john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Simeon moments and Simeon sayings

    Good Shepherd Morning Communion 1/2/2009

    Hebrews 2.14-end, Luke 2.22-40

    I wonder if you agree with me when I say that sometimes, at the most unexpected times and in the most unlikely places, something happens which gives you a hint of heaven, a glimpse of glory? A Simeon moment?

    A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a vicar in Nottingham to make plans for a day's workshop that he's asked me to run this spring, and after he'd left me I decided to walk around his parish for the afternoon, to get to know it a little bit more. His ancient, Norman church is surrounded by railway lines and busy roads, and I finished my walk opposite the church, sitting in a McDonalds on a very busy junction of the Nottingham Ring Road. A bit like sitting in the McDonalds on Queens Drive opposite the Asda, or the one here on the East Lancs Road next to the Showcase cinema.

    The vicar Nigel, had told me earlier on that this McDonalds drive-in had been built to cater for passers-by. 'He's right, by the looks of it', I thought when I sat down to tuck into my food, as the queue seemed to be full of business travellers ordering burgers which the staff would then deliver to them as they sat in their cars outside. But there were other customers too, local people. A couple of carers were sitting in what looked like be their regular seats with a young woman in a wheelchair - they looked like they came here most days - and alongside them came six young men in clean, bright fluorescent bibs bearing the logo Carillion Apprenticeships. Apprentices. Probably from a company fairly nearby.

    Normally in places like this you don't expect strangers in the queue or in the seats to bother with each other. But that day something happened to change that.

    The hint of heaven, the glimpse of glory, the Simeon moment, came to all of us there when another local customer came in, a young mother, holding her very young baby in her arms. One of the assistants behind the servery squealed with delight when she saw this mum and baby come in and - ignoring the strict queuing system - the assistant held out her arms across the counter, and the mum - who I'm guessing was her friend - came to the front and passed the child over to her for a cuddle.

    Everyone in the queue - businessmen, apprentices, carers, other random travellers, were suddenly united in a beautiful moment. This was clearly the first time that that McDonalds assistant had seen her friend's child and she couldn't help share her delight with everyone else there. This seemed like the first time that young mother had taken the child out to show her off to people, and - just by being there, just by exchanging a few smiles - all of us in that McDonalds helped her to celebrate her new-born pride and joy.

    Guided by the Spirit, the old man Simeon went once again to the temple, where he spent so many of his days; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
    'Master, now I, your servant, can go in peace,
    because my eyes have seen the salvation
    which you have prepared before all peoples,
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.'
    The parent passing the baby over to the one who had been eagerly awaiting this child. A Simeon moment.

    Now I wonder if you agree with me when I say that sometimes, from the most unexpected people and in the most unlikely places, something is said which sounds like a flash of insight, a word of real wisdom? A Simeon saying?

    If we have the ears, then we hear these sorts of things all the time. If I've got any insight at all about let's say, how it feels to be in a job where the work is slowing down or drying up and the threat of redundancy looms, I only have that insight through listening to people who are in exactly that position. If I have any wisdom at all about how a person might face the end of their life in trust and hope, I only have that wisdom because of things that people on their deathbed have told me. If I have any knowledge to share about how a couple might get through a difficult time in their relationship, I only have that knowledge because of what other couples have said about what has got them through theirs.

    Our flashes of insight, our words of wisdom, our Simeon sayings, come to us because we have listened to, and reflected on, and learned from the experience of others, connecting them to our own experiences, letting this grow our understanding of where God might be in these things.
    Then Simeon blessed them and said to the child's 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.'
    True wisdom might sound like this. Words of encouragement but also of warning. How true Simeon's words turned out to be. Mary would come to know the joy and wonder of seeing her son transform Israel; but a sword would pierce her soul - the pain of seeing Jesus crucified by those who opposed him.

    The words of those facing redundancy, the words of those facing death, the words of those who have come through hard times in a relationship - these are seldom comfortable words, but if we dare to listen then we can hear the wisdom in them.

    So today we might celebrate the Simeon moments in our lives and we might bring to mind the Simeon sayings which have helped us and guided us over the years.

    The writer of the book of Hebrews says that 'it is clear that [Jesus] did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham...'

    He came to help us, in our everyday lives; and to do that, Hebrews says, '[he became] like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.'

    Because he became like us in every respect he speaks to us in our language, and he reveals himself in ways which we fully comprehend. He speaks to us through people like Simeon, people we know and trust, he gives us insights and understanding through moments in our everyday lives like Simeon moments, the handing over and holding of a baby.

    If we keep our ears open for Simeon sayings, and keep our eyes open for Simeon moments, then all our daily lives can become like a communion, as Jesus the faithful high priest comes to meet us where we are.

    For this, we celebrate and give thanks.


    [1] Nottingham story first blogged here on January 22, 2009.