Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Advent Reflections on Simeon (Part II)

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts (Luke 2:27).

Recently a friend shared a quote with me that has been attributed to the artist Chuck Close: “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

My initial reaction to those words was positive. I admire and respect people who do what has to be done, facing the day’s demands with courage and poise, living the life that’s been given to them without whining about the life they wish they had.

But in the life of faith, I’m not satisfied with Close’s neat categories. I want to get up and go to work and give myself faithfully to what’s been given to me – but I’m not willing to relinquish the inspiration as easily as Close suggests. Following Jesus is the kind of life that inspires us to do what has to be done. That such a life is possible is seen in the example of Simeon.

There are some obvious reasons why Simeon should inform our understanding of spirituality: Luke’s text – the only text that tells us anything about Simeon – states plainly that Simeon was righteous and devout, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. This is about a close as scripture comes to saying “he was a spiritual person.”

But what strikes me is the balance that characterizes Simeon’s life before God. He is grounded, persistent, patient – but not dry or lifeless. The balance is captured in a brief phrase from Luke 2:27. “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the Temple courts.”

Simeon’s life embodies two aspects of spirituality that are too often separated. Here is a man who is rooted in the familiar practices of his faith. Going to the temple is simply what he does. He’s done it before, and he’ll keep doing it. This is what it means to live a life of faith. His life before God is shaped by the familiar patterns of temple worship.

But there is nothing rote or mechanical about this. The often walked route to the temple is a Spirit led journey. This man embraces the familiar patterns and practices of worship with expectancy, even with yearning. His heart is fully alive to God. He isn’t going through the motions, worshiping on autopilot. Any suggestion that genuine spirituality requires something spontaneous and new won’t find support in Simeon. He is deeply rooted in the tradition, and yet sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.

We have much to learn from Simeon at Christmas time. To build Christmas entirely on inspiration often disappoints. The painful parts of life that we dealt with in August don’t suddenly go away in December. If we wait on Christmas inspiration the day will come and go and we’ll still be waiting.

But a Christmas of mere routine – family traditions and worship practices – is equally unsatisfying. We proclaim “Joy to the World.” The words are hollow if spoken with nothing more than a steely resolve.

Pray today for the spirituality of Simeon. If you’re chasing a rush of Christmas spirit and inspiration, give yourself to the traditions of worship and expectant prayer. If you’re moving through the routines and traditions with clinched jaw, ask God for the grace of a heart moved by the Holy Spirit. Simeon reminds us that both are needed if we want to recognize the Christ child.

Keep me balanced in my walk with you, O God. Help me to embrace the familiar practice of worship in this season and in those practices make me alive to the movements of the Spirit. Guard me from empty routine and short-lived emotions. Keep me vigilant, ready for your appearances in the world I inhabit. Amen.

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