Those of us who are older see things differently than those who are young. Part of it is just that we’ve lived longer, seen more things. There isn’t much in life that we haven’t experienced, be it good or bad. Part of it is that we’ve had time to reflect on our own lives, what we’ve experienced, how that has formed us and changed us. We’ve had great joy and we’ve had our hearts broken, and we have survived both those experiences.
That’s certainly true for me. I cannot look at a daylily on a summer day, especially those speckled orange ones we call tiger lilies, without remembering my first visit as a city girl to the country, when I went to Girl Scout camp at the age of 7. I had no idea there were places with so many trees, and that there were roads where hundreds – no, thousands – of those tiger lilies filled the ditches flanking the dirt road, their tangerine glory lighting up the day as we hiked alongside them.
I cannot walk in a churchyard without remembering with a chill the cold January morning when we buried my mother almost two decades ago, after her long battle with heart disease.
We who have lived a while see things more deeply than our younger friends and family, because we have touchpoints, memories, that help us give meaning to what we observe.
In this, we are in fellowship with Simeon and Anna, the elders in the synagogue when Joseph and Mary bring the infant Jesus to the temple to be dedicated to God, as Mosaic law decreed.
Imagine them now, an old man and an old woman, faithful believers in the one true God. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He spent most of his days now in the temple, waiting for the arrival of the anointed one as he had for many years, wondering perhaps if he would truly live until he saw the child. What a gift that God had given to this faithful man! Years to hone his skills in seeing, so that when the right child, that blessed child, came, he would recognize him. He was now old, so old that his eyesight was not very good, but when Joseph and Mary brought the child to the temple, he had no trouble seeing who and what this child was. At last, after all those years of waiting and watching! The child, the Messiah! And Simeon offered up a beautiful prayer, one that we still recite as one of the canticles in our prayer book:
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
Simeon was grateful that God had kept his promise, both to the people of Israel in sending them deliverance through this Messiah, and to him, in giving him the gift of seeing who this child was.
But the gift of seeing does not mean that you only get to see wonderful and joyful things. The burden that Simeon carried was that he also saw how it would end for this baby, and he warned the child’s mother:
"This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
We see more deeply, don’t we? And the hard part is that we see it all, good and bad.
This community knows that truth with particular sadness these days, when we mourn with our friend Louise over the senseless deaths of her great-granddaughters. We know bad things happen, that people go insane and hurt others, just as we know that little children are pure blessing and joy to us. We see how it is possible for such evil to happen. We wish we didn’t, as I am sure that Simeon wished he hadn’t seen what was going to happen to the precious infant Jesus that he held in his arms in the temple that morning. Sometimes it feels like we see too well, and wish we had the limited vision and naïve understanding of our youth. But this is the gift and the burden of our age – we see it all, too clearly to deny it. So it was with Simeon. So it is with us on this day, when we grieve the death of the King twins, when we weep tears of sympathy with their family.
The gift of vision, like all gifts, is simply given to us. It is given without regard to the good and bad we might see, but it is also given with the understanding that whatever we see, God sees with us. Whatever we see that frightens us, God knows about and stands behind us to strengthen us. Whatever we see that gives us joy, God knows about and stands beside us, smiling. Whatever we see that causes us grief, God knows about…and he wraps his love around us in shared grief.
We are not given this ability to see so deeply without a care for the emotions that it brings to us. And so, even in the most difficult times of seeing the hardest things, like the death of children, we know that we are not alone. We are never alone. The giver of the gift is with us, telling us that we must look, we must see, we must bear witness to what has happened, and we must pray that it will never happen again.
So we pray, and may our prayers help us to see the Resurrected Messiah as well as the Christ on the Cross. May our prayers help us to see two little children in heaven, as well as the poor hurt bodies they have left behind.
God bless us and keep us, and help us to bear the gift of seeing that we share.