Tonight we see a young family going to the Temple to present their first-born son to God as required by their tradition.  Unlike the wealthy or connected, they received no special perks.  They were nobodies from nowhere.  They lined up to buy birds to sacrifice rather than plump lambs.  There is no evidence in the text that angels were singing or halos appeared around the heads of the family.  It was a typical bustling, noisy day at the Temple.  Yet two senior citizens, Simeon and Anna, recognized the Christ of history in the child’s obscure humanity.

Simeon and Anna share the fundamental attribute of a disciple – they see the eternal in the ordinary.  The modern Jewish mystic, Joel Michaelson, defines himself as “as spark of God masquerading as me.”  Our two disciples took very different paths to this seeing this spark.  Let’s see if our paths intersect theirs.

Having Faith in My Experience

Simeon represents that disciple that embraces the magic and mystery of the present moment because he believes his experience.  As a younger man he received a word from God that he would not die until he saw the promised Messiah.  Decades go by.  I wonder how many times he doubted his experience.  In our text he was just passing by when he saw the infant Jesus and it clicked!  His experience really is true!  He is not crazy.  His earlier experience of God was not a fake.  He is lost in the moment and out pours a gorgeous prayer beginning with the statement that he can die now in peace for “mine eyes have seen your salvation.”

Have you, like Simeon, had an experience of God earlier in life that you have spent the rest of your life growing into?  I bet you have.  The spiritual writer James Finley says it is very common that some point in our lives we experience God for real and that experience is a touchstone for the rest of our journey.  This experience is like a pair of glasses to see the world in a new way.  We use the experience to recognize and test other glimpses of the infinite.  In our weakness the glasses gather dust because we doubt our experience is true.

Simeon’s pathway to seeing calls us to trust our experience.  We will not face the struggles of life with grace and love because of a doctrine or a dogma.  We will not retain hope through cancer because of what someone else experienced or because we received all the right sacraments.  No, we need to know for ourselves.  We need to believe our experience for ourselves and so we can recognize the spark in common humanity and sing Simeon’s song.

Seeing Though Doing

Anna’s pathway to seeing is a bit different.  She is described as a prophet, a very rare position for a women in those days.  She has been living in the Temple her entire adult life.  She is a doer – she gets up every day to teach, to pray to fast and serve the people who comes to the Temple.  In the midst of her day, she recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, gave thanks, and got right back to work telling everyone about Jesus.

Anna reminds me of a book about Mother Theresa called “Something Beautiful for God.”  This book combined mysticism and action in a new way for me.  The sisters in Calcutta found Jesus in the everyday work of serving the dying.  Finding God in life was no mystery for them – do the loving work of God and you will run into Jesus. Like Anna, they do their loving work, they see Jesus, they give thanks, and they get back to work.

Theologians are starting to find words for this reality of finding God in action.  They ask whether God is better understood as an object or a verb?  Peter Rollins addresses this question in one way or another in all his books:  “God must not be approached as an object we must love, but as a mystery present in the very act of love itself.”  (See his book “Idolatry of God”).  Anna’s relentless, incremental action has her running into God on a regular basis, so she can see when the Christ shows up!

In my reading I came across a story where Simeon energy and Anna energy coincide.  The Republican Convention of 1860 was high drama as four candidates represented different approaches to slavery.  Thousands of Annas had day by day, task by task worked to abolish slavery.  Thousands more had, like Simeon, experienced a God incompatible with slavery.  Abraham Lincoln was the moderate candidate that many of these disciples hoped would be able to press the issue nationally.  After several tense votes the delegates remained divided, until four delegates from Ohio suddenly switched their votes from Salmon Chase to Lincoln.  This switch created a wave that gave Lincoln the nomination.  As soon as Ohio voted many disciples saw in this very human event a glimpse of something infinite.  Some wept, but one delegate spontaneously proclaimed in the loudest of voices the prayer of Simeon concluding, “Now Lord let thy servant depart in peace, for these eyes of mine have seen your salvation.”

Does this text inform how we can see God more clearly in common humanity?  Can we help each other believe in our experience of God that informs our seeing?  Can we have faith that the daily loving of our partners, our families, our faith community, our world is a pathway to seeing?  The liturgical candles we have used tonight for this feast remind us that a spark of divine life lives in everyone.  May this Eucharist help us locate out inner Simeon, our inner Anna, so that we might see this spark of light.


George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Saturday Evening, February 1, 2014

Liturgy for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Focus Text: Luke 2:26-40 (Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus)

Photo by Tomas Carrillo on