Have you ever missed something? Have you ever been absent when some event has happened which changes everything, but for some reason you did not know was happening?
Of course, I can remember my mother’s ashen face when (aged 7) I told her (from watching the news) on 22nd November 1963, that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Who was not glued to the television on 20th July 1969, when Armstrong made that small step for man and giant leap for mankind on the moon? Who could forget the scenes in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall fell, or the horror of 9/11 in 2001? Our news media enables us to live these events, as if we were there and to give us a dozen interpretations of what they mean for the future.
But what if we were absent when one of these things happened; out of the range of mobile phones and television transmission? Maybe on some desert island or mountain trek or preoccupied with something else? We would come home to discover that something very significant had happened; that the world had changed for better or worse; but we had missed it…
What if the event which was so world changing seemed to almost every other observer, every news channel as so insignificant that it did not get reported and yet it actually had a significance way beyond anything that I have mentioned?
The baby Jesus being presented at the Temple might have seemed, to most Jews of the first century as no more significant than ‘Baby Christened at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy’; wonderful for the family, but not really world news…..
But Simeon and Anna could see what was going on. Simeon, totally in tune with the Holy Spirit, is moved by Him to go into the temple courts at the precise moment that the young couple are bringing their first son to go through this ritual of presentation, the dedication of the first born in accordance with the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
What would that have felt like for Simeon? That gentle prompting ‘now, go now to the Temple’. I don’t think that the Holy Spirit would have been insistent; so that he could not do anything else and I wouldn’t expect that he would have known why the Holy Spirit prompted him at that moment ‘go to the Temple, now’, but from years of experience of listening to the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit, he knew not to say ‘not now, it’s lunch time….I will go later this afternoon…’ But he went when the Spirit called him to do so.
As a result, he held the Messiah, the Creator of the Universe in his arms….! What could be more amazing than that? Is it any wonder that he composes on the spot the beautiful Nunc Dimittis: his life’s ambition fulfilled, he could honestly say ‘now Lord you can dismiss your servant in peace’.
How sensitive are we to the Holy Spirit’s gentle promptings? You may say ‘not at all’ ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’. We need to practice sensitivity to the Spirit
For example, as we walk in our beautiful countryside, or as we go about our daily routine, are we preoccupied with the stresses of our lives…the next job which needs to be done? Are we perhaps plugged in to our headphones, listening to a course in Italian or to music, separated from the world and from those around us, filling our souls with noise?
Or are we willing to risk asking the Holy Spirit, before we start off, as we are pulling on our wellies, inviting the Holy Spirit to be with us on the walk, saying to him ‘I am open to being your mouthpiece to anyone I encounter today’; asking him to prompt us to speak, as we walk round, to others; not in an insensitive way, but a sensitive way, to start a conversation ‘what a beautiful dog? Whats he called…? To ask about them, to listen to them, all the time, praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit?
As we do this, we will have some incredible conversations and we too will experience the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit and not be absent from an encounter with someone which could change both our lives and theirs and through us might transform the world!
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 2:22–41). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.