GOOD NEWS & CONVERSATIONS With Canon Francis Omondi
Simeon finds Jesus (Luke 2:29-38)
25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
Anna’s response to Jesus
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
O God, Who by the leading of a star manifested your son to the peoples of the earth: lead us, who know you now by faith, to your glory face to face: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
We will discuss a pertinent question of time, Where and how to find the Saviour? We draw lessons from the Gospel account of St. Luke 2:25-38, where we learn how Simeon finds Jesus.
Simeon, a devout and just man in Jerusalem, waited with fellow Jews for years, for the saviour to console of Israel. They embodied this consolation, the prophets of old spoke about, in the Messiah. Since the prophets’ word always came true, they waited.
Scholars mention Simeon was among those embroiled in the argument regarding the accuracy of the Isaiah 7:14 text: Whereas the Hebrew Bible reads, “…a young woman shall bear a son…”, the Greek translation, Septuagint read, “… a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” Simeon sided with the Septuagint translation, But beyond this, the Holy Spirit impressed on him, he would not die before the fulfilment of this prophesy. He grew old and old, but kept waiting for the saviour to come.
On this day, a day like any other, the Holy Spirit nudged him to dash to the temple. For It was the day the prophets spoke about. Yet the temple was its usual self. Nothing unusual. Beggars lined up the walls from gate to gate, seeking alms. The poor and sick wanting for divine intervention. People milling in and out of the temple. Sinners in penitence offering sacrifices. The impure being cleansed. And Couples presenting sons. Also there were Merchants trading wares in the temple yard, while Gentiles observing from a distance. A day like any other. but Busy for priests.
This was also the day Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus and perform their purification rites. Two turtle doves were sufficient for the law and affordable for them. With their son presented and Mary purified, they got ready, for the long journey back. The context forced them to be mum about their special child. At any rate, they had fulfilled righteousness. God wanted it that way. So, they sneaked, I mean slipped, out into obscurity unannounced and unnoticed to raise Jesus in strict observance of the Law, though he transcended the Law.
But, while making out, down on the steps in the temple courts, old Simeon stopped them. Simeon begged to hold their baby. No sooner had he taken baby Jesus in his arms, than he belted the now sacred Nunc Dimittis:
29 “ Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
In this praise, Simeon calls the child Jesus “your salvation” (v.30). i. e. God’s salvation. It was A coincident of sorts, since Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua, means, “salvation.” Simeon says, “my eyes have seen your salvation….” for he saw the child named “Salvation”. That was the moment Anna joined in, and praised God as well. She invited the messiah waiting people scattered in the temple crowds to join in and rejoice. These waiting people also looked forward to the comfort of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be freed from the Roman oppression, they believed. The craving for the messiah caused angst in the people, demonstrated in the frequent revolts, which the Roman terror sifted through, eliminating all claimants.
Meanwhile, the Messiah of Israel, whom they had waited for, was being celebrated at a side event within the temple precincts. It was an insignificant function, not in the temple order of events, and conducted by out-layers. In such obscurity, “the Consolation of Israel”, appears. He is appearing when times were hard in Jerusalem. And it must have been the hardest of times to be a Jew. But for Simeon , Anna and the waiting people, it was an epiphany moment. It is epiphany, when you suddenly feel that you understand, or become conscious of something very important to you. They had discovered their saviour.
The good news Luke is telling us that God returns in disguise as an infant. Fulfilling the word of the prophet Malachi, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
Addressing Mary, Simeon projected the kind ministry of the saviour would have. He said this child will lead to the fall and rise of many in Israel. The fall because his ministry will stumble many. He will bring down those who thought were up. And How people respond to him and his message will determine their destiny. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries received his message, but the religious community could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus can be God’s Messiah. For them, Jesus became “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Luke 20:17-18).
Jesus will disdain the oppressive human structures, whether religious, political or cultural. Structures that keep people down and excluded. The rise because, he will bring in, those relegated to the margins of the society. For he will without limit include those locked out. He wields the authority to invite whoever he calls.
And Because of Jesus’ unorthodox approach, Simeon said, many will speak against him. Jesus’ down-up, and out-center approach upset the established structures. Even though Jesus is God’s sign to his people, they will reject him. He will be “The stone the builders rejected …” Because he will expose the hidden agenda of world’s cartels, and lay bare their guise of religion. Best of all, Jesus will un-earthen human limitation of who God is …and what we have said about him, that he isn’t. Those who stumble at Jesus, who reject him and oppose his message, will be exposed. For Jesus as the messiah will judge the world “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).
Remarkably, Simeon sees Jesus’ salvation as extending to all people, including the Gentiles. This is the same message the angel spoke to the shepherds on Christmas night: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (LK. 2:10). The concept of the Messiah and Israel being “a light for the Gentiles” was first developed by the Prophet Isaiah: “ I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” ( Isaiah 49:6)
This has now found fulfilment in this child Simeon holds…
In his statement, Simeon is setting the stage for the Magi’s visit. Which occurs soon after this event in the Temple. For the Gentiles, though without Scriptures to guide, used horoscope and their stars reading skills to know about the new King, to locate where this king is ….and to believe that this is their King as well. This is what, we have in the Church tradition, we have called, the epiphany of the Gentiles. That is why this week we celebrate the Christian holiday commemorating the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi.
