Becoming a Hylden changed me in many ways. The most unexpected, perhaps, is that I now can speak with relative authority on matters of agriculture farming in the United States. While most of the country was suffering a drought last summer, North Dakota had enough moisture that the crops turned out rather well, and the summer before that, floods in Russia and agricultural parts of Europe turned into good news for farmers over here, because their crops were subsequently in much higher demand. Things have been so unexpectedly positive for upper-Midwest farmers the last few years that my father-in-law has finally finished the house they’ve been meaning to build for almost three decades.
And four years ago, I had no idea about how any of these international weather patterns could affect a family farm in Northeastern North Dakota. My perspective has been changed with my introduction to the Hylden clan.
In our Gospel reading this evening, Simeon’s perspective is changed with his introduction to Jesus. He’d known for some time that his days on earth wouldn’t end until he’d met the child of promise that God was sending to the whole world. Finally, the climax of Simeon’s life arrived, and he held the infant Jesus in his arms. As he takes the child in his arms, he bursts into song—the beautiful song we just heard offered earlier in this service, a song that is that’s also in the order of service for Evening Prayer and Compline in the Anglican tradition. Simeon, whose name, curiously, means “he has heard,” goes on about all that he’s now seen. His purpose, he says, is fulfilled in seeing Jesus Christ. He’s received the greatest gift he can imagine a human could—he’s lived through the dark night of exile and oppression along with the Israelite people and now he’s come to the dawn of the ultimate light. The best part of this, he knows—and he says so!—is that this light isn’t just for Israel, though it is Israel’s crowning glory, this light, the dawn that Jesus’ life on earth brings, is for the whole world. Simeon recognizes a baby isn’t a Jewish thing, it’s a universal thing, a sign that God’s people are meant to be made up of everyone on earth. This salvation, Simeon sings to God, has been brought by you to all peoples, both Gentiles and the people of Israel. In Jesus arrival, the limits of who made up God’s people were destroyed. There are no limits on who is acceptable to be God’s child. The only requirement for being God’s child is that you be a sinner seeking of healing.
The other striking aspect of Simeon’s interaction with Jesus also has to do with Simeon recognizing what the humanity of God meant for us humans. When I was nine, my family went to abroad for the first time. We went to a conference for my dad’s medical specialty in London, and then spent another week in the English countryside. To this day, almost twenty years later, my most vivid memory of that entire trip is a particular subterranean museum in York. Of course, a subterranean museum seems like something especially memorable, but this one was so because, as it boasted, it allowed the attendee to experience the “sights, sounds, and smells” of ancient Jorvic—the Viking town that had occupied that space in the eleventh century. It was something like the Carousel of Progress at Disneyworld—a bunch of human-like robots who engaged in smithing, cooking, and agriculture, complete with animal noises, crying babies, fire smoke, and bodily odor. My parents probably hope that I recall the lovely bulcolic scenes we passed on our drives, or the various ruins we visited, but I think there’s something important to be gleaned in the fact that my brothers and I most remember the one event that engaged all our senses at once.
Simeon had heard that he would not die before meeting the Lord, and then he went to the temple and saw God, he approached Mary and Joseph, and in taking their baby into his arms, he touched God. As anyone who has held a newborn knows, you cannot help but smell the sweet scent of his or her head. Simeon experienced God with his senses, and he was changed and fulfilled by it.