The various prophetic declarations regarding the birth of Jesus that Luke records in his gospel are often considered minor parts of his telling of the nativity story. But it is within these words that Luke communicates the gospel most clearly. Each song or exultation is actually a Holy Spirit inspired prophecy. Each character who prophesies is filled with joy as they suddenly realise what God is up to and they cannot help but celebrate and sing about it. Over the next few weeks we will consider each of these joyful, prophetic outbursts in turn and the example it sets for us as believers today.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Simeon is awesome! He only makes a brief cameo in Luke’s gospel but he still manages to leave a big impression! For a start, he seems to have Yoda like levels of spirituality. Three times in three verses The Holy Spirit is mentioned in connection to Simeon who’s life is seemingly defined by a deep appreciation for and relationship with the Spirit. He is anointed by, lead by and in conversation with God. I imagine Simeon as a wise old sage that people loved to be around because he carried an aura of deep peace and enormous hope. It is this hope especially that I want to pick up on quickly.
We know that Simeon has been eagerly waiting for the Messiah - we’re told so in v25. We also know that he’s been told he will get to meet the them. Encouraged by his best pal the Spirit he enters the Temple courts one day. I wonder what he was expecting to see? Whatever his expectation, what he finds is a child. Not a warrior, or a King, or a prophet, or a miracle worker, or a wise rabbi, or any of the other standard Jewish expectations… a child. There was nothing about Jesus at that point to commend him, save for some grandiose stories from his peasant parents. That Jesus would grow up to bring about the long awaited consolation of Israel was nothing more than a hopeful flicker at this point - far from a guarantee! Yet Simeon scoops him up in his arms and essentially declares without any sense of irony “At last! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for! Now I can die happy!”
What I love about Simeon is that he has the ability to see what God is up to even when there’s almost nothing there to see yet. Not only that, but he only needs to see the tiniest glimpse to be satisfied. I am not like that! I take a long time to catch on to what God is up to, and then when I do, I want to see the climax of God’s work not the buildup. I think we can often be like that. Take evangelism or discipleship as an example - we struggle to notice the small incremental moves of God in a persons life, and often only really want to see the point at which they finally fully get it. Yet Simeon’s faith is so grounded, so secure, and - what is key - so sensitive to the Spirit, that he gleans deep satisfaction from the small glimpse of God because he trusts that what God starts he will see through to completion.
How about you?
How open to the Spirit are you? How much time do you give to sitting in and listening to God’s presence? When you sense the Spirit speaking or moving, how long are you prepared to wait patiently in the knowledge that God will actually do what he’s said he’ll do?
Spend some time with God reflecting on the last term. What has happened that has encouraged or frustrated you? What hasn’t happened that you hoped would? Ask the Spirit to show you what he is up to. Celebrate the glimpses of tiny breakthrough. Ask God what your role is in the coming term. Pray for the humility to not have to see the climax of God’s work in order to celebrate the flickers of hope now.
Painting: 'Simeon The Righteous' by Alexey Yegorov