SERMON: Celebrating the character of faithful old men

Revd John Davies

Presentation of Christ in the Temple: Sparkford, West Camel and Weston Bampfylde, 1/2/2015*

Luke 2.22-40

 

 

Mary passed the child to him; he took him in his arms and praised God.

Today let us celebrate the character of faithful old men; let us give thanks for the wisdom of males in their maturity.

We all know a faithful old man; one whose life has developed into a series of small rituals, repeated unfailingly, at home, at prayer; rituals around rising, eating, reading, gardening perhaps; the ceaseless study of newspaper and prayerbook, the conversations at the gate, the walk down the lane, the weekly act of corporate worship.

We all know a faithful old man; one whose later years are given over to the concerns of others, caring for the wife whose health is failing, learning how to use email to keep in contact with his distant daughter, making conversation with village boys as they pass by; nurturing, sharing, gently giving.

Today we celebrate the character of faithful old men like these, for although they are closer than ever to death, their nature is to give life.

They’re not the noisy ones – for all the sound and fury and rough and tumble of their lives is long past.

They’re not the pushy ones – preferring now to enable others to have their way and make their mistakes, and to accept them back, to help them to learn and grow through their experience.

They are the hopeful ones – seeing the potential in a new generation; they are the wise ones – aware of the limitations of human goodness, experienced in the arts of cooperation and benevolence. Let us celebrate and give thanks for these wise old men.

In his poem A Song for Simeon T. S. Eliot writes,

I have walked many years in this city,

Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,

Have taken and given honour and ease.

There went never any rejected from my door.

[1]

Eliot’s Simeon looks back on a life well lived, lived caringly, lived for others, lived in faith and trust.

And Mary passed the child to him; he took him in his arms and praised God.

We understand now, perhaps, how Mary could so readily pass her child to this old man: for she recognised in him the faithfulness and devotion, the ordinary wisdom, which defined him in his maturity.

Mary may have known Simeon who, with the prophetess Anna, was a regular at the Temple, and seen that in his old age Simeon and Anna were still looking forward to ‘the consolation of Israel’, the ‘Comfort, comfort, my people’ of Isaiah. (Isaiah 40.1).

And how Mary’s heart must have warmed to the words which Simeon spoke as he held the child messiah in his arms, and said that, at last, he can go to God with a serene heart:

‘… For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel. …’

Let us give thanks for those old men who speak little, so that every word they do say is well worth listening to. Simeon is such a man. We are here, celebrating today because of the words which that old man spoke.

And let us give thanks for those wise old men who, kindly, sensitively, voice their doubts and their fears for the future, knowing all they know about the ways of the world. Let us be grateful when they share their concerns about what life will be like for the young ones, coming into a hardening and conflicted world. In Eliot’s poem Simeon asks,

Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children

When the time of sorrow is come ?

They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,

Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords. [1]

With the wisdom of his years, Simeon knew that the future would be hard for the baby Jesus’ generation, and those who followed. His words foreshadowed the scattering of the people which came with the destruction of Jerusalem, the desecration of the very Temple in which he and Mary and Joseph were standing that day.

Simeon [foresaw] for Israel, not a sunlit highway, but the valley of the shadow of death. The end may yet be glorious, but the path there will be a via dolorosa. The doom of Israel is presaged in this baby, born to be a crucified king. [2]

Simeon spoke of light and glory, but those words of celebration were tempered by the complicated truth he expressed about the baby he was holding – Jesus would bring consolation, but he would also bring division, pain, difficulty mixed in with the joy.

Let us give thanks for faithful old men who care enough to speak the truth in love, even when that truth is unpalatably painful. Who seek consolation in the coming messiah. But ‘who are old enough and wise enough to see that there is pain beyond consoling’. [2]

In A Grief Observed another wise old man C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.’ [3]

Mary had sung her own song, The Magnificat we call it, a song which recognised that her child would raise some and bring others down [4]. Simeon confirmed to her that Jesus would make powerful enemies through his ministry, his words to Mary helped her to prepare herself for the mother’s pain, like a sword piercing her heart, which she would suffer in later life.

The Presentation of a child in the Temple was a very ordinary ritual, attended by everyday people giving thanks for a child and seeking God’s blessing on their family. But rituals change when the Spirit of God breaks in – and The Presentation of Christ in the Temple brought something new to birth.

We give thanks for Simeon, whose heart was open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to visit the Temple that day, and through whom, the mission and ministry of Christ was affirmed.

We give thanks for all old men who are faithful in their everyday rituals at home and at prayer, and  whose hearts remain open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

We give thanks for these wise ones – who share their insights into the limitations of human goodness, those tellers of hard truths. We celebrate those mature men of faith who offer words of comfort, of affirmation, encouragement and guidance to the young. We remember those who have done just that for us, helped us along our journey, and influenced our lives.

Mary passed the child to the old man; he took him in his arms and praised God.

 

Notes

* This is a slightly altered form of the original sermon preached in Devon in 2013.

[1] T. S. Eliot, A Song for Simeon

[2] John Pridmore, This Sunday’s readings: Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas), Church Times, 25 Jan 2007. I owe the Eliot and Lewis quotes to this piece, too.

[3] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

[4] ‘He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly’. (Luke 1.52)
By | 2017-03-30T00:42:03+00:00 February 1st, 2015|Sermons|0 Comments

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