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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On one of the coldest days of winter, two weeks ago, I went to visit a former parishioner after she had fallen and been placed in hospice care. I am not sure that she knew me, though she did when I was with her to celebrate her 98th birthday in September. No doubt she was counting her days, if she could tell the difference between day and night anymore. Betty Westrom Skold, a retired journalist and published author, had indirectly been a part of our family longer than Janna and I have been married. As a young journalist in Faribault, Betty lived across the street from my future mother-in-law and served as her mentor and role model. As a gifted poet with a wonderful use of metaphor, she influenced my writings and I quoted her often in my sermons. Oddly, no one thought Betty would live beyond her 20’s. She was a sickly child, and as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, she was diagnosed with TB, tuberculosis and was sent off to live in a sanitarium. At 98 years, however, she had outlived most of her friends and family and was patiently waiting for a death that did not come. When I would visit she would tell me that she was worried sick. “I know my loved ones in heaven are wondering where I’ve gone.” She would then laugh.
Betty was here at Lake of the Isles nine years ago for my installation service on Candlemas. I told her once that we continued celebrate Candlemas every year as a sort of personal anniversary, so I asked her if she had ever written a poem about Simeon- after all, she had at least 6 books of inspirational poetry in circulation. At first she said she hadn’t written any poems in a long time, but then she remembered a line or two. I quickly looked on the shelf of books in her room and found the poem and read it to her, “Lord, You Are Light.”
The Light of the world, yes, but, Lord, you are my light, too.
You are candlelight, bathing this room with beauty.
You are sunlight, strengthening sunlight.
You are my trouble light when something needs repair,
my night light, comforting your child,
my searchlight, sweeping across darkness.
And one day, Lord, you will be my porch light, welcoming me home.
The devout and righteous Simeon knew that meaning of light and salvation. According to Orthodox Christian tradition, he was 360 years old when he died. As a young man, Simeon was one of the seventy scholars invited by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus to translate the Holy Scripture from Hebrew into Greek for the great library in Alexandria. Simeon was responsible for translating a portion of the Prophet Isaiah, but he hesitated over the translation of Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…” and wondered how this was possible, or even if it might be a copyist’s error. He thought, perhaps, it should read a maiden or a young woman. Suddenly an angel appeared to him and told him that the prophecy was correct as it was written, and that he would not die until he had seen its fulfillment. And so he wrote, “Behold, a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.” That was an amazing promise for which Simeon would wait 200 years to see fulfilled. And along the way, he himself experienced great pain, sorrow and persecution. He witnessed the succession of foreign rulers who governed Israel, the Greeks, the Hasmoneans and the Romans. He experienced the struggle for independence during the Maccabean Revolt and the Siege of the Temple which gave his people the miracle of Hanukkah. He also saw the final conquest of his nation by the Roman army. Through all these sorrows, he set his hope for his people and nation on the consolation he had been given. Simeon trusted that before he died, he would see the Savior of the world, for all peoples, the Messiah, who would reveal the glory of his people Israel.
Then one day, far longer than he had ever expected it to happen, Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled. When he was visiting the Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit whispered into his ear, “Simeon, this is the one you have been waiting for. This is the Messiah, the Savior of the whole world.” And Simeon rushed to the child, as best as a 360 year-old sage could muster, and he took him, then feeling the warm of the weight of God in his arms, and with tears streaming down his face, and perhaps with laughter on his lips, he said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Now I can die. According, to your word, I have seen the Savior.” He didn’t need to see the victorious Messiah. It was enough to hold the Savior in his arms and know that all would be well.
Salvation reveals itself in so many day to day ways and with one glorious end. I do recognize that aging changes our perspective on salvation. Nine years ago when I first came to Lake of the Isles, I could still complain in restaurants about mood lighting being overrated. It was simply too dim to read the menu. I tried once to bluff my way by pointing to an item and stating, “Medium rare please.” The waiter looked at me skeptically and responded, “A fine choice, sir, One ‘No personal checks accepted’ Medium Rare.” Today, I am hoping that the eye doctor will take care of my emerging cataracts. Nine years ago, I sported slightly graying temples. On my next driver’s license, I am going to be forced to change the color of my hair on the renewal form Truthfully, all these changes, I expected them to happen. The challenge is when things happen that are outside of our control. That is when it is good to know and trust that in God’s hands- all will be well. That is what Simeon felt as he received Christ into his arm. He could leave this old world knowing that God would take care of any last task he left behind. I am also keenly aware of those are no longer among us, and for that I have grown more and more hopeful of God’s final gift of salvation.
Unfortunately, for many Christians that is all the promise of Jesus Christ offers- a future salvation. A light at the end of tunnel of life. Jesus is preparing a place for us even now in his heavenly mansion, and when he returns he will take us to that wonderful kingdom. But my friends, salvation is not simply about future consequences. It is also about present realities. Salvation is a light that is shining now. Our faith, you see, is not limited to standing and gazing longingly to the vast vaults of heaven. But it gives us a whole new perspective on the life we are living now. When Jesus walked on the face of the earth, he said, “I am the light of the world, no darkness can overcome.” He said, “I have come that you should have life and that you should have it abundantly.” And this abundant life doesn’t begin when you close your eyes in death. But the abundant life begins every morning when you wake up and open your eyes to life.
It was the same assurance that our friend Betty Skold enjoyed every day of her life, and that she shared freely with everyone through her words and her actions- and most profoundly through her kindness. It was that confidence that allowed God’s light to shine all around and through her dispelling the darkness. It was also the faith that allowed her to see the light of God’s eternal kingdom that was yet to come. This past week, I receive word that Betty passed away. The light in this world seems a bit dimmer in her passing, but I know the porch light in heaven was shining, welcoming her home. That will be yours and my hope one day as well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.