Feb 2, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Patience, Patience.



 
(Rembrandt)
 
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go . . ."
 

More than any other prayer, more than any desire, how often have most of us prayed for patience?  Parents are often struck by that need in raising their children. How typical is it these days to recognize how impatient we can be driving in congested traffic, or waiting in line at the movie theatre, grocery store, even a buffet line at a restaurant.  “Let’s move it along.” “What’s taking you so long?”

If you’re standing behind someone, we find the person in front of you may apologize, or not, for taking “such a long time” in making a decision. What’s it been – 30 seconds?  “Slow down,” “take a deep breath,” “count to ten,” “say three Hail Mary’s,” are things we may do to calm our restless heart.  I’ve often said it’s the one prayer that is consistently answered by God.  As we wait for his answer, we learn to be more patient.

This Sunday on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord we are taken back to a familiar Christmas scene, 40 days after that beloved feast.  According to Jewish law, Jesus is presented in the Temple, as all first born sons would be, and Mary is purified according to that same law.  As both she and Joseph are among the poor, only two small birds are purchased as an offering by them. 

However, a dramatic moment takes place within this seemingly normal Temple duty.  Luke relates: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.  This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel . . . it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” How patient are we with the Lord?  Simeon waited all his life for this unique moment. Don’t we often become restless and perhaps even give up when our prayers are not “answered” in our time?

Further, Luke presents this scene which may have been at first a bit frightening to Mary.  Luke simply states, “. . . a man in Jerusalem.” Then he seems to just swoop in and, “. . . took him (the infant Jesus) into his arms and blessed God saying: Now Master you may let your servant go in peace . . . for my eyes have seen your salvation . . .” Who was Simeon? Did he have any connection with Temple worship or was he just a stranger who happened to be nearby? Nonetheless, both Mary and Joseph were “amazed at what was said about him . . .” For Mary and Joseph it was apparently a gradual unfolding, not an instant answer, to who this mysterious child was. They too were called to patiently wait on the Lord’s time.

Simeon, it strikes me, could be a representation of any of us who are doing our best to live a “righteous and devout” life or certainly are making an effort to be serious about our spiritual life but find ourselves impatient when it comes to prayer.  Either we give up when our prayer is not answered according to our time schedule or at a minimum we become distracted by the stuff of life and are inconsistent in our prayer: on again, then off again. While prayer is not always asking for things we may for some reason think that we should be on the mountain when praying rather than in the flat valley with God.  

All of his life Simeon was patiently waiting for the Lord’s fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah and now he says to God – “I can die in peace.” How many of us could wait patiently on God for a lifetime of hope? Think of St. Monica and her patient years of prayer waiting on the hope that her son Augustine would turn from his pagan, hedonistic lifestyle to a life of Christian moral virtue.  Her life of prayer, like Simeon, was fulfilled at the end and she too could leave this world satisfied and grateful.

Luke then adds another figure of patience, an elderly woman of prayer and fasting who was also patiently waiting on the Lord: a prophetess, Anna.  Like Simeon she is an obscure figure who appears on the scene and she too rejoices in the birth of this child.  She too was patiently waiting for this unique moment. 

God comes to us more often in the ordinary and the unexpected than he does in thunder and lightning but are we patient enough, are we humble enough, are we persistent enough to wait patiently for his response? 

Our faithfulness and our patience, our trust in God’s promise and faithfulness is a lifetime of practice.  Don’t give up but trust and have hope.  Let the Simeon and Anna in you be a guide for the spiritual life.  In the silence of the Eucharist we approach with hands and hearts of trust that God is always good on his word.
Almighty ever-living God,
We humbly implore your majesty
that, just as your Only Begotten Son
was presented on this day in the Temple
in the substance of our flesh,
so, by your grace,
we may be presented to you with minds made pure.
(Collect for Feast)