By Charleston Wilson
What are you waiting for in life? I ask myself the same question. What are WE waiting for?
Of course, the answer is always the same in every generation: we’re waiting for love; we’re searching for peace – we’re looking for deliverance from sin and guilt and fear and the world’s confusion. That’s what St. Simeon was looking for. And St. Anna, too.
St. Luke doesn’t specifically say how long they waited. He just tells us that Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” and that Anna was “of great age” and “never left the temple.” As a side note, when I was serving a parish in seminary, I actually knew a 92-year-old altar guild member named Anna, and she was literally always at church doing this or that. She basically ran the parish. I teased her once about the parallels to the gospel today, and she told me, “I don’t think those connections, especially to my age, are appropriate laughing matters for a seminarian” (live and learn!).
Tradition tells us that Anna and Simeon had waited for a long, long time. They have come to represent perfectly what the Psalmist said: “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage.” The Supremes put it like this:
You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
You gotta trust, give it time
No matter how long it takes.
And so Simeon and Anna waited – waited on Love Incarnate. And He showed up!
The part of the Candlemas story that isn’t all light and warmth, however, is that love and peace are easy to miss. After all, others were in the Temple when Jesus was presented. People still miss Him today, and so do we from time to time, if not daily. And that’s because life is fraught with strife and confusion, and dysfunction – it’s “complicated,” as the saying goes.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that sometimes we’re at war with ourselves, wrestling with our inner consciences about this or that. St. Paul confessed to the church in Rome: “There is another power within me that is at war with my mind.” That’s a man who knows the struggle to find peace and happiness is real!
Emerson proudly, and wrongly, declared: “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” But Simeon and Anna found peace –real consolation and boundless love – precisely in someone else, Jesus.
I simply want to speak a little word of eternal hope and real, life-changing optimism in this brief little homily. I just want to say basically what the Grassroots sang in 1971. It should’ve been a Candlemas hymn:
Sooner or later, love is gonna get ‘cha
Sooner or later, love is gonna win!
And I’m saying this because we really don’t have to wait like Simeon and Anna, because Love has already won.
Other religions (universally all of them!) put forth ways and systems to attain God’s favor – ways to climb to heaven, if you will. What we celebrate at Candlemas is the opposite — that God, in his son Jesus Christ, permanently shut down the “Get Your Act Together Religion Shoppe” and has made grace and mercy the twin peaks of religious experience (a riff on Capon).
St. Augustine described it as “divine initiative,” because he knew that no amount of willpower, morality and positive thinking on his part – no quantity of CBD oil rightly applied and vitamins duly taken – could provide the peace he was looking for.
What people are seeking in 2020, what Anna and Simeon sought 2,000 years ago, is found in the one-way initiative of God’s mercy and grace that meets us wherever we are – and not as we’d hoped to be (or as we want our friends and family to think). Do you think just because Simeon and Anna were “religious” folk in the temple they didn’t have serious struggles and perpetual problems? For all we know they “led quiet lives of desperation,” to borrow from Thoreau.
The contemporary best-selling author Ada Calhoun found herself in a midlife crisis a few years ago. It is a universal truth that everyone has at least one mid-life crisis (and one doesn’t even need to be middle-aged to have one). I’ve had dozens already! Ada says she was happily married and had good, healthy children, and a good job. But, she said she was miserable. So, she set out to discover why. In her latest book, Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada writes:
In the past the question was, how nice is your home? Or how good are you at your job? Now it’s like, it’s all of the things. So it’s – are you a good parent? Are you good at work? Are you – you know, is your house nice? Are you in shape? Are you recycling? Like, it’s every single factor in life you have to excel at. And I think that level of pressure is unsustainable.
The only way to escape the unsustainable pressure cooker of self-condemnation is to find sustainability in Jesus – in the sheer one-way power of what the late Brennan Manning called God’s “indiscriminate compassion.”
And that’s because in the economy of grace, brokenness and desperation are met with warmth, not condemnation. And that’s what broke into the world in Jesus Christ, and it was Simeon’s consolation and Anna’s delight – and it finally gave them peace.
I need to just say one thing about Punxsutawney Phil, since Candlemas is also Groundhog’s Day. You all know the routine. Legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow, folks up north are in for a long winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, well, spring will come early.
The poor rodent – and millions around the country – think the real story of the day is about a shadow. But Christians know the story today and every day is about the light – the Light “which gives light to everyone” and has come “into the world.”
John Donne, the great poet and sometime dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, once said, “I shall not live ’till I see God; and when I have seen Him, I shall never die.”
That’s really what Candlemas is all about, because, when we recognize that Jesus is flame of God’s grace, we discover real peace everlasting consolation.
The Rev. Charleston Wilson is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida.