When the time came for them to do the new parent thing according to the rules of their tradition, they took Jesus to Washington to present dedicate him. (It’s written in the law, “Every firstborn boy will be dedicated to God as being special.”) They offered a sacrifice according to God’s policy: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
It happened at the time there was a man in Washington named Simeon. A righteous and pious man, he was looking forward to the restoration of America, and everyone agreed he was “spiritual.” He claimed God had told him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the new national savior. Guided by the spirit, Simeon came into the National Cathedral. When Jesus’ parents brought him in for their dedication ceremony, Simeon grabbed him up, and started praising God:
Master, I can finally die in peace as you said.
Because now I’ve seen the deliverance
You’ve arranged, for everyone will see
This light as proof for the unbelievers,
And to make America great!
Jesus’ parents were dumbstruck by all this. But Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, “This boy is going to be the cause of the rise and fall of many in America. He will become a symbol of resistance that will expose many a hidden agenda. And it’ll break your heart, too.”
Another aging truth-teller, Anna Phanuel Asher, was always at the Cathedral, praying there day or night, whenever the doors were open. She’d been widowed after only seven years of marriage, and was now eighty-four. She also came up and began praising God and talking about the child, telling anyone who would listen about Jesus.
This is one of those unexpected, awkward moments that happen at baby dedications. Simeon’s famous “song” was not a part of the approved liturgy for the occasion. It was offered whether anyone wanted it or not. It was a rude interruption.
Simeon is like those crazy ultra-nationalist fundamentalists. He was probably there at the National Cathedral that day as a protest to how low the national religion had sunk. And then, for whatever reason (God’s spirit) he picks this couple, to grab their baby, and to say incredible things about him.
All of which, as it turns out, are true.
Except the last thing. In the original, it’s Israel’s greatness Simeon is concerned with. But Jesus doesn’t turn out to be the John Wayne Simeon was looking for.
If there’s any lesson here, it’s that sometimes truth comes to us in unwelcome intrusions. The most truthful part of the service is often the point at which the liturgy is interrupted. The most poignant moments in life tend to be the unwanted and unexpected ones. Mary and Joseph, in all likelihood, were just there to get great aunt Petunia off their backs about how “You’ve got to get that baby dedicated!” Instead, it is here (in Luke’s gospel) that they realize for the first time what the shepherds were talking about.
[Bonus: There’s another more personal moment in this story. It’s when Simeon says to Mary, “And it’ll break your heart, too.” It’s something nearly every parent will recognize. Sometimes when our children follow their calling, their doing so breaks our hearts.]