Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Baby Inspector

Luke 2:25-31 (New Living Translation)

“Now there was a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. He was a righteous man and very devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the savior you have given to all people.”

It seems like things have been non-stop for Nancy and me since the weekend.

On Monday night I attended a community planning meeting. The city has hired a consultant to help us develop a ten year plan for Emporia. I think it’s a great idea. For those of us who live close to the core of the city, the big issue is inner city development, which has been sorely neglected. For the past eight or nine years the city fathers have been concentrating on industrial development. The result has been that manufacturing companies have moved in for a short time, the development has then spread west, the manufacturers leave, people leave the heart of the city, and the slum lords take over the hundred year old homes in the core, turning them into hovels. The sense of those of us who live in the core is that the city needs to find a way, in the form of incentives, to get people buying these old homes so that they can be restored to their original beauty. That, and a move away from the constant treadmill of manufacturers coming and going, with an accompanying move toward attracting businesses more in keeping with the global economy and a younger workforce is what we’d like to see. There’s a lot that can be attractive about life here to a young, professional workforce. There’s a good quality of life. There’s the potential for real community life. There’s the Flint Hills. The key, we believe, lies in developing the core, creating an attractive community, and working out from there. It’s hard to convince the old timers that this type of strategy is viable. Most seem to be stuck back in the nineties, still trying to figure out why we keep losing manufacturing jobs. They blame a lot of it on Mexico and China. We try to tell them that everyone is losing manufacturing jobs, us, Mexico, China, Japan. The fact is, there has been a dramatic shift in the global economy and even here in Emporia we need to come to grips with that fact. Lamenting what’s happened isn’t going to help. My message seems to resonate with younger people here, many who now consider me pretty forward-thinking for an old man. It’s my generation around here that needs to get in tune with what’s going on. Many, it seems, lack vision. Time has ruined them.

Yesterday we took our fourth trip to Kansas City in the past two weeks. We meet our realtor, Susan Brier, and my son Michael at the loft we’re in the process of buying. Susan’s done a great job of working out a good deal for us and Michael, who works for Farmers Insurance, got the information he needs to get us properly insured. Nancy and I took measurements, to ensure that the furniture we’re buying will fit where we think it should. I think all the bases are covered. With all that accomplished, we capped the day off with lunch and an hour or so of wonderful conversation in Lees Summit with Nancy’s cousin, Bill Berrier, and his wife Barbara. All in all, it was a good day.

The really big event of the week, the one that even trumped the loft business, was our Sunday visit to Kansas City to honor her Uncle Arthur’s 102nd birthday. It was a grand event. In all, forty-four people attended, including family, friends, and a John Knox groupie or two, who have come to adore Arthur. The center of it all, of course, was Arthur. Unlike Thanksgiving, when his hearing aid battery went dead, he could hear, and was thus able to hold court. It was good to hear the old stories once more, telling us that Arthur’s memory is just as sharp today as it was when he first started telling them. The recounting is the same every time we hear them, which also tells me that his recollection is accurate, trustworthy. His son, Bill, has them numbered. There’s number one, number thirty-five, number forty-two, and so forth. Those of us who know Arthur can almost recite them along with him.I think we love hearing them no matter how often they’re repeated.

What was also especially rewarding for me was to once more see the glow on Arthur’s face. Time has weathered it, but it still maintains the glow of life. I was, as I always am, amazed by it. A hundred and two years of experience have given Arthur a special look. It’s as though the past, present, and hopes for the future are all held securely there. I’ve no doubt that there are some painful memories as Arthur looks back, but you’d never know it by the peace that’s mirrored on his face. I think that time has shown Arthur that the good in life will, in time, win out over the bad.

Seeing Arthur brought to mind one of my favorite characters of the Christmas season. While I always love seeing Scrooge’s redemption, reading Mary’s Magnificat, seeing little children in bathrobes or adorned with angel wings sitting in front of manger scenes, hearing Handel’s Messiah, crying when George Bailey realizes that life really is wonderful, or singing the familiar Christmas carols, Simeon, the old prophet who spent a good part of his life hoping to see the Messiah, has, over the past five years, found a special place in my heart.

His story is recorded by Luke, the gentile physician, in the second chapter of his gospel. I’ve not read a lot of scholarly work on who Simeon was. In fact, I think there’s little of it. He’s one of those characters who, at first blush, passes our way and is gone in a flash. The prophetic words to Mary are what we remember most. There’s little we know about this man. That’s left to human imagination.

I suppose that some with a more scholarly bent would be able to fault me for indulging my imagination too much about this man, but I’m going to indulge myself anyway. I’ll leave it to you, the reader, and the men in frocked coats to critique.

I suspect he was an old man, probably not as old as Nancy’s uncle Arthur, but old nonetheless. I see him as a man who had experienced the same types of joys and pains Arthur has over the years. I’ve no doubt that there were, for Simeon, periods when people disappointed him terribly. There were hopes he held that were at times held very thinly. The problems of his day had to seem every bit as overwhelming to him as the same problems seem to us today. The will to power was no less evident then than it is now. Evil was the same persistent reality then that it is today. With all of this confronting him, it must have seemed at times that the dreams he had would never be fulfilled.

