I love this quote from Jimi Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”
It seems we hear a lot about peace and how to achieve it through human history, but it always seems to be just beyond the grasp of we humans. And yet, we know we need peace. We sure do seem to want peace, and we never seem to have a shortage of folks who say they know how to get peace. But we still struggle to find peace, in our daily lives, in our homes, in our nation, and especially in n our world. Maybe we don’t really know what peace is after all.
Look at our lesson today in Luke 2:25-32:
At that time, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Symeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart 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.”
The story of St. Symeon, that elderly figure in the Nativity story of Jesus, is both well known and often not as appreciated as it should be. And that’s because Symeon is one of several “transition” figures in the Bible between the thousands of years of God dealing with His people in the First Testament and the systemic shift, forever foretold, into the New Testament. He is a bridge figure meant to help us appreciate the huge moment when God becomes flesh and lives among us as one of us for us!
Symeon marks the moment when God fulfills a great promise to our father, Abraham. Starting all the way back in Genesis 12 we read what God promised to Abraham as the “father of the faithful.” God promised to make Abraham’s name great. Check. God promised to make Abraham’s offspring numerous. Check. And God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. The Lord fulfills this last promise in a way He has foretold for centuries. God has always intended to make peace in the whole world by opening up His blessings and making His Kingdom available to all people, no matter what their nationality. In other words, God was going to save the Gentiles too!
This is why St. Symeon says what he says. Symeon had been told by God that he wouldn’t physically die until he had seen the Messiah born. And on that fateful morning when Mary and Joseph bring the Lord Jesus into the Temple for His dedication, Symeon knows God has now fulfilled His promise. So, Symeon sings what we sing every evening at Vespers: “Now let Your servant depart in peace…”
He is at Peace Because:
His Eyes have seen the Lord’s Salvation. Notice, Symeon doesn’t see salvation as some list of intellectual propositions, but EMBODIED in a Person. Salvation is a Person, not some spiritual contract. And this salvation is visible, observable, and even tangible. Salvation is still that way. We are mean to see salvation!
There is Light for the Gentiles. We, who were not a people, now have become adopted into the People of God. St. Paul will go on to tell the Romans that “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly,… but he is a Jew who is one inwardly…” (Romans 2:28-29) We, who were in the darkness of chaos and confusion and groping for eternal answers have now had the Light shine on us so we can finally see.
The Glory of the People of Israel. Symeon could depart in peace BECAUSE this amazing moment when God fulfills His promise to Abraham isn’t a threat to the Jews, but their Glory! God has proven faithful even when we aren’t. God has proven trustworthy even when we stumble. Instead of supplanting the Jews, this fulfills the promise to the Jewish People and is a glory to them. How sad that some of them misread it as a threat.
Today, are you a servant who can “depart” in peace? Is the consistent faithfulness and trustworthiness of God through the centuries a convincing witness to you that God will remain faithful even in your times of struggle and pain? God loves you, and His salvation is meant for you and the whole world. And it starts making sense when you determine to be Orthodox on Purpose!