Christmas 2020–through the eyes of Simeon

“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.’”
(Luke 2:25-32)

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for . . .

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40)

The church in 2020, hamstrung by a worldwide pandemic, is like the land Simeon lived in. The Scripture was replete with promises of a restored kingdom. The promises had been heard, and repeated, for centuries, and yet Israel was still a subject people awaiting its Messiah.

The pandemic-bound church looks for deliverance at every level, from restrictions on public worship to the sickness of its most vulnerable members. We know our Lord is Sovereign and yet we don’t see it realized in the way we are accustomed to.

Simeon is one of those biblical figures who appears briefly onstage and then disappears, like the rich young ruler or the Samaritan woman at the well. But at some point the Holy Spirit revealed to this devout man that he would see the Messiah.

How his heart must have leapt at this privilege! Why me? And when—and where?

I’ve had the Lord suddenly speak to me about things to come (though of much less importance than Simeon’s experience) and I’m sure you have as well. Your heart starts beating faster, your spirit is revived, and the ways you imagine it coming to pass are suddenly telescoped to merge with the promise itself, though at this point that is all you have: a promise.

But this is how faith is birthed. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17). In my experience, there is usually a significant incubation period between promise and fulfillment. Before you can drink new wine, you must become a new wineskin else the old wineskin burst and both wine and skin are ruined.

In some cases, this can take years. Joseph at 17 had two dreams of prominence that had to wait until his 30s for completion. The man who revealed himself to his startled, needy brothers was nothing like the young man who dreamed of being “the boss.”

Within the past few months I have seen promises fulfilled that stretch back more than thirty years. I realize now that they couldn’t have happened when I was 30 or 40 or even 55. The fulfillment is like a ripened fruit and the promise the blossom on the vine or tree. Pick it too soon and the premature “fruit” will only disappoint. You may have hastened its completion, but it will amount to, in Solomon’s plaintive phrase, “a chasing after the wind” (Eccl 1:14)—vanity, a waste of time.

Simeon was “moved by the Spirit” a second time, and one day went into the temple courts (the public area of the temple, not the sanctuary). It so happened it was the day Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus for consecration, as they were obligated to do under the Law.

What’s interesting about this encounter is how the promise to Simeon was fulfilled. This was thirty years before the mature man Jesus emerged from the wilderness and announced, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15).

Simeon never saw a miracle or an exorcism. He never heard Jesus teach. He never saw him enter the temple courts with a whip of cords for the moneychangers who had desecrated the space he was now in. And of course he never watched in horror as the Savior was nailed to a cross like a criminal after being soundly rejected in this very city.

Before him was a couple who apparently were too poor to purchase and offer a sacrificial lamb for the consecration. Instead, as the Law allowed, they substituted “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Lk 2:24; Lev 12:8). They were from Judea’s backwater, not the religious center of Jerusalem. And they had brought a wriggling baby less than two months old who couldn’t speak or walk.

How could Simeon believe the promise was fulfilled? What exactly did he see? And how did he see?

He saw by faith, not by sight:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismissyour servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.”

Then, by faith, he went on to tell the surprised parents that this was no ordinary child:

“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” (Lk 2:34-35).

To encourage disaffected believers, the writer of Hebrews created a “hall of fame of faith” in chapter 11. By my count, by faith, appears 22 times, each yoked with some fulfillment. “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

But none of “the ancients” had the privilege Simeon had to see the Messiah. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40).

But the writer of Hebrews also wanted to exhort his readers to carry on and not lose heart. As a model, in one memorable phrase, the writer described Moses, who “persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27).

Our heritage includes twenty centuries of God’s faithfulness beyond the first Christmas. We’ve seen things that Simeon could only imagine. But it was enough for him to see this child and say, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.”

For my eyes have seen your salvation. So have we. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32)

See also:

‘Peace on earth’–about Christmas

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