In this week’s Gospel reading from Luke, we return again to Jesus’s infancy and His presentation in the Temple. Just last Sunday we met Him as an adult, calling disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and now He is a baby again? At this time of year I encourage us not to fuss too much about chronology, but rather to steep ourselves in the themes of this Epiphany season: light and revelation, hope and promise.
This Sunday’s Gospel is all about revelation and promise. Luke introduces us to Simeon, a “righteous and devout” old (really old!) man who believes that he will not – that he cannot – die until he sees the Messiah. As a faithful scholar of Torah, Simeon looks for the One who will liberate Israel from oppression under Rome. One wonders how long Simeon has been waiting for this day. How many times has he asked, “Will it be today, Lord?” How many times has he made his way into the Temple, hoping expectantly that the time has come?
Christian tradition has dubbed Simeon the Theodochos, or the “God-Receiver.” He takes Jesus from Mary (the Theotokos, or “God-Bearer”) and prepares to do what is “customary under the law.” (I’ll let you decipher that euphemism for yourself...) What a tender, intimate, moment! Imagine the God of the universe, humbled and vulnerable, entrusted to the care of an old man. This is one of those scenes in Scripture that, were it depicted in film, no doubt would be accompanied by triumphant music and radiant light. Simeon was born for a time such as this; this is the pinnacle of his long life.
And so he erupts into a prayer of gratitude and joy, announcing that now he can die in peace. The poetry here is beautiful. In the translation used in our lectionary, Simeon thanks God for “dismissing” him – but the Greek is perhaps more accurately rendered “releasing,” or “setting free from captivity.” As he cradles the child, as he feels the warmth of the infant’s body and drinks in that sweet baby scent, Simeon connects with the holy. And something happens to him: He feels at peace. He feels set free.
As Christians, you and I, too, are invited to be God-Receivers. Each week we are welcomed at Christ’s Table for the bread and the wine, the spiritual food of His body and blood. We stretch out our hands to receive the Sacrament in a tender, intimate moment of encounter with the God of the universe – a God willing to be humbled and made vulnerable in order to connect with us. In my experience, something mysterious, something ineffable, happens when I meet Jesus in Communion. More often than not I feel warmed, “right with the world,” and deeply at peace – if only for a few moments. There is tremendous power in that encounter. Somehow, in ways that I cannot explain fully, I feel free.
How long have you been waiting to be at peace? How long have you been waiting to feel set free? I invite you to come to the Table and receive Jesus for yourself. The time has come.
Your Sister in Christ,