A devout, faithful servant, Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time. Anna had spent most of her 84 years waiting. These faithful people responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to be present in the temple when Jesus, Mary and Joseph arrived.
But they could have missed Jesus in the temple that day.
The Law of Moses required the firstborn child of any mother be presented, or consecrated, to the Lord. This law is established in Exodus. An atonement concept, a family is redeemed or “bought back” to God through a sacrifice of some sort.
In the book of Numbers we learn that this redemption could have been completed through service to the temple, such as we see with the Levites. The book of Numbers also tells us that redemption could be obtained through a financial transaction in the temple – paying five shekles of silver. While Nehemiah tells us that the first fruits need to be given to the temple every year, there is nothing in these laws themselves that says it was necessary for the child to be physically present when the parents presented the sacrifice.
Jesus could have been presented in the temple in accordance to the Law of Moses without actually being there himself. Simeon and Anna could have missed him.
But they didn’t miss him. Jesus was at the temple 40 days after his birth, and Simeon and Anna experienced the incarnated Christ in person, with their very own eyes. There are many reasons why Simeon and Anna could have missed Jesus in the temple that day. It was because of the Holy Spirit they didn’t.
As a Christ centered church, it can be easy for us to overlook how our Triune God works together to provide us with opportunities to know and experience Jesus. The magi are led to Jesus through the Spirit. It is the Spirit that anoints Jesus at his baptism in the river Jordan. Jesus’ very name was given to Mary and Joseph by the Spirit. It is the Spirit working through the Word that brings the presence of Christ in, with and under our sacraments. We are called into a life of faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit, just as Simeon was called by the Spirit to see Jesus first hand.
God our Parent, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are continually working together to provide us with opportunities to witness Christ present within our midst, to live as resurrected people who through Jesus’ death and resurrection are reconciled to God and forgiven for our transgressions. Our Triune God loves us so completely that through the Holy Spirit Jesus came among us in human flesh, wore our humanity as his own, experienced the pains and joys of our existence so that we would never feel that we have missed the opportunity to be in a loving and whole relationship to God’s self.
The challenge is that there are times in our lives when we may look around and ask, “Where is God in the midst of this?” Where is God in the midst of illness, divorce, and financial insecurity? Where is our Simeon-esque moment, where we can so clearly see Jesus that we could lift the Christ child in our arms? In times of great pain and insecurity, we may feel we have just missed Jesus, a close encounter of two ships passing in the night.
This past week at the Crossings conference I met a pastor from Michigan named Richard who shared with me an experience he had where he felt that he a close encounter with Jesus, but just missed him. Twenty years ago, Richard was working as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, a country that is riddled with great violence against women. He went to work with families, hoping that by proclaiming the love of Christ husbands would find alternative options to family disputes then violence against their daughters and wives. The work was not going well, and after two years in that community, not one person had become baptized or shared in communion.
Once a week, Richard and another missionary conducted safety patrols along the rocky mountain terrain, looking to stop women from being assaulted. One evening, he found a woman who had been beaten badly and abandoned. With broken bones, and suffering from dehydration, this woman was near death. Richard and his fellow missionary rigged together a stretcher, carried her down the mountain and called for a helicopter to life flight her off to a medical center that offered respite to battered women.
A few months later, Richard brought the woman back to her village, back to a community that had left her for dead, back to a home that was far from safe. It was his last day in Papua New Guinea. He described that moment as one of complete despair, one where he felt that he and Jesus had missed paths amidst the trees in the mountain side – so close, but so far apart.
Twenty years later, at a conference in Chicago, a young man came up to Richard. He announced that he was the son of the woman who had been taken off the mountain. He had been listening to Richard for two years, and on that fateful day, he witnessed the attack on his mom. He had remained hiding among the trees, praying to a God he had only heard of but did not yet know, hoping that help would come. He watched among the trees as his mother was flown away in the helicopter, and was the first to great her when she returned.
On that mountainside, the Spirit came to the son when he needed it most, and in the actions of Richard and his fellow missionary, he saw Christ as clearly as Simeon saw Christ in the temple. When his mother returned home, a moment that to Richard seemed so much like death, in that moment the son experienced a resurrection that can only come from the love of Christ at work in the world.
Twenty years later, the once little boy has now become a pastor. He shared with Richard that the weekend before, he had celebrated over the rite of baptism for the 300th time.
The son could have missed Jesus. He could have been anywhere else but the mountain top on that formidable morning. Through the Holy Spirit, he didn’t. The son experienced Christ working through the actions of Richard and his fellow missionary, and knew God for the first time.
Simeon and Anna could have missed Jesus, but they didn’t. Through the Holy Spirit, they were present when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple. They experienced Christ in person, shining brightly as a light to the nations.
Richard could have missed Jesus. He could have been anywhere but that conference, continuing to feel grief over the woman from the mountain. Through the Holy Spirit, Richard encountered her son, and learned how Christ brought resurrection to a community that Richard only knew as death.
There may be moments when we think that we are missing Jesus, wondering where God is in the midst of the hardships in our lives. We may wish that we could see Jesus so clearly before us like Simeon in the temple, but in faith we cling to the certainty that through the Holy Spirit, we never will miss Jesus resurrecting us from the challenges of our lives. Like Richard, that realization may not come as quickly as we’d like, but Christ is there, working in ways that we do not yet know, in ways that our beyond our comprehension.
Even when we think we have missed it, we will never be without the blessings and redemption found in Christ. Let us give thanks that the Holy Spirit calls us to a life of faith where we can witness and proclaim Jesus present in our midst.