On the face of it, nothing really interesting is happening in the story which we’ve just heard. A poor young couple, the girl probably no more than 14 years old, have come to the Temple to carry out the proper requirements of their religion; requirements which followed on after a first-born baby boy.
The little family meet, in turn, an old man and then an old woman. Like the young couple and the baby, the old people seem shabby, poor and unimportant. The only interesting thing about them is that they’re saying some weird things.
“Thank you, Lord” says the old man, “Now I can die in peace, because I’ve seen with my own eyes the baby through whom you will bring the whole world to know you. A baby Jewish boy who will show how wonderful you are, to both Jews and foreigners”.
And then the old lady shuffles up and takes over. She starts thanking God for the child whom, she says will redeem Jerusalem.
What on earth does that mean?
The gospel writers often tell us that God in Jesus was hidden and yet always there to be seen with the eyes of faith.
Perhaps when we read or listen to those stories of the great moments of God’s appearance in Jesus we wish that we could’ve been there, because then it would have been so much easier to have faith. And yet what did Simeon and Anna actually see ?
They saw the saviour of the world indeed; but they saw him through the eyes of faith. They saw him present in the life of a tiny baby.
It’s possible to look at the great moments of God’s revelation in Jesus without seeing anything out of the ordinary. Some people saw Christ in the stable at Bethlehem; others saw an ordinary little boy, born to a poor young Jewish girl. Some people saw a failed and sad Jewish religious troublemaker on that Roman cross. Others saw the Son of God.
And so, we shouldn’t expect special insights to come to us in ways which don’t require faith. Sometimes we need to remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “You are a God who hides himself.”
If we think about these things; if we try to see how men and women in those bible stories spoke of the ways in which they saw God present in the events of their lives, we’ll begin to understand that those events were special for them, but may not have been special for the person standing right next to them. We’ll begin to see that some people, through eyes of faith, saw God in Jesus. But that many people saw Jesus in just the same way that most people see him today.
We need to let God work in us quietly, giving us the eyes and ears of faith which will allow us to see him more and more in ordinary things. We need to take time to ask him to show us Jesus in a loved one. In a tiny baby perhaps. Or maybe in an old person dying with cancer, alone in the side room of a hospital ward.
You see, I think we’re more likely to find Jesus in this kind of situation than when we try to pin him down through church services full of incense and holy water.
Perhaps we tend to forget that Jesus died and his body was broken not to show us how to celebrate a Solemn Mass in a ritually correct way, but in order that through breaking bread at the Eucharist we can share his life with each other.
And maybe when we grasp this truth we shall be enabled to say with Simeon: “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”