Monday, February 02, 2009

Candlemas thoughts


On February 2 I find myself thinking about the elderly in our communities, and particularly those in our congregations. Simeon and Anna are the root of these contemplations: on our Lord's presentation in the temple, forty days after his birth, they are overcome with joy at the sight of their long-awaited Savior. Frail voice is loosed and prophecy is sung! The aged Simeon bounces the newborn baby in his arms. How blessed the meeting between those near the end of their earthly journey and Him who will now open life beyond the grave.

The grave may be near to anyone at anytime, but I imagine the topic is more immediate to the elderly. Any visit to the doctor's office could bring worrisome news. Any family gathering may be their last. Any simple fall could break a hip and rob them of mobility. The rigors of old age surely cause the aged to think on death, almost as if they wait for it. Do younger people wait for death the same way? I know I certainly don't. For what do I wait? For what are any of us waiting?

Yet Simeon and Anna do not appear to be waiting for death as much as they await hope. To be sure, Simeon sings, "Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace," but it is clear that his life has been more focused on the arrival of the Messiah, the light to the Gentiles, the salvation of Israel. He spends day and night in the temple with the promise he can wait on Christ and have that awaiting consummated. Many others would have probably labelled Simeon dimented or delusional (as we often do with our elderly). But, as it turns out, he is waiting on the one thing that will not disappoint. That for which he waits causes his whole life to point toward hope, and that hope eventually finds itself cradled in his arms.

February 2nd is not a day we usually think of the elderly anymore, though Candlemas, thanks to Anna and Simeon, was traditionally the time for awareness of our aged. Now we think of groundhogs. We fantasize about the groundhog and his shadow, waiting all winter in darkness to see that sign which would indicate the presence of constant sun. Maybe, however, there is a connection: how might we live in a way that shows, in the midst of all the things we typically await, our salvation has been accomplished, that an eternal Son does indeed shine? How can we live in a way that shows we have crawled out of our self-dug holes of despair and beheld the promise of the ages? Maybe our modern-day Simeons and Annas can help us out. So often the New Testament uses children as an example of faith, and for good reason. We need to remember the importance of childlike trust in the life of discipleship. Yet maybe we can also see wonderful examples of faith in those who are nearing the end of their earthly journey, in those who have learned that waiting for God's salvation is a worthwhile endeavor---yea! the one, true endeavor that allows a servant not just to depart, but to depart in peace.

1 comment:

Mr. Waller said...

You are right that children are often thought of as symbols of perfect faith, but as I think back on the people of faith who have most inspired me in my own religious life, more often than not, they have been elderly.

As they have passed from this world into the next, I have been thankful for having the chance to know them.