Now your servant can go in peace - Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Now your servant can go in peace - Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

A young couple, with their newly born son, come to the temple, as St Luke says, “observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord”. The Law required two things:

Firstly, the Book of Exodus states, “Consecrate all the first born to me.” (Ex 13:1)

Secondly, the Book of Leviticus (Ch 12) required a mother to attend the temple after forty days and offer a sacrifice for purification. The preferred sacrifice was a ram, but if the couple were poor, then two doves would suffice. St Luke records that Mary and Joseph offered two turtle doves.

Mary and Joseph were carrying out the prescriptions laid upon them. They were faithful to the dictates of their religion.

St Luke records that they were approached by an elderly man, named Simeon. He is described as an upright and devout man. We are told two more things about him: he longed for the coming of the Messiah; and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

He was able to immediately identify this child as the fulfilment of the promises made by God to Israel. He declared that his eyes have now seen the salvation which the Lord intends all the nations to see.

Let us consider Simeon for a moment.

It is clear that he was a holy man. He was morally upright and religiously devout. We could imagine that he was a humble man. He went about his life quietly, but with great intent. His focus was singularly upon God, and more particularly he was attentive to the actions of God. He believed that God intended to act for the sake of the salvation of humanity. He was singularly alert to this.

In this way he was expectant. A person who is expectant is able to act decisively at the appropriate time. He believed that God would act and he was attuned to signs of God’s action. St Luke says that he was prompted by the Holy Spirit to go up to the temple that day. This reveals something important about him. He was attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in his life. He was spiritually attuned to spiritual promptings and able to recognise them.

Simeon’s faith was alert to the movements of the Spirit. To be like this he would have been a man of prayer. His prayer was not only the recitation of ritual prayers, but a prayer in which he personally encountered the Lord. Prayer for Simeon would have been an active communion between his soul and God. When he prayed he not only spoke but, more importantly, he listened.

He had learnt to wait on God. He knew and understood the necessity for silence and quiet attention. He knew that God wanted to communicate with him and he waited for the inspirations that would come.

His focus was not on himself and on his own needs. His concern was the will and intention of God. He understood from the Scriptures that God the Creator was also God the Redeemer. He was acutely aware that God had a plan for the restoration of humanity. He knew of the prophesies concerning the sending of a Messiah, and he lived in the hope that he himself might be spared until the promises were fulfilled.

All he longed for was that God’s plans and purposes would be carried out. No doubt he prayed often that God would come to the aid of humanity. He may have cried out using some of the words of the psalmists with whom he would have been very familiar.

The psalmist prays, “Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Ps 28:9) Simeon would have united his heart with this prayer. He knew that only God can save. He prayed that God would bless his people. The people needed a shepherd to guide and carry them.

When he approached Mary and Joseph and took the child in his arms he knew who this child was and what his mission was to be. This child was the Promised One and would be the glory of the people of Israel. More than this, this child would be a light to enlighten the pagans. This child, the Messiah, would have an impact on all nations and all peoples.

At this meeting Simeon now felt that his life was complete. He had seen the child who would save humanity. He did not need to see how this would be fulfilled. He was content to know that God would now fulfil his purposes. He was now at peace. He knew that all would be well. His own life was complete and he could say with trusting surrender: “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.”

Simeon can speak to us about our own life of faith.

Firstly, he can remind us that it is the person of prayer who is sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. The key to this prayer is silence.

Secondly, Simeon reminds us that God is unfolding a great work of salvation. It continues in our day. God is active in the world. St Paul understood that in the end it is all grace (see Eph 2:7). Our deep desire as Christians is that the plans and purposes of God will be fulfilled.

Thirdly, Simeon understood that God’s plan was for all of humanity. The Church has a vital role in the unfolding of God’s plan. It continues to be the primary instrument by which that plan is fulfilled. Each of us have a role to play in the unfolding of the plans of God.

Finally, Simeon can speak to us about our life’s meaning and purpose. We live to share in and to contribute to, the saving work of God. Having lived our lives in the service of God, we can surrender ourselves into the hands of God. We are at peace and happily resigned to meet the Lord.

Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans, and the glory of your people Israel. 

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday 2 February 2020