Israel could not cage Jesus, the Gentiles made claim to the child king born to the Jews. And the Magi found something of theirs in him and something of him in them. For He was their king as well.
I concur with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, who in his book, How God Became King, underscores: the point of the gospels is not to proclaim Jesus is divine, as if he were some Greek god in human skin. He writes, “….in the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth, the God of Israel has become king of the universe.” (:38) Wright further ponders, “Suppose this isn’t a story about a man going about ‘proving that he’s God,’ but about God coming back in person to rescue his people?” (:93) “
The gospels offer us not so much a different kind of human, but a different kind of God: – a God who, having made humans in his own image, will most naturally express himself in and as, that image-bearing creature. A God who, having made Israel to share and bear the pain and horror of the world, will most naturally express himself, in and as, that pain-bearing, horror-facing creature.” (:104) Wright concludes: Through Jesus God is doing what the Bible says God is always doing: judging, forgiving, healing, and transforming those God loves into a people who can recognize God, not Caesar, is King. This God, and King is among us human. Emanuel.
The Christians’ central affirmation is that God became human. Not a generalized humanity — he became human under particular conditions of time and space. Thus affirming all cultural traditions. “Cultural diversity was built into the Christian faith with that first monumental decision by the Council in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, “Argues Prof. Andrew Walls, “ which declared that the new Gentile Christians didn’t have to enter Jewish religious culture.” They didn’t have to receive circumcision and keep the law.
This decision had enormous implication: For “up to that moment there was only one Christian lifestyle” and everybody knew it. Observes Walls, the Lord himself had led the life of an observant Jew. The apostles continued that tradition. This was not to be with the new church. The early church made the extraordinary decision not to continue the tribal model of the faith. Converts had to figure out what a Christian lifestyle looked like. They, guided by the Holy Spirit, had to develop the way of being Christian.
If the church had made the opposite decision, we would not have needed much of the material in the Epistles. Walls explain this: “St. Paul had to discuss with the Corinthians what to do “ if a pagan friend invites you to dinner and you’re not sure whether they had offered the meat in sacrifice the day before.” Such was not the apostles’ problem. They did not need to be eating with pagans. For observant Jews don’t table with pagans.
We also affirm that Christ is formed in people, following Paul’s words that he is in travail “until Christ be formed in you.” Because, when people come to Christ, Christ transforms their lives taking a new social form. In seeking the saviour, we need to look beyond the feast of Epiphany celebrations, or the Clergy or church program. We may not find the saviour in ordinary Christians. Waiting hearts will find Jesus in simple lives and on the edge of society.
The Times magazine of December 27, 2008 ran a story by the famous British journalist Matthew Parris. It is an irony that an atheist, Matthew, confessed his belief that Africa needed God. “Missionaries, not aid money,” he said, “ would solve Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset,” Matthew was in Malawi after 45 years, to see the work of Pump Aid, an NGO helping rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep the village wells sealed and clean. The Times Christmas Appeal had included this small British charity working Malawi. which Mr. Parris conceded inspired him, renewing his flagging faith in development charities:
“But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too,” he said “one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.”
He discerned the unique contribution of Christian evangelism as distinct from secular NGOs, governmental projects, and international aid efforts. Matthew observed: “In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” Until this visit, he applauded the practical work of mission churches in Africa as humanitarian… and that Faith supported the missionary, but he now acknowledges “…that salvation is part of the package,”
The fact he notes that “Faith does more than support the missionary; but it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which He could not help observing. This time in Malawi it was not the same. Matthew narrates:
I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular, and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service. It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.
But Parris warns: “Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. We must supplant an entire belief system.” He Concludes, “And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”
Parris sees the saviour in the lives of the Christian aid workers. He sees the kingdom of God in the transforming work of the missionaries. Though, like Jesus, the Christian Work is spoken against, the evidence stands out.
So, where will our epiphany happen?
It is the Holy Spirit who revealed the saviour to Simeon, and to praying and fasting Anna, and the waiting faithful Jews on the margin of their society. He too, will reveal him to us. Our epiphany will occur away from the center, out on the edges. Paul showed that when Christ is formed in humankind, others will find the saviour in our lives. Our epiphany will occur in ordinary lives of those who live up to the injunction of our saviour. If we seek the manifestation of the saviour today… we must seek him among the poor.
Jesus lives among the poor. He is with those who suffer hunger because they have not been at work. Jesus is with the sick who have no healthcare. He is with those violently oppressed and made poor by corrupt state policies. These poor are victims of direct and indirect state brutality. The devastating impact of COVID-19 has exposed the façade, and we can’t hide our violence on the poor. We have an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, as we have often shown in times of crisis.
While they are waiting for Jesus to meet their needs, Jesus among them is waiting for us to act in his name. Helping the invisible poor will bring us face to face with the saviour.
In the name of the father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Canon Francis Omondi is a priest in the All Saints Cathedral Diocese Nairobi. He is an Adjunct lecture at St. Paul’s University, Limuru.