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Archive for June, 2013

Not long ago someone offered to “edit me.” In context it obviously meant “edit my writing,” but still it aroused a wild thought about something that would be quite a superpower: the ability to edit a person. I wanted to start with myself. Bad choices from 1997? Erased or amended. Faults? Smoothed over, like yesterday. Almost as quickly as the thought came forth, though, another thought arose and destroyed it, quietly but utterly. Everything on the record will stand; I am content in this, and regret nothing. Not because I’m “real,” or “raw,” or “I gotta be me,” but because the kindness of God moves me to repent and to be satisfied with His mercy. That satisfaction leaves no room for self-editing.

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Monday after Trinity 1

St Luke 2:21-40

My father died when I was six. I remember little from his last days. Most of what I know about those days, I learned from my grandfather (my mom’s dad, who loved my dad as dearly as his own son). He told me much about dad’s deathbed conversation — that he had no thought for himself, but only for his bride and his two young sons. I do not know — I wish I did know — more about whether hope for us prevailed over anxiety for us in his final thoughts, and whether something like a settled peace mingled with the sadness of his last days.

SimeonI mention this because today’s reading is a reading about death — the coincidence of the dawn of new life with one man’s glorious sunset. Simeon died well. He died well, in large part, because he died with no thought for himself, and a proper hope for his people and the world. He died well because he had read, marked, and inwardly digested the Word of God, and the encouragement he received from the Scriptures gave him hope(1), incorrigible hope that sustained him through long years of faithful waiting. When the thing he’d long waited for, “the consolation of Israel,” finally arrived, he departed in peace, according to the decree of the faithful God he loved. He died singing of a salvation not his own, but of

Thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the
glory of thy people Israel.

Simeon had seen Jesus, Israel’s consolation and glory. And as a faithful son of Abraham he knew what the arrival of Israel’s glory meant: light to the Gentiles, salvation going out to all people. The thing that’d been hinted at in Elijah’s mission to the widow of Zarephath, in Elisha’s cleansing of Naaman the Syrian, in Jonah’s mission to Nineveh, in the fool’s hope of a Moabitess who would not be parted from her despairing mother-in-law, was presently coming to fullness. So Simeon sang.

But not everyone loved the thing Simeon loved. Therefore Simeon died with something more than song on his lips; he had also some sharp truth, spoken with piercing deathbed clarity, for Mary:

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

In Jesus, Simeon saw that the promised shoot had sprung from the stump of Jesse(2) — that the true Davidic King had come to a land sick with the reigns of imposters and tyrants like Herod. And Simeon rightly foresaw, when the shoot from Jesse’s stump was yet a holy infant, tender and mild, that His appearing would provoke opposition and cause division.

Whatever peace Jesus, Prince of Peace, was born to bring, it was not, as Dorothy Sayers once said, the peace of amiable indifference(3). The little bundle of joy Simeon saw in the Temple was nothing less momentous than the beginning of Heaven’s decisive invasion of the world. Not everyone would treasure Him like Mary, or hail Him like Simeon. At the Lord’s birth, Simeon had finished his course, and his part was to depart in peace — though not before preparing Mary for the harder part of bearing a mother’s deepest possible grief: seeing her son opposed, rejected, and hanged on a cross.

(1) Romans 15:4

(2) Isaiah 11:1

(3) Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? in Letters to a Diminished Church 55 (Thomas Nelson 2004).

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Text: St Luke 2:1-20

Trinity Season is the time of year when the Church calendar synchronizes with the present and plants us firmly on earth. After running through a six-month cycle of fasts and feasts which call us, by turns, to look backwards, forwards and upwards, we find ourselves ready for six months of attending to here, now.

Not that we forgot here, now during our annual tour of Christ’s blessed life, which ran from the first Sunday in Advent up to the Feast of Pentecost.  We didn’t, for example, pray to the baby Jesus at Christmastide, because the baby Jesus grew up, died on a Roman tree of torture, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

Neither do we now forget, however, that heaven received Jesus as our merciful and faithful high priest only because He was made like us, his brothers and sisters, in every respect. That means He has partaken of flesh and blood – and, at one time, of tender infant flesh. Isaiah prophesied about “the zeal of the LORD” establishing the kingdom of God, setting David’s greater son, the Prince of Peace, on the throne of the kingdom. Here is the zeal: the baby who would sit on David’s throne wasn’t just a messenger from God.  He wasn’t just David’s son, He was David’s Lord: very God Himself, the fullness of deity impressed upon baby flesh so that He could be, in every way, “God with us.”

St Luke tells us that when the baby in the manger had grown up into the fullness of manhood, he once pulled back the curtain of heaven to show what happens there when just one sinner comes to his senses and repents: the angels of God throw a party in celebration.[1] In his Nativity narrative, Luke likewise pulls back the curtain of heaven and reveals the heavenly host belting out a celebratory Gloria! to hail Jesus’s birth. The celebrations are of like kind. For in the manger in Bethlehem the angels saw the zeal of their Lord, going forth to call sinners to repentance.


[1] St Luke 15:10.

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