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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart in Peace

This Friday I went to visit Mary, to pray with her and take her the Lord’s body and blood. And as I placed the broken and tiny pieces - all she could take in - of consecrated wafer of Christ’s body on her tongue, Simeon’s words from today’s Gospel lesson struck me: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

Our passage tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout; that he was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and that the Holy Spirit rested on him. As a result, it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. And so guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God: “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

To be sure, these words were on my mind this week as I was thinking about what to preach. But when I saw Mary, I was struck by how powerful she was. Not, to be sure, in her body. Rather, I was struck by the love that she has poured from her heart and mind, from her mouth, for her whole life. I could see this from day one in how she welcomed me; in her sharp wit in corralling Sam during our zoom socials during COVID. I could see it in the way she asks about and cares so deeply for all of you, asking how you all are, what you’re doing, how your children and grandchildren are. 

As we talked and prayed, she asked God to come to her and take her hand: “Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” I told her how powerful a servant of God she’d been. She asked me why I thought this. I said, because through you I have seen God’s salvation at work. She asked what I meant. I said, “you have loved without remainder. 

That is faith. Faith is the courage to love when doing so is hard; when it requires sacrifice; leaving behind a home to give others new possibility of life, hope and opportunity to know God; the risk of bearing children in this world and nurturing them in faith and love; the risk of staying put in a community of people who are not your own people and making a home there; a home that is constantly open to embracing others. 

There is no greater love than to give oneself so that others might have hope enough to act with faith, even in the midst of their own fears, frustrations and struggles. She smiled. She said, “I don’t think I have done all that much.” I said, “of course you don’t. You have seen the salvation of God come to you in Christ and you responded by faith, a faith like Abraham’s, a faith like Mary’s, a faith like Simeon’s: acknowledging that Jesus has brought God’s Kingdom into the world and acting in a way that opens awareness of that Kingdom up to others.”

And in their own lives they manifest to us what it is to receive the incarnate Jesus: this one who transforms reality does so by taking on our humanity, being born into a world of suffering and of joy, of fear and of peace, of struggle and of hope, and then dying a truly human death, a cruel one we mark with Good Friday, so that his love - even in betrayal, abandonment and rejection - might open the kingdom of heaven to Jew and gentile alike.

To manifest this Christ in our souls is to bear the reality of such a life. As John Donne puts it: “To have a Christmas day in our souls, we shall also have a Good Friday, a crucifying and an ‘it is finished,’ a measure of corrections and joy in those corrections. It is to have temptations, and a Resurrection and Ascension, an unremovable possession of heaven itself in this world.” 

Donne continues: “Make good your Christmas day, that Christ be born in you, and he who died for you will live with you all the year, and all the years of your lives and inspire into you and receive from you at the last gasp, this blessed acclamation, “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

Make good your Christmas day that you die to those things that prevent you from sharing God’s love with those with whom you find it both easy, but even more so, so very hard to love. Make good your Christmas Day that you let down your defences - whatever those are - and let God’s love pour into you through listening to others, through hearing not just what they say, but what they really mean. Make good your Christmas Day by making time for study, prayer, and self examination. Don’t save this gift of time God has given you for later. It may be gone before you get to it. Make good your Christmas Day by going up to God, laying bare your soul and asking him to take you by the hand. 

Seek and you will find. Ask and he will answer. You are no longer a slave to sin but a child of God. So let us join with all of creation: mountains, sun, moon, stars, water, all animals in making good our Christmas Day, where with all the Simeons and Marys of this world, we acknowledge and proclaim the Lord to all whom we encounter. AMEN 


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