When I was 16, I helped my YoungLife leader finish a jigsaw puzzle on his living room table. It was gorgeous. The puzzle was a painting of an old man holding a golden package aloft, glowing with joy as his bundle glowed with something more ethereal. The expression on the man’s face was beyond description; the golden rays from the package filling the dark frame unbelievable.
I had no idea what I was seeing; no idea who the man was, nor what the package represented. I remember that I was enraptured with the beauty of the image, but I wasn’t observant enough to examine the details, nor to listen to Jim when he undoubtedly told me the story of the painting. I’m sure he did. I can’t imagine that he didn’t. But I didn’t listen well, and the memory goes down like one from early childhood, insanely vivid but lacking all knowledge and understanding, buoyed through the years on the waves of beauty alone.
I have looked for this painting, as puzzle or otherwise, for 25 years now. I haven’t found anything that matched the memories, or even came close, even in the age of Google-knows-all. I’m fairly certain it was one of those well-known (amongst the Christian bookstore circles) artists. Not like Monet, but more like Kincaid. A modern master of turning paint to light. There were probably a whole series of his works made into jigsaw puzzles for the contemporary Christian market of the early 90s. But to me, this one appears lost, only accessible in the recesses of my mind.
I know now, whether from the seepage of lost memories into the conscious mind, or though later revelation, or shards of both, that the old man was St. Simeon, and his golden bundle was the Christ Child.
St. Simeon was a watcher, one who was anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Legend has him waiting for a Very Long Time, and he is here in the Temple when Joseph and Mary present Christ at forty days old. Mary hands her bundle of golden light to the old man, and the tears flow down his face.
St. Simeon holds that Child up to His God, at the gates of the Temple, completing Joseph and Mary’s dedication, and the very purpose of his own life:
“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 enlighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”
It’s kind of beautiful. No wonder even the painting pieced together on Jim’s table struck my heart so profoundly.
In the Orthodox Church, at the Baptism and Chrismation of a baby, the last piece of the service looks a lot like this puzzle, and it is indeed the very completion of the puzzle of humanity. The priest receives the child from his mother or Godmother, strides quietly to the central altar doors, the very gates of the Temple, and holds the babe aloft just as I remember the stylized Simeon. Cradled in the loving hands of the priest, held high overhead and staring at the Icon of Christ painted in great swaths across the ceiling, the newly illumined child is dedicated to the service of God, and the priest slowly and reverently assumes the role of St. Simeon. Hands aloft, his stole rolling down around his shoulders, a perfect new creation in his care, he sings the words of the canticle, and—generally—tears flow.
When the song of Simeon is complete, the priest turns, kisses the babe, and lays him at the steps of the altar. His mother leaves her place and reclaims him, God’s child. She has brought him to the Church, and the Church has given him back to her. And with his parents, his Godparents, and his Church to lead him, this babe will be raised in the ways of God, to become a watcher. One who anxiously awaits the Messiah. One who waits on God within his own heart.
Today in the Church, we celebrate The Meeting of our Lord in the Temple. We celebrate the fulfillment of St. Simeon’s expectations, and the true salvation of our souls.
May we be the watchers,