “yes” for you and me. This is not simply an event in history. The presentation of our Lord in the temple is happening all the time. The invisible is seen, the intangible is touched, the unspoken is heard, the uneaten is tasted, and the odorless is fragrant.
There are times in each of our lives when we come to the temple and we catch a glimpse of what Simeon saw. Think about a time when you thought to yourself or maybe even said aloud, “I never want this moment to end.” Recall a day when you were so absorbed with other people or your work that you lost all track of time and it was as if you were living outside time. Remember a day when you thought, “I just can’t do this. It’s too much. I can’t go on,” but somehow you did and you have no idea how.
In those moments you experienced a presence greater than the people who were there. You heard more than the words spoken in conversation. You felt more than what you could touch. You saw more than what was in front of you. You knew there was more going on than the events of that moment.
Regardless of the circumstances you somehow experienced that all was well. Everything was just right, perfect, and complete. Nothing was lacking. Your life was more than you had ever previously known it to be. Those are the moments of presentation. Those are the moments when we see salvation and are now free to go in peace.
This sermon is for the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, and is based on Luke 2:22-40. The collect and readings for this feast may be found here.