Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.- Luke 2:29-32
Traditional Anglicans would be familiar with this canticle. It is the song of Simeon and it is part of the gospel text for this Sunday for churches that follow the RCL readings. For me, this canticle brings back memories of Evening Prayer in the chapel of St. Anne’s Church in Crystal River, Florida and before that it was in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, Maine. It never occurred to me that each time I prayed this simple canticle it was shaping my understanding of missionary work. It is in reality the perfect prayer for any missionary work whether in the local parish or overseas. It summarizes in simple words the goal in every ministry in the church. Our simple goal in any missionary endeavor is to see and testify the salvation of our Lord.
Salvation came into this world. This is the message of the gospel. As Christians, we do not bring salvation to the world. We must thank God for this. If He waits for the church to bring salvation to the people, then many would perish. God acts first. He brought Salvation to this world.
Week after week, we realize that we don’t have what it takes to save these children from the despair and emptiness. We can see the problems clearly. However, this is not helpful. Knowing the problems without any solution is useless. It contributes nothing to alleviate the suffering of the people. There are too many people in the world who like to shout out the problems of society. However, God calls us to be like Simeon who waited patiently to see Salvation manifested where God has placed him. This is the only thing we can do and we believe we can do this effectively. We are called to see and testify the presence of salvation in our midst.
How do we recognize salvation?
Simeon knew that salvation was not a doctrine, but a person. We have no idea how he knew it. The same gospel text tells us of another prophetess, Anna, who saw the infant child and testified to the presence of salvation in this child. St. Luke describes Simeon as a man who was led by the Holy Spirit and Anna as someone who dedicated herself to prayer and fasting. They were able to see salvation even when salvation presented itself as an infant child. There were many people in the temple but only these two had eyes to see salvation.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.-Romans 8:5
Engaging in missionary work, whether it is doing it in our context among the homeless in São Paulo or whether it is in the local parish demands that we train our hearts and minds to live according to the Spirit. It is not something that comes naturally to us. We receive it through grace. Prayer and fasting open our hearts and minds to be transformed through grace to live according to the Spirit. Simeon and Anna waited for many years before they saw Salvation. They most likely had to change their idea of salvation before they could see it in a little child. Salvation appeared in the most unlikely form to them and only they were able to recognize Him.
We need to remind ourselves constantly as we work in the streets that we are not the salvation of the people. Sometimes we desire to be God’s answer to the problems or at least we like to know the answer to the problems here. However, God does not overburden us with things that are beyond our control. He calls us to fulfill something within our reach. He calls us to wait and see His salvation in action. It comes in a subtle way like an innocent child and we need to be ready to recognize Him and testify to His presence.
For the time being, we are training our hearts and minds to think according to the Spirit so that we can see the things of the Spirit.
In this world, there are so many who are quick to notice the problems in any given situation. God calls Christians to be different. We are called to see His Salvation in our midst.