This had to have been especially true about his Messianic hope. Here was a man who had lived a good part of his life during the inter-testamental period, the time between Malachi and the birth of Jesus. History was on the march. Alexander the Great had come and gone. The Romans had become, and were to be for hundreds of years, the dominant political and military power in the world. In the land of the Bible, the Herods were Rome’s compliant puppets. With all of that confronting him, Simeon’s hope of a coming Messiah must have seemed, at times, dim.

But, that hope was never extinguished. He believed that he would see the Messiah before he died. In fact, he was convinced that God Himself had told him that. I can imagine what things must have looked like as he fulfilled his duties in the temple. He would see parents bringing children to the temple for dedication, hold them in his harms, and ask the question, “Is this child the consolation you’ve promised us, Lord?” Each time he would perform his duties and dedicate the child, only to somehow see that this was not the child of promise. The scholars and critics of his day must have thought him to be a fool, a Don Quixote of sorts, who was chasing a windmill of unrequited hope. He must have made for interesting conversation. “Poor old fool, he’s more than a bit addled.” “Makes you pity him to watch him chasing his dream or whatever he calls it.” I think Simeon must have known what the rumor mills of his day were producing and what was going on in the back channels. But, he persisted in his hope. He kept coming to the temple and he kept dedicating little ones, looking for something special to be revealed to him.

Simeon was what I’ve come to see as a baby inspector, first class. His spiritual antenna was always raised when children were around. I’ve often wondered what he was looking for. Was he looking for an aura of some sort to be manifested like a halo around the promised hope’s face? Would the message he was to hear be audible? How would he know that promise was indeed fulfilled in human form? How could he explain all of this to his peers? To the question of how he could possibly know the dreamed of “consolation” had come on the scene, all he could say in response was “I’ll know when I see it. I’ll know when I hold it. I’ll just…..know.”

Stubbornness is most often thought of as a fault. In Simeon’s case it turned out to be a virtue. God, it seems, was every bit as stubborn as this old man. The promise, made centuries before, was kept and the old man’s dream realized. Mary and Joseph, on that wonderful, fateful day, brought their child, Jesus, to Simeon at the temple for dedication. I don’t know when in the process Simeon’s revelation was realized, or how. It might have been when he first cradled Jesus in his arms. It may have come when he began to recite the dedication litany. I don’t know exactly what it was he saw that triggered his response. Was it something he saw in the child’s eyes? Was it a bolt from the blue? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that Simeon knew that he knew. His beautiful response tells me so. “I can die now, Lord. I’ve seen him. Everything you’ve promised me has come true. I’m seeing and holding the hope and consolation of Israel. I can now go in peace.”

I’m sure Simeon saw some of the same things we all see in the faces of little children – the innocence, the unfettered joy, the insatiable appetite for learning, the expectation of love. I see it every year, as I will later today, in the faces of little children at my local Lion’s Club Head Start Christmas party. But there was so much more that Simeon saw in Jesus, more than most of us could ever dare imagine if we were living out the same circumstances. A lesser man, someone like me, would probably have given up. But, Simeon didn’t, and he saw redemption, glory, sight, and light all unfold before him in those glorious moments. And there, mixed with this wonderful promise, he also saw the pain and agony to come, a mother’s soul pierced. He saw it all! It was, I believe, the reward for his stubborn belief that God had done as He’d promised he would. Every time I read the account and give thought to it, I’m amazed.

I think that only an old man like Simeon could have been the recipient of such a promise. His was not a young man’s role. It’s not that Jesus’ birth excluded the young, it just that only an older, wiser man could have seen all that needed to be seen. Simeon was, I believe, a man much like Nancy’s uncle Arthur, a man who had seen all that life had to offer, the bad the good, the noble and the evil, and had come through it all still holding on to the hope that God’s best would be fulfilled in spite of all the signs in the world to the contrary. I think that Simeon must have seen some of the same signs in the child Jesus that were mirrored on his own face, in the same way I was able to see the brightness of life written on Arthur’s face a few days ago. It was insight only an old man, knowing the past, living in the tempered hope of the present, and projecting it all into the future, could have. That, coupled with years of maturing, compiled wisdom, and experience, gave Simeon a unique window on the world.
Holy Writ declares that Jesus came to be in our midst “in the fullness of time.” The term is rich with meaning, and, for me, much of that richness stems from the hopes and dreams of an old man rewarded. Simeon’s words are as much ours as they were his when he spoke over two thousand years ago. You’ll rarely find them on Christmas cards, and our culture knows little of them. But, in the high history of heaven they are recorded and heaven’s citizens know them well. There, I believe, they have an honored place. We would do well to consider and honor them too.

1 comment:

Delmonti said...

wow..... very long posts there!