Seeing something big in something very small is sometimes known as ‘catastrophising’ – I think this word now exists.
And catastrophising is bad, not a helpful habit for your mental well-being. It is literally a case of getting things out of perspective.
But I’m talking about a positive ability to see something good and something hopeful and wonderful in something very small and insignificant. The opposite of catastrophising – ‘hopefulising’?
This morning I read the story of the old man Simeon who waited years and years and years and years in the hope of seeing some good news ‘the consolation of Israel’. Years and years of waiting, and all for what? One moment with a baby!
How do you hold on to hope for that long? And what’s more how do you recognise it when it arrives? One day he sees a tiny, fragile baby in the arms of an unlikely obscure family from the northern part of the country (poorer, more backward) and he declares that he’s seen the thing he’s waited for all these years. Or at least he’s seen the beginning of the thing he’s waited for.
How did Simeon have such faith to see SO MUCH in SO LITTLE? A baby with a teenage mother. (And what were the child mortality rates in those days?) And yet Simeon declared confidently that he could now die in peace because he’d seen the promised Christ.
Simeon did then presumably die and nothing happened for 30 years. Really? In our age when we like everything instant, we’d have had zero tolerance for that kind of wait, never mind the lifetime of faithful waiting that lead up to this moment.
What Simeon did would be a bit like us looking at the blue police box from Dr Who and instead of thinking ‘that’s a blue police box’… peeking inside and realising, ‘Oh my! There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye’.
How did he have that ability? I want that ability. As a church leader, I can get so bone weary of waiting for change… hope…life. If I see a green shoot, is it a green shoot or a false dawn? (to mix metaphors). I’ve known a lot of disappointment, it takes great faithfulness to stick at your post for so long. How did he do it? And, by implication, can I do it?
The passage gives us three clues
- He was ‘righteous’ – which I take to mean his inward status before God, remember this is given, not earned.
- He was devout – faithful in all the outward actions of faith: worship, prayer, study, giving to the poor – he wasn’t just hanging around doing nothing.
- The Holy Spirit rested on him (this is before Pentecost so the Holy Spirit comes and goes on people rather than filling them). The passage actually mentions the Holy Spirit three times (She ‘rested’ on him, ‘revealed’ to him and ‘guided’ him) – three mentions are always a big biblical clue which says ‘listen up, pay attention, this is the important bit’) So is this the story of Simeon or is it a Holy Spirit story?
Perhaps it is always both? My availability + the Holy Spirit’s infilling, leading, revealing.
Simeon looked at a small helpless baby and somehow saw the promise of God with us, the Creator of the cosmos, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob doing something new, extraordinary and unexpected.
And Simeon only caught a glimpse. Can I be content with that? Can I trust in the promises of God’s provision even in a time of famine?
“With God’s help, I will”.