Simeon has waited patiently – a skill that manifests the depth of his faith in God’s promises.
In my own life, I generally find that I trust another because he or she has generally come through on their commitments. I tend to like heroes that win their victories and then come to claim my trust and confidence. To trust God’s promises which don’t always look like victories changes the ante considerably. Here I am called not only to trust MORE, I am called to trust entirely differently. On one level it seems to me that the promise throughout the Old Testament is a promise of the restoration of a generalized human capacity for absolute and perfect intimacy with God (and all of God’s creation). God makes it possible for us to completely trust Him – and to act on that trust by giving our lives to him in confidence, as agents for bringing about His Reign and thus, the promised victory.
We Christians assert that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. Simeon certainly confirms this with his radiant joy – and his clear-eyed appraisal of Jesus’ affect on his world – division between those who will hear and embrace God’s gift of self and those who, in terror, will reject that level of intimacy.
We can almost hear the cranky questions: “Who does God think he is becoming human so that we have to discover Him and trust Him – and choose him as a vulnerable infant rather than as a conquering hero?” It is easier to put our trust in conquering heroes because they have done the work and have earned our trust by proving that they can win. But with God, we don’t know we have won until we are beyond scorekeeping do we?
Unless . . . unless, like Simeon, we are given the capacity to “see” that in the act of waiting for victory that God is already granting us the fruits of victory. Simeon’s faith – like Mary’s faith – is the fruit of Christ’s coming! As we wait for God to completely fulfill the promise of the Kingdom our belief in that fulfillment is the gift of deepened capacity for intimacy with God (which is the Kingdom in our own hearts already alive). The deepened capacity we have already received enables us to act on the intimacy we have experienced which then draws us to greater capacity. A spiritual director I was privileged to be guided by a number of years ago characterized this as a “constantly enlarging heart.” God hollows out our hearts so as to make them capable of “more” love. When I was a child the Baltimore Catechism had the very funny image of the human heart as either a thimble, a tumbler, a bucket or a barrel. Whether I am a thimble or a barrel, God will fill me as full as I am capable of holding. God’s promise, fulfilled in Jesus, doesn’t just fill what we are but hollows us out to be (and receive) so much more.
Simeon practiced his faith by patient waiting and from it he radiated human joy and peace. His waiting was not characterized by frantic anxiety but by joyful hope. But he warns Mary (and the Church she personifies) that human hearts will be divided over the humanity of Jesus. It is too demanding for many of us to trust a God who wants us to labor for the victory as well as share in it.
For those who read this on the fifth day of Christmas, the day the Simeon reading feeds us, the Christmas Feast itself has come and gone. In our world the stores have re-opened for exchanges and sales – the decorations are coming down as we now look to “Super bowl Sunday” for our next culturally established “victory fix.” But if we, like Simeon, have dwelt in the temple of our hearts, have pondered God’s promises, and believed that God will be faithful, we know our thimble-sized hearts are being excavated into greater vessels and our faith becomes action for compassion – already glimpsing the victory.
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