When people tell their own stories, we always do so in relationship to models: we can depart from them or model our own on them, but we’re always in relationship. When conservative Christians tell our stories of faith, our models, whether we’ve read the originals or not, tend to follow the patterns of Augustine or of C.S. Lewis. (The latter, of course, largely patterns his own story after the former’s, but that’s just another exhibit that supports my claim.) And the two of those, as anyone who has read them knows, tell their own stories in decidedly Pauline tones. The story is not an unfamiliar one: for intellectual reasons or for want of purpose in life, the young person rejects the faith, coming at a vital point in life to the realization (it need not always involve a miraculous light that knocks one off of one’s steed) that the Christian faith is the true way, and after that dramatic moment of turning, life does not proceed without difficulty but always has a sense of purpose.
Paul’s, of course, is not the only story that the New Testament presents: if we look for stories to which we can relate, there’s Peter’s tale of rash promise, failed promise, and restored promise. There’s Cornelius, the one who sought truth and found his reward when the faith he seeks transforms before him. There are the sons of Zebedee, the masses at Jerusalem, Barnabas, and Apollos. And in this week’s reading, there’s Simeon, the man who spends his whole life waiting for something, something that certainly, in his advanced age, he had an idea of, yet something which surprises him when the Spirit leads him to enter the temple.
Simeon sings the joy of one who has heard the voice of the Spirit for a long time but who has only in the moment discovered the form of the Spirit’s movement in the world: although he has no sense of Cross or Resurrection, Simeon knows that, by some means, this will be the one who brings to fulfillment the grand promises that God made to Abraham in the earliest days of Israel’s story, the one who will teach all the nations the way of the LORD and who will bring those who elevate themselves crashing down. Because the Spirit leads him, he knows what he sees, even if his sight only sees what happens on the far side of Jesus’s dark demise.
Simeon also sees that this child will be a revealer, one who discloses the secrets of people’s hearts. No longer, when the salvation that Simeon sings comes to completion, will the hypocrisy that characterizes power at all levels stand in the world. No longer will those who lord it over others be able to call themselves benefactors without their true intentions coming to the light. No longer will those who use the name of God as a cynical strategy for control be able to keep the light from shining.
When the prophetess Anna begins to tell everyone about the child at the end of this passage, many years and many mysteries lie between Israel and the salvation of the Resurrection, but the word has come. Many folks I’ve talked to have lived the same story: surrounded by the culture of Midwestern or Southern Protestantism, nonetheless they can name a day when God showed up, perhaps not revealing all that lay before them, the crosses and the sorrows and the friends’ deaths that would mark their stories, but certainly knowing that salvation had become present. For those who can remember such a day, just as much as for those who can remember a road to Damascus, the salvation of Jesus the Messiah has come, and in this season of Christmastide, such is great and good news.
May our stories be stories of deliverance, and may our prayers be prayers for the Kingdom.