Other Writing

The old man in the Temple

The glory of our people Israel!
So say the priests who scurry through these courts
directing pilgrims, offering sacrifice,
administ’ring, enforcing, protecting.
See what majestic stones and buildings stand,
they say, upon this Mountain of the Lord;
within these Temple walls is holiness!
And Israel’s Lord
(they whisper now) will rouse
to win deliv’rance from the foreign curse
that holds us now in thrall. Caesar will know
there is a God in Israel…
and I too
have looked and prayed that glory might shine forth
– and little Judah’s lion roar once more.
Yet now, a greater glory have I glimpsed:
not hewn from stone, but in an infant’s gaze.

A light for revelation to the world
it was as if the phrase leapt off the scroll
as I recited old Isaiah’s words
of prophecy and comfort. See, new things
I now declare: to open eyes once blind,
to bring out prisoners from the dungeon.

And further down the scroll: Too light a task
to raise up Jacob’s tribes, restore Israel:
I give you as a light to the nations,
that to earth’s ends salvation may extend.

I pondered as I took my morning walk
along Jerus’lem’s narrow high-stepped streets.
To tell the truth, I was preoccupied
and hardly noticed where my feet took me
until I found myself upon the stairs
that lead to Huldah Gate. Well now, I laughed,
what Spirit chose to guide my steps this day
that I, to whom Jerusalem is home,
should take the pilgrim’s route to the Temple
and jostle with the merchants and the crowds
who line this … Court of the Gentiles
… Ah yes.
Old Simeon’s mind is not yet quite so dulled
that such a serendipity is missed.
Again a laugh escaped my lips – but then,
just for an instant, the whole Court was hushed –
and I could hear another laugh with mine,
the gurgling of a little tiny child.
I looked – and saw – and yes, he looked at me:
and even as the Court resumed its noise
we shared our joke, that baby boy and I.
Scarce older than six weeks could he have been –
come for the purification, I expect –
and nothing that would mark the fam’ly out
as anything exceptional. Indeed
I couldn’t help but notice turtledoves
the parents carried for the sacrifice –
the pauper’s offering, set out in the Law.
Yet as he gazed at me, and I at him,
I knew for certain. Straightaway I went,
and asked if I might hold and bless this boy.

Prepared by God right under our noses
for while the zealots look for Messiah
to ride up like a royal warrior,
in sneaks this little scrap of human life,
a babe-in-arms, whom no-one notices –
except the strange old folk who laugh too much
and babble about falling and rising,
about Israel and Gentiles, signs, and swords.
Ah yes: Anna and I, we two alone
perceived God’s truth today, and dared to tell
of who this boy is, and what he shall do.
We two alone – but who listens to us?
Our days are ending – his are just begun.

And my own eyes have seen salvation now
– not held within the Temple walls, as if
it were some talisman of refuge; No,
The Lord now saves – Yeshua – that’s his name –
his mother told me he is called Jesus.
And though I love this Temple, and will come
to worship here, in these my latter days,
its stones, for me, have lost their lustre now.
How long will they yet stand? How long until
tables are turned, here in these Temple courts,
and the whole edifice comes crashing down?
Be it just seven years, or seventy,
I surely shall not live to see the day –
and yet, this very day, I see it clear.

Your word of promise now has been fulfilled
for I had somehow always known that I
would not see death until I’d seen Messiah.
And though I thought I had outlived surprise,
it seems the Lord had one more joke to play.
For not in silent piety or prayer
did revelation come to me – oh, no,
it was when infant eyes were met with mine,
and old and young were blended in a laugh.
And all is well. My purpose is complete.
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.

Part Three of a Christmas Triptych – a set of three monologues (written some years ago and a few years apart!), providing perspectives on the Christmas stories from some of the characters therein. Trace the lines in bold back from the end to the beginning, and you’ll find the Song of Simeon – also known as the Nunc Dimittis – which can be found in the Bible at Luke 2:29-32.

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