There Was A Man Whose Name Was Simeon
By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tell me, what thing would you like to do before you die? I realize that is a rather startling and morose question with which to begin a Sunday sermon, and yet, this being the first day of a new year, perhaps it is an appropriate one. What is there that you would still like to accomplish on this planet? Maybe you would answer the question light-heartedly, saying you’d like to win the lottery (just once!), or sky-dive, or walk on the moon. But others of you may be more thoughtful in your response; perhaps you’d like to write a book, or you’d like to visit Norway, or shoot your age in golf, or play a round at Augusta National. What one thing would you like to do or see or experience while you are still able? That’s the question.
I asked my dad that question once. He was in a particularly melancholy mood when he visited us in Oregon, shortly after my mom had died, and so sitting on our back porch, I posed the question to him: “Dad, is there anything you’d like to do while you still have your health?” His response did not come immediately, but he finally said “Yes, there is; I’d like to visit the Marine Corps base in California where I took my training as a 19 year old kid.” Then he spent the next two hours talking about his military experience – in the Second World War, and the Korean Conflict – him telling me details he had never before revealed. The only two regrets I have about my dad’s passing are that I never recorded his voice, and I never took him to Camp Pendleton before he died. And yet, that experience has alerted me to the fact that a life without regret might include making a list of the things which I might want to do in my life before my life is over.
There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. Scripture tells us that he was a very righteous Jewish man, to whom it had been promised that he would not die until he saw the Messiah face-to-face. The image of Simeon is one of an old man, spending the last years of his life searching Jerusalem for a sight of the Savior. On the eighth day of Jesus’ young life, Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple for his dedication to the Lord as was Jewish custom, similar to our rite of baptism.
If Jesus had been born in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph’s hometown, Simeon would never have seen the Savior. But as God’s plan would have it, Jerusalem was only six miles away from the manger, and the Temple in Jerusalem was an appropriate place for the boy to be circumcised. Finding Jesus was the one thing that Simeon wanted to do before he died. And when Jesus finally appeared to him in his mother’s arms, Simeon told God that it was now okay for him to die; he had met the Savior face to face.
There was a woman whose name was Anna; eighty-four years old, and she too was looking for and speaking of this Savior who was to come. The bible says that she never left the temple; she stayed there day and night, fasting and praying and eventually seeing this One whom God had sent to redeem Israel. Again, God brought them together at the right time, and Anna prophesied that this child would redeem Israel. All her years of watching and waiting and fasting suddenly came to an end, as she told the people in the Temple who this child was.
There are reasons why these two people are featured on the first Sunday after Christmas nearly every year. The first is the irony that, while Simeon could not die until he met the Savior in person, we cannot really live until we meet the Savior. Oh, we can journey though life, happy enough, perhaps. We can be successful, and comfortable, and joyous people, but we cannot be at peace until we know that the Savior has come to love us – one by one – love us into the Kingdom of God.
Secondly, we see in these stories of Simeon and Anna, evidence that the religious life is not a brief sprint, as we sometimes presume, but it is a marathon. In an age of instant gratification, where pursuit of passion may last several weeks or months, these figures spent many years seeking God’s blessing. For us, four weeks of Advent seems like forever; for them, decades of watching and waiting seemed appropriate.
And this is the most significant aspect of Simeon and Anna; the legacies they left behind. The Church has forever remembered them as heroes; righteous Saints who sought to love, and worship and serve Jesus Christ. For two millennia, their names have been synonymous with patience, and faithfulness, and serenity.
It occurs to me that the question with which I began this sermon is the wrong question. Rather than asking “what would you like to do?” perhaps I should be asking “how would you like to be remembered?” What do you want your legacy to be? What shall we write as an epitaph on your tombstone? What should be written on mine?
“There was a man named Steven who….” What will people say about me?
“There was a man named Keith who….” What will people say about him.
“There was a woman named Sara…or Katherine…or Linda…or Jill….”
What will their legacies be? And if we have an idea of what we would like our legacies to be, perhaps there is still time to write them with our living. Perhaps there is still time to live in such a way that people would see in us faithfulness, or generosity, or wisdom, or patience, or peacefulness, or unconditional love. I have some ideas of what I want my legacy to be, and it doesn’t include writing funny church signs, or being a crabby person in the morning. And how about you? What do you want us to say about you when you’re gone? How then will you live your life so that the legacy you leave will be a good one?
I have told this story before, but it bears repeating this morning. Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel was best known for developing dynamite into an explosive to be used as a mining tool, as well as a tool of war, did you know that? He once wrote, “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they will abide by golden peace.”
But then an interesting thing happened; a Paris newspaper erroneously printed Nobel’s obituary seven years before he died. In it, Nobel was described as “the inventor of dynamite, a substance which has led to the deaths of thousands, including his own brother.” Nobel read it and was horrified. At that point, Alfred Nobel decided to change his legacy, so he revised his last will and testament, and upon his death, the bulk of his massive estate was placed in trust to award prizes annually to leaders in the areas of science, chemistry, medicine, literature, and most notably, the Nobel prize for Peace.
I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions; they never seem to last beyond about January 10th for me. But maybe the beginning of a new year is a good time to think about something larger than a New Year’s resolution. Perhaps it’s a time to consider what kind of name, and memories, and contributions we will leave behind when our time on this earth is done.
What do you want people to write about you, to think about you, to say about you after you’re gone? There is still time to re-create the way that we are remembered. May God grant you and me both the days and the ways to live our lives that will touch people for generations to come. That is my New Year’s prayer for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
©2006 Steven Molin. Used by permission.