We all have our favorite stories that revolve around the baby Jesus. Maybe you heard your favorite Christmas story read already tonight, or maybe you have plans to read it at home tonight with the kids. The story I love most is the story of Simeon. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because so much of the story is left out. We’re told just enough to get us interested and to spark our imagination, but we just don’t know much about Simeon. As with most biblical characters, we have no physical description from which to build a mental image. We don’t even really know if he was a young man or an old man!
We do know he was a righteous man and a devout Jew. We’re not told that he was a priest or affiliated with any particular sect like the Sadducees or the Pharisees. He was just a righteous devout Jew who was eagerly awaiting the consolation, the comfort of Israel. Oh, there is one more very important detail of this story. Simeon was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had revealed to him that this relief would come his lifetime. He was told that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, YHWH’s anointed one, the promised Messiah, with his own eyes.
But the Spirit did more for Simeon.
One day, the Spirit led Simeon to the temple. Doesn’t that peak curiosity in you. The Bible gives us little explanation of what that looked like. Was it a whisper in Simeon’s ear? Was it a gut feeling? Was there some special providence involved – did he open up his financial records and see his temple tax was due? I don’t know, but somehow he was led by the Spirit to go to the temple. I do know that this was the most important walk across town Simeon would ever make, for this happened to be the same day that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple, just over a month old, to be circumcised as the Jewish law required.
As Joseph and Mary brought him into the Temple, Simeon took him in his arms and sang a song:
“29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” ESV
And it says that Jesus’ parents marveled at what was said about him.
This story just leaves me wanting to know so much more. How did Simeon know it was Joseph and Mary? There had to be many parents with kids coming into the Temple that day to present their children to the Lord as the Law prescribed. Was it another whisper in the ear or was it a gut feeling again? And what were Mary and Joseph thinking? Mom’s, what would you be thinking if a strange old man came up and took your baby out of your arms and began to sing a song about him? Were they a little put off, or was there something about Simeon’s face that put them at ease? Could they sense the Spirit upon him? Did he tell them his story, or was it just a mysterious kind old man who spoke prophetically?
There’s such much we don’t know, but there’s a lot we do know. We can sense the hope and joy in Simeon’s song. It’s the kind of hope that was almost tardy but comes at last, and the kind of joy that’s been long deferred, and now has burst upon Simeon with great power.
But actually, do we even know that so well? We know it intellectually, but do you know it experientially. Do we feel the hope and joy bubbling in us as we read these words? Maybe not, because we read these words after the birth of Jesus. And we know the full story, but we don’t know of the darkness of the days before the light of the Messiah shone into the world. In fact, this isn’t all that great a passage for a Christmas Eve service because it, in reality, happened eight days after the birth of Jesus, and tonight is the night before Christmas, the night before the birth of Jesus.
So maybe we should continue using our imaginations and rewind the scene a few days. We know what Simeon’s song was after his eyes had seen the Word in flesh, but I wonder if we can use that to guess at what his prayer might have been on the night before Christ was born?
Maybe his prayer went something like this:
“Lord, please give me more days. Keep me through this, yet another night of waiting and let my eyes wake to see the sun – that bright daily reminder of your faithfulness. And Lord, speaking of your faithfulness, I’m still trusting your promise, not just to me, but to your people Israel. I know I don’t have to remind of your promises, but reminding you reminds me. So Lord, remember the promise you made to Abraham that through him and his descendants all the earth would be blessed. And Lord, don’t forget that promise you made to me, that my own weak eyes would have the privilege of looking at your salvation, the light to the nations and the glory of your people. But Lord, I’m getting old and tired. I don’t mean to doubt, but it’s been so long. I know you’re faithful, and I believe that. But Lord, help my unbelief. It’s hard to keep believing cause I don’t see any signs of peace, just oppression: oppression by foreign powers that just keep rolling through and over you people. And we’re not just oppressed by other nations, we’re oppressed and enslaved by our own sin – that sin that drives a wedge hostility between you and mankind. I don’t see peace, and I don’t see salvation, just more of the same: more ritual, more self righteous law keeping, and of course dying. Lord, the idea that you’re going to do something new has fallen on hard times, and even I, righteous devout Simeon doubt it at times. After all, it has been four hundred years since the last of your prophets spoke. I’ve had the silent treatment before, but four hundred year Lords. Still, I trust and hope. So let me sleep tonight in peace and wake with a renewed faith in You, our Covenant Keeping God, and in your precious promises.”
Maybe it wasn’t like that, but allowing ourselves to appreciate the darkness of the time immediately preceding the birth of Jesus will certainly allow us to relish his birth all the more. We love to see the light of the sun, but even more so after the gloom of rainy weather. Imagine how the first rays of the sun must stir the hearts of those people who live in places like Alaska and endure months without it’s light or warmth.
Let us be careful not to take this light that we’ve grown accustomed to for granted. He is the light that shattered the darkest of darkness, brought terms of peace from a Holy God to his rebellious creation, saved those who couldn’t saved themselves, and shines the light of God’s glory into the darkness of the world so that we may know God and enjoy him forever.