My hyacinths are blooming. I was given the bulbs as a present at the recent Christmas party in Comrie and the flowers are now out.
They remind me of the opening line to one of my favourite poems, ‘A Song for Simeon’ by T. S. Eliot.
In this, the last of our Advent reflections proper before focusing on the birth of Christ, I’m going to say a word or two about our hearts and talk about this character who comes right at the end of the Christmas story, Simeon.
Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple in Luke 2, 25-34. There an old man, Simeon, trusting in the prompting of the Spirit, comes by just at that moment. He was promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.
He takes the child Jesus in his arms and gives God thanks. He blesses Mary and Joseph and prophesies about what Jesus will do and what that will mean to his mother: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mary’s soul, her heart, who she really is, will be sundered, torn apart, and remade. Even in the midst of rejoicing, celebration and giving thanks, there is the warning of what is to come. Yet, for the gospels, this is nothing to be afraid of: it is what happens; sorry, what must happen.
Our hearts will be broken, remade and resurrected by taking Christ into our hearts. It is an emotional, intellectual and spiritual roller coaster, and we shall never be the same.
In Eliot’s poem, Simeon is heard, in a mixture of lament, protest, resignation and hope, to sing of his life and the coming of the Messiah. The coming of Christ causes him to reflect on his life and to make his feelings known to God, expose his heart, his prophecy, his goodness, and his fears. This leads him to make the final statement; the last words in the poem echo the first words he speaks in Luke’s Gospel, ‘Let thy servant depart, having seen thy salvation.’
Simeon sums up for me all the characters who form the community who wait for the coming of God. He is honest, hesitant, trusting, faithful and hopeful. He is ready to accept what God offers, even if it means difficulty, heartache and a world turned upside down. He is not afraid of fear.
If we are ready to open our hearts to Christ, there are no guarantees that they will not be broken.
They probably will be. But if we are ready to be honest with God, admit to him where we really are, with all our feelings of joy, bitterness, contentment, anger, regret and hope, they will be remade anew to be bigger and stronger.
In these last days of Advent, pick one of the characters in the gospel stories of Luke and Matthew who wait for the Messiah: Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna.
Each of them will appeal to us at different times, depending on where we are in our lives. Are we completely open, like Mary? Ready to dream, like Joseph? Fearful, like Zechariah? Quietly confident, like Elizabeth? Feeling the strain but trusting, like Simeon or Anna? Wait with them. Ask them for their intercession that you might at last see the face of salvation.