A Light to Enlighten the Nations…

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The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
The Feast of the Presentation, Year A
Luke 2:22-40
February 2, 2014

Listen while you read:https://gracechurchgainesville.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/020214_gh.mp3%20

They huddled together in the OK Café and other restaurants.
They slept in the aisle of a Publix, a Rite Aid, and other stores.
They caught rides in the backs of 4×4 pickup trucks.
Over 100 of them stayed at Holy Innocents’ parish, and hundreds more in churches around the city.
So many found warmth, food, conversation—and new friendship—in the homes of absolute strangers.

These have been remarkable days for Georgians.  Gainesville dealt with the weather quite nicely—while some of us kept in touch with family stuck in ice and snow.

As I watched the news, so much of the reporting focused on “who is to blame” for all this mess.  Whose fault was this?  Who was asleep at the wheel?  Was it the schools dismissing all at the same time?  Was it that there wasn’t enough salt on the roads?  Was it that the police wasn’t as present as they should be?  Was there not enough warning?  Was the weather forecast really that wrong?  OR, is it partly all our fault because we all insist on having our own personal cars and SUVs and how could one million vehicles possibly maneuver on those roads at the same time?

As I pulled out of the parking lot, just as it started to really snow, there was a young woman walking by the church office in tights and a short sleeved shirt.  I rolled down my window and told her, “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not from around here are you?”

“No” she told me.  “I’m from Chicago” as she looked at me with my overcoat, scarf and fedora on.  But, hey, as someone said, you don’t really hear about people retiring up North, do you!

So many questions…while the kids seemed to love it, of course, with snowball fights and sled races down hills and snowmen with sunglasses and scarves.

Even though we all experienced such discomfort and separation from our families, I would also invite us to consider how we also had an opportunity to experience the Power and Presence of Jesus in a profound way.

We didn’t have to look far to witness the Presence of the Compassionate One.  And, so many people practiced compassion!

I loved reading in the AJC an article that focused on the enormous expression of compassion.  And, I thought, suddenly, so many of our friends and family found themselves with a different perspective on the dynamic of Jesus words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me”  (Matthew 25:35ff).

Because we never know when Jesus will show up.  Put another way, we never know when we will have the opportunity to share Christ’s love, to experience Christ’s love—“to grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ” (BCP Baptismal Rite) in this world.

Look at today’s Gospel text, if you will.  Simeon had been promised that he would have the opportunity to meet Christ before he died.  “Guided by the Spirit,” the text says that he came into the temple when the Holy Family entered for Jesus’ Presentation.  And, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and shared his gratitude for being able to see the Lord’s Messiah.

“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.”

It seems to me that the difference between us and Simeon may be that Simeon lived his life in anticipation of Jesus’ appearing—in expectation of the Holy—while we live too much of our lives with distraction—realizing a broader perspective only when our busyness is disrupted.

Simeon invites us to consider what a life of Holy Anticipation would really be like.  It shouldn’t be a surprise when folks experience compassion the way they have the past two days.  It should be our goal; it should be our prayer.

Simeon’s prayer of Thanksgiving has been incorporated into the Liturgy of our church, in the Book of Common Prayer.  I would invite you to open up the Prayer Book to page 120.  The Nunc dimittis, as it is known, is found in Evening Prayer.  In that context, it fits with the language of “Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised.”

But, there is deeper language here that we can learn a good bit from today.  Look closely at the portion that says, “A Light to enlighten the nations…”

When we go a bit deeper, we see that, in the original Greek, the experience of “enlightenment” expressed by Simeon isn’t just a warm, pleasant, loosy-goosy, marshmellow Jesus.  The language used here is apokolypsis.  Does that sound familiar?  Apocalypse?  Interesting, right?

And, apokolypsis means that something has been laid bare.  There has been a disclosure of the truth.  Reality, if you will, has been torn open to show that what we thought of as ‘reality’ really isn’t reality at all.  It has been an illusion all along.  And, we behold the truth…and it knocks our socks off.

“A Light to lay bare the nations…”
“A Light to disclose the truth to the nations.”

Experiencing such a disclosure of the Truth rocks our world.  And, maybe we don’t like the truth to be disclosed.  Maybe it’s more convenient for us to go through life on auto-pilot, with our busyness…

Maybe we don’t like to learn that we aren’t in absolute control.  That we are all a bit culpable in our consumer-driven desire to have the biggest and best…

Jesus discloses the truth to us.  Simeon shows us, that what matters most is

Caring for our neighbors…

The trick, I think….or maybe better put the invitation, is not to wait until something awful happens to practice our faith this way.  How can we practice it each day of our lives?

How can we live, like Simeon, in anticipation that Christ is going to show up.  And, not only that, but that we are invited to embody Christ to someone.

We don’t have to wait for an outside “snowpocalypse” to live into the holy apocalypse promised to us in Christ, that the Light of God can and does come into the world.

That the Truth is disclosed to the nations.
That compassion is our purpose.
When we live into this call upon our lives, we can indeed share with Simeon in his prayer:

Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel. 

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