Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, January 13, 2012

Simeon and the One Who Burns through the Haze

Around the nativity of Christ, there are three great prayers -- or "canticles" -- in the Gospel of Luke.

The Canticle of Zechariah is called the Benedictus, and is the song Zechariah sings about his son, John, but also enfolding the coming Messiah (Lk. 1:68 - 79). In the Western Church's daily movement of prayer -- typically called the "Divine Office" or the "Liturgy of the Hours" -- it is prayed in the morning hours each day.

The Magnificat is the song of Mary (Lk. 1:46 - 55). Whereas Zechariah's song is about how God is bringing light to a darkened world through John and Jesus, the Canticle of Mary celebrates what God has done in her and in the world. Only briefly does she mention her own life. Mostly she "sings" about God's generous mercy extended to the world. In the daily prayers of the Church, the Magnificat is prayed each evening.

After the birth of Christ, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple, old Simeon is waiting (Lk. 2:25 - 32). He has waited for years, decades, for the coming of Messiah, and now he immediately recognizes in Jesus the long-awaited Savior. Thus, the Canticle of Simeon, called the "Nunc Dimittis," is about fulfillment, about Jesus, and about an old man who finally sees that God is doing what he has long envisioned. He sings a song of celebration, a song confessing that now he can depart in peace, for his eyes have seen the Salvation of God. The Nunc Dimittis is prayed by the Church at Night Prayer, the final prayers of the day, for it is a prayer of departing in peace, celebrating where we have seen the Christ, and going to our rest -- for the night, or for an eternity -- in the peace of God.

Simeon's prayer goes like this:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

When I read this prayer recently, I was drawn to the phrase, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles." What does that mean?

For one, this child would bring salvation for all people, not just some, not just for a special group. The fact that I can sit here today and claim that I have a birthright with this child, as do you, means that the light of this Savior is for all peoples.

But I've thought most about the phrase, "a light for revelation."

"Revelation" is a revealing, an uncovering. Something is coming out of hiding, brought out of obscurity. This Messiah will be a light that shines on what is hidden, what is not ordinarily seen.

I thought of these ways I might put Simeon's words into my own words:

This child will be the sunlight that burns through the fog or haze that shrouds our lives.

This child will be the luminaria that lights our pathway in the darkness.

He will be the illumination that finally reveals the mystery.

He will be a way to see the unveiling.

He will be a beacon on the path.

He will be the clarity that allows me to step into the fog.

He will be the one who pulls back the curtains so you can finally see what is on the stage.

He will be a light for revealing, for showing, for manifesting, for seeing -- seeing what has been there and been real all along.

The truth of the spiritual journey is that humans live in a fog. We see about six inches in front of our face, and then are convinced that's all there is, that we've seen it all.

In reality, there is so much more, and the so-much-more is there all the time, but because we live in this fog, we don't see it.

In essence, Simeon's prayer says that Jesus is the light that burns through the haze. Jesus is the clarity that allows us to see what is present all the time. Jesus is the Truth that allows us to see the truth of what is really present in every moment, but which we tend not to see.

"You, child, show me what is: The truth of God . . . the truth of me . . . the truth of others . . . the truth of the created world. You show me reality, life as it is, not as I want it to be or wish it to be or hope it could be."

He does not come to show us the truth so we can judge and condemn others, but so we can love them in their greatest gifts and their most profound brokenness.

He does not come to show us the truth of ourselves so we can grovel and lament and wallow in our badness, but so we can see ourselves in both our giftedness and our limitations as deeply loved and always-chosen.

It strikes me that if you don't want to see the truth (of God, your self, others, or the created world), or if you don't want to engage reality as it truly is, then this child is of no use to you. He is no help. Because he is not here to make you more successful or powerful or prosperous or insightful. He is not here to help you get ahead or to get a better job or a nicer house or to have all people speak well of you. He is not here to help make your life "better" under the terms of Western capitalism.

He is here to help you see the Truth, and then to live into it. This child comes to help you live as more completely "you," as more fully human, as more authentically the person God created you to be. This child comes to help you live out your God-planned destiny as someone created as an icon of God.

He comes to reveal me to myself, to disperse the haze and fog so I can see what is real . . . the light that allows me to see, the sunshine that reveals what has been hidden, the illumination that shows what Mystery looks like and reveals the character of the Holy One.

One final word: None of this happens simply by acknowledging it. You don't begin to see what has been hidden just because someone says, "You need to see what is hidden."

Simeon said that Jesus is the light that burns through the haze. So here's how it seems to work: You read the Gospels. You pray everyday -- or at least regularly -- with his words, with his life. You notice what he does, with whom he hangs out, how he carries his life, the inner well of the Spirit that animates him.

In short, you spend time with him. You hang out with him. And as you do that, slowly and over time, the haze begins to burn away. His light reveals you to yourself, and reveals God and others and the world. How you see things begins to change. You begin to see the truth about yourself . . . about others . . . about the world. It's like the fog being burned away by the midday sun.

These things have been there all the time. "Why didn't I see it?"

This child is the light for revelation.

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