Posted on December 31, 2015
Posted on December 31, 2015
I know I’m a few days late, but do you know who I like in the Christmas story? Simeon. He doesn’t get much press in the story but I love who he is.
When I was in the younger throes of my christian life I sang with emotional abandon about how I would give my life for God, how I would set all other things aside for His kingdom. Now you may expect me to say that that was misled enthusiastic youthfulness, but actually I took it as seriously as I could, and sought to muster as much sincerity for each word as I could find. There is no doubt that it was a formative time in my life. But after being around christians for a while I began to notice, not exclusively, but often, the same ones who would be up on the front row singing out their abandon with as much emotional intensity as could be found were the same ones who within two months would be nowhere to be found and wallowing in bad choices and doubt.
Now fortunately, God is fairly into those people wallowing in bad choices and doubt, but this was no sincere fall on the wayside. Because this type of unrooted emotional enthusiasm can only throw you on the high waves of sentimentality and then plunge you into the depths of your own lack of emotional energy.
Don’t misunderstand me here, emotions and times of worship should be intermingled as freely as possible, but when it is solely our affections that are moved, and it doesn’t translate to a change in our way of seeing and being in the world that orients our lives towards the kingdom of God then something is very wrong. This is why I have grown to appreciate dear old Simeon. He is faithful.
Faithfulness is about as un-sexy a trait as somewhere dare have in the 21st century. More often than not it is the compliment that is found when one reaches down into the metaphorical bag of adjective’s to find someone who’s presence is so bland yet so consistent it is the only thing worth saying. But true faithfulness, Simeon-like faithfulness is much stronger than that, much more intentional. So how do we apprehend simeon-like faithfulness rather than the fleeting affections of worship experiences? It gets built through rhythms of remembrance.
Simeon had waited. But he had waited with intentional faithfulness. He had participated in weekly, maybe even daily repetitions of the story of His people (reading of creation, exile, and prophets)and he had made that story, his story. Notice what the text says about him;
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
He is righteous and devout, his life is ordered, day in, day out towards the consolation of his people. Simeon’s life had been shaped by, every week, maybe every day being drenched in the story of Israel and the longing for a coming king. I don’t mean simply that Simeon ‘turned up for church’, or synagogue in his case, this is not a post to bolster church service attendance. No, Simeon ordered his life around the story of Israel, and waited with longing to the release of his people. He had made their story, his story.
How do we get inside the story? Well, we repeat it. That is really why the wisdom of the history of the church is to order the year around rememberance of the story, so it becomes our story, advent, christmas, lent, easter etc. The yearly entering in to these stories form us in deep ways that are not penetrable from momentary worship experiences. They literally order our lives by the christian story.
Now surely if all it takes is repetition then the church traditions which observe the church calendar should be the best disciples living on earth today, right? Well, of course it is not quite as simplistic or robotic as just repetition, what it takes is a much more engaged entering in.
When we read we have to take the time to close our eyes, to reach out to feel what the characters feel, hear how the words land in their lives, to even smell what they smell, we need to hop through the page and when we do we discover many of these characters are immortalised in scripture because they are experiencing things common to the human experience. There is an old name for this ‘Lectio Divina’, but it could just as easily be called ‘reading by the Spirit’. (see my post from a few weeks ago here).
I’ve entered into advent with a fresh enthusiasm this year partly because of my realisation of the importance of formational rhythms that I am speaking about here. Rather than rushing to proclaim: “Jesus is born!” or even to rush further ahead and shout; “Christ is risen!” it is important to be slowed down and once again enter in to the millennia of waiting for a messiah.
It is so we can enter into their story and let it overthrow the narratives of our own age that seek to disconnect us from God’s story and the identity He wants to give to us.
Our instantaneous culture loves to skip to the end of the story, especially when it’s already been played out and we feel like we are simply playing catch up. But when we play a single key on the piano or even repeat the last line of a poem, the context is lost, the power is lost and the phrase that was once so filled up with fulfillment and significance becomes empty and dry. As Debussy the composer once said “music is not in the notes, but in the silence between the notes”. So, we enter in during advent, we sit in the longing, because although it was Simeon’s story and although it was Israel’s story it is also our story.
Not just because we inherited the longing of the Israelites, but because our story is an ever protracted longing for deliverance from exile. In the same way as the Israelites were waiting for the first coming of Jesus, the season of advent teaches us to remember their longing so that we have hope and fervour in our own expectancy of the return of the messiah.
Simeon is a quiet voice in scripture really, but He gives us a glimpse into a life of obedience in one direction, the direction of longing, of waiting and anticipating. While certainly we are in an age where the kingdom of God is at hand, we are still longing, I’m not sure anyone every expected us to be longing a full 2000+ years after Jesus’ ascension, but we repeat the story, like during the recently past season of advent to encourage our longing to be marked by faithfulness.