Presentation of Jesus At The Temple/Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Kids, do you find it hard to wait for things? Waiting for friends to come over. Waiting for school to be done, the clock tick-tick-ticking away. Waiting for our birthday, or Christmas to arrive. Ordering a favorite toy or game and waiting, waiting, waiting for it to arrive. We all have to wait for things, but most of all we all have to wait for this life, which is full of challenges, hurts, brokenness, and sorrow, to come to something. This can’t be all that there is, and we look with hope for the coming time when God will heal and remake all creation, and when we can live in complete joy. That is the hardest thing to wait for, because in the meantime, we know that while there is tremendous goodness and joy in life, there is also terrible evil and sadness too. We adults also have to wait, far too often for far too much, it often feels: for surgeries to be scheduled and healing to occur; for true companionship that can often be difficult to find; for that big break in our careers or other vocations; for retirement perhaps; for a hard season of suffering, or conflict, to come to an end.

Simeon waited his whole life to see the person who would save Israel, and indeed the whole world. He saw much conflict in the world around him, and I have to assume that as a human being he had his own share of suffering and trials, as well as joys and comforts. The promise God had made millenia before was coming to pass, and Simeon, an old man who had waited, waited, waited for so long, could finally be at peace. The lesson for us is simple: We can truly be at peace because we are confident that God fulfills his promises.

This episode does not begin with anything remarkable, but actually quite mundane. Jesus, the infant, is taken by his parents to be offered to the Lord as Mary’s firstborn. This was done according to their ancient laws given by God, at the end of 40 days when Mary’s time of ritual purification was complete. From here, we hear little of Jesus’ life until he erupts onto the scene at the start of his ministry some 30 years later. But it is also a transition from old to new, as Jesus takes on the law of the Old Covenant so that he can fulfill the New. In a seemingly normal act, a divine revelation is occurring. This is fulfilling what was declared by Malachi, that “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple,” and there he was, both God and human, as an infant. God’s promise was fulfilled.

In this shift, this transition from the Old to New Covenants, another transition is happening, one all too familiar to us: Simeon and the passage from life to death. This man had waited for years, having been told by God he would not die without seeing God’s salvation come in the Messiah. Simeon is given this gift, to die in peace, to die in comfort, to die with confidence that God will do what God has said he will do. “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.”

We are all in motion, perpetual, bouncing from one thing to another with frenetic speed. Even in our sleep our minds are at work, our bodies gathering strength so we can bound up and do it all again the next day. We are never truly at rest, in the sense of physics, where we do not change our position in relation to surroundings and time. Yet, what we are called to, what we have been promised, what is awaiting us is the promised Sabbath, true rest. We will one day finally return to the source of our existence, embraced by God as his children in a new creation. But we are also united to God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, now. Despite the frantic nature of our existence, despite the car wrecks and injuries, the relational strife and foul weather, the lost jobs or failed attempts at a project, we can find rest. But it is not in us, not in self-annihilating mantras, not in overcoming every obstacle like a super-being. As St. Augustine once put it in a prayer to God, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

Simeon found peace, the necessary source of true rest, because he looked to the Lord, saw God’s promise fulfilled, and by trusting in that Simeon could not be shaken by anything else; death itself could come, because he knew that God was true. Psalm 84 is thus profoundly true, “O Lord God of hosts, blessed is the one who puts his trust in you,” because such a person can never be shaken, anymore than God’s own promise. And this was not just for Israel, but for the Gentiles as well, and not just a victory over Rome, the freeing of a people, but as Hebrews assures us, Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”

That peace that Simeon had, the peace of knowing the Lord’s salvation, we have seen even more fully. We know of Christ’s full earthly ministry, his death, his resurrection, and we have been told of his ministry interceding for us. We know he will come again. We receive his own life in the Eucharist, and his guidance in the Scriptures. We have all that we need to be at peace. This is not a superficial peace; it is not a peace without hardship, discouragement, sorrow. Peace, true peace comes on the other side of struggle, and is known as peace because one has suffered to get there. This peace of the Lord is a peace that knows struggle, but knows that the struggle ends; it is a peace that knows that the Lord’s salvation of resurrected new life awaits us, and that whatever we face now, we face as people with hope. It knows that despite the storms that rage around us, our hearts are only restless until they find their rest in Christ . What is it that you face now? What is keeping you from peace? What do you fear? What is bringing you anxiety? Turn to Christ, recognize the Lord of your salvation, know that he is good, know that whatever comes his promise of eternal life awaits you, and find in him peace. Amen.

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