Notice Things Here

by | May 29, 2022


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Faith & The Arts: “Notice Things Here”
May 29, 2022
Luke 2: 22-35

Living God, Word made flesh,
silence our agendas;
banish our assumptions;
confound our expectations, we pray.
Climb into the closed off crevices of our hearts with your Word.
We know that you can, we pray that you will. Amen

Luke 2: 22-35

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.” 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Back in Kansas where Jarrett and I were ordained,
there was an older woman named Josephine Njoroge.
She was the Elder who stood with us as our daughter Naomi was baptized.
Josephine’s children were long grown and gone,
But every Sunday after that October Sunday in 2011,
Josephine would go down to the nursery before worship
to check on her little friend, as she put it.

Old man Simeon found a little friend at church, too.
Luke’s Gospel tells us how he picked Jesus up
– and pronounced a blessing over him.

I love a poem that is based on this story. Listen:

A preacher I know has claimed that scholarly research documents
that Simeon had pronounced the very same blessing
over all the babies presented to him in the Temple in those final years of his life.
That preacher was pulling my leg, of course.
But when I read the blessing and thought about it,
I began to wish he was right about Simeon … and those babies.
And I began thinking about our babies.
And I wished someone, some Simeon,
might hold my grandbabies high … and yours …
proclaiming to them with great conviction,
“You are the saviors of the world!”
meaning it so absolutely those young’uns would live it,
and love it, and make it happen!

The truth is that Simeon did hold a baby, a particular one,
and pronounce a blessing—one that has defined the course of even our lives.
He held Jesus Christ in arms,
and pronounced that in that scrap of a baby was the salvation of the world.
The light in the dark.
The grace in the guilt.
The right in the wrong.
The life in the death.
How did he see that?

Frederick Buechner has a great little book to help us keep track of biblical characters and he says of Simeon that “he’d been told he wouldn’t die till he’d seen the Messiah with his own two eyes, and time was running out. When the moment finally came, one look through his cataract lenses was all it took.”

Through those cataracts, Simeon sees.

I didn’t know it until after this sermon series was already in the works,
but apparently author and North Carolina treasure, Allan Gurganus,
has actually been our guest at UPC.
He talked about this same short story I asked us to consider this week,
about an old widow with cataracts
who sees an angel fall into the backyard of her little yellow side street house.

It Had Wings begins with this arthritic, lonely soul washing dishes at her sink.
In her slippers and with a blue willow mug of warm milk in hand,
she makes her way to the hurt angel. Gurganus writes:

Quick, she checks overhead, ready for what? –some TV news crew in a helicopter? She sees only a sky of usual size, a Tuesday sky stretched out between weekends. She allows herself to touch the angel’s forehead. She gets a mild electric shock. Then, odd, her tickled finger joints stop aching. They’ve hurt so long. A practical person, she quickly cures her other hand. The angel grunts, but sounds pleased. “Look, will warm milk help?” She pours some down on him. Her wrist brushes angel skin. A thirty-year pain leaves her, enters him. Bolder, she whispers to him her private woes: the Medicare cuts, the sons too casual by half, the daughters in law not bad but not so great. Her griefs seem to fatten him like vitamins.
She says “Nobody’ll believe. Still, tell me some of it.” She tilts nearer. “It’s not what you expect, the angel says, we miss this other. Don’t count on the next. Notice things here.”

Then the story tells of how she helps the angel on his way. She thinks about telling her neighbors, but what would they think of that? The old woman’s chin lifted, her shoulders braced square, she goes back to her dishes. “I helped,” she says to herself. “He flew off stronger. I really egged him on. Like anybody would’ve, really. Still, it was me. I’m not just somebody in a house. I’m not just somebody alone in a house. I’m not just somebody else alone in a house.”

In Greek, Angelos means messenger.
I find it fascinating that the Gurganus winged angel,
he heals yes, can’t you almost hear Handel’s Messiah in the background:
surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases
but the angel’s spoken message is “notice things here.”

It’s not oh, just you wait, you weary ones,
the light at the end of the tunnel is worth the wait,
it’s all going to get better, there’s an escape from this.
No, it’s notice, look,
see, peek through your cataracts for the salvation that is before you.
Like Simeon.

Now, let me confess something.
I don’t want to be preaching this today. I don’t.
If I could’ve gotten Allan Gurganus to be with us today,
I very well may have asked him to re-write the story.
Allan, please, let those silver wings take us far away from here,
away from the horror of this week,
into the eternal light where all is finally made right.
I don’t want to preach about noticing things here,
because I can’t bear to see
anymore 4th graders dead
anymore gun safety legislation sinfully stalled
anymore “great replacement” theories spewed
anymore cuts in mental health care.

But this Word
this living breathing holy relentless Word of God
confronts me with Simeon
holding up, of all things, a precious olive skinned, brown headed, baby.
who, like us,
was looking forward to consolation,
was looking for relief
Simeon saw it:
not after he died
not once he got to the end of the tunnel


Simeon saw it:
not once everything was right,
no way, Herod was still in charge and
he, too, was content to let children die when it suited his ambition
And though he may not have died by Herod’s hand, this very same baby, would be crucified on the altar of power
Simeon saw it:
The light, the salvation, the glory.
He noticed what was right before him:
heaven touching earth
in Jesus the Christ.

Dare I ask:
Could it be, that
even now
even today
we could do the same?

Notice things here.
Notice the light.
Notice your breath.
Notice your neighbor.
Notice that little friend we made baptismal promises to this morning.
Notice your presence in this place, defiantly showing up to sing.

Jesus Christ refusing to let you off the hook with that restless angry fire in your belly,
Jesus Christ ever-sending messengers with or without wings to remind you that you’re not alone,
Jesus Christ
the salvation of the world.

Notice things here.