40 days after Christmas

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Saint Elias Orthodox Church
Austin, Texas

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 2:22-40

Today is February 2nd, and according to our Church calendar we are celebrating the Great feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple. “Forty days after His birth the God-Infant was taken to the Jerusalem Temple, the center of the nation’s religious life. According to the Law of Moses (Lev. 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a male child was forbidden to enter the Temple of God for forty days. At the end of this time the mother came to the Temple with the child, to offer a young lamb or pigeon to the Lord as a purification sacrifice.” –oca.org   This closely reminds us of the churching that happens after the 40th day as we invite the mother back into communion and involvement with the church community.

We are told that as the holy family was in the Temple in Jerusalem, they were encountered by a man named Simeon. We are told by St. Luke that Simeon was righteous and devout and that he had received word from the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah or Christ. The tradition of the Church tells us that this man Simeon was one of the 72 translators of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). This translation was completed around 246 b.c. Now according to tradition Simeon was working diligently one day as he struggled to complete a passage from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 7 and verse 4. In this passage which is familiar to all of us we hear “Behold the Virgin shall conceive and shall bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel.” At the time of the translation we are told that Simeon tried to translate the word Virgin as “young maiden” a number of times. Each time he tried, the quill he was using would snap. No matter how many times he tried he could not write “young maiden.” As he was frustrated an angel appeared to him and told him that he was in fact mistaken. The angel also told him that he would not die until he saw this very prophecy fulfilled.

So in order to understand the joy that Simeon felt we have to understand that he had been alive for a very long time, wondering, searching, hoping to see this Virgin and her beautiful boy. Upon seeing the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon said ““Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.”

These words are important to us and we sing them each Saturday night at Great Vespers. They bring to mind something that we don’t often want to think about. St. Simeon cries out “Lord let thy servant depart in peace.” What is it that he means when he says “depart”? Does he hope to travel outside of Jerusalem? Is he thinking of taking a trip? Not at all. When Simeon asks to depart, he is asking to die. That sounds quite strange to our ears. Who ever asks to die? Yet we see St. Simeon doing just that. He says that his eyes have seen God’s salvation. Now he is ready to repose in peace.

We often try to put off important things until we are close to death but this assumes that we will know the hour of our departure from this life. Here in the story of St. Simeon we see that in order to properly prepare for the afterlife, in order to depart this life in peace, we must know the salvation that God has prepared. We are lucky that this salvation is not a hidden story or a secret saying. This salvation is the person of Jesus Christ. We are called to become like Simeon and take Christ in our arms and present Him back to God with joy and thanksgiving. He is to become a part of us and in fact we can say that Jesus Christ is the only part of us worth presenting to God.

But we don’t really treat Jesus the way that Simeon did. In fact we do the opposite. We are so spoiled by the little knowledge of Christ that we have, that we would rather push Him away. We say to ourselves “I will pray tomorrow”, “I will read my Bible tomorrow”, “I will repent and change my life tomorrow”. In a way we push the Lord away instead of running to embrace Him. We think that by putting Him off for a while we can enjoy life or stay busy with work. In our Christian understanding the opposite is actually true. When we avoid the Lord we avoid knowing the true meaning of life and we avoid knowing the purpose of all work. We keep putting off the knowledge of Christ and we don’t understand how this knowledge and relationship with Christ and His Church needs to be the foundation of our lives.

In a way, Simeon shows us a simple glimpse of the spiritual journey. He was weary and tired and all he had hoped for all those years was to know the messiah. He desperately searched out this chosen One of Israel with his whole heart. It consumed him. Does the search for the holy One of Israel consumer you?

Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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