When Simeon looked at the baby Jesus, he realised how significant his birth – and death – would be. It brought deep joy and peace to his heart, and it can to ours, too, says Bob Lepine
There is a very interesting, and too often neglected story, about the birth of Jesus that points us back to the true source of Christmas joy. It’s a found in the Gospel of Luke 2 and it’s about an old man named Simeon and his encounter with Jesus.
Jewish law required that the parents of first-born sons were to bring their child to the temple to have him dedicated to God. Jews believed the first-born son belonged to God, and the parents had to bring a sacrifice and pay a redemption price of five shekels - roughly ten days wages - to buy their child back from God.
When Joseph and Mary entered the temple courtyard with Jesus, they found themselves face to face with an old man. Tradition says Simeon was 113 years old, and was a devout and pious Jew. He went to the temple each day to pray and was known by everyone who worked there.
God’s promise to Simeon
Somewhere in his past, Simeon had received what he believed was a promise from God. The old man had been faithfully waiting for God to send the longed-for Messiah, to deliver the nation of Israel from its enemies and bring peace and prosperity; the kind that the Jews had known centuries earlier during the reign of the great King David.
The key to finding peace at Christmas is believing that the person whose birth is being celebrated really is who he claimed to be
Simeon believed that God had promised him he would not die before this Messiah came. So, every day, as he went to the temple, Simeon prayed that this might be the day when that promise would be fulfilled.
As Mary and Joseph entered the temple courtyard, something stirred in Simeon’s soul. He approached the young couple feeling sure that this child, out of all the children being brought to the temple each day, was the promised one – the one Simeon referred to as “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). This was the one who would bring comfort to God’s people, in fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures.
Imagine being that young couple, with a new baby in their arms, being confronted by a 113-year-old man, asking if he can bless your child. That’s what happened to Mary and Joseph. They must have wondered if this old man was crazy. But they handed over their son and Simeon took him in his arms and blessed him.
“Lord,” Simeon said, “I can now die in peace, because just as you promised me, I have seen your salvation in this child. He will grow up to be a light who points the way for Gentiles to come to you. He will bring great glory to Israel.” (Luke 2:28-32).
Simeon saw Jesus and realised how significant he was – and it brought deep joy, peace and hope to his heart. He knew that this child had been sent by God for a specific purpose. Just as Isaiah had promised, the light of God was about to shine in a land that was filled with darkness.
The long-awaited king had been born, and he would grow up to rule and reign over a kingdom that would be characterised by peace, joy and love. It would be a kingdom where even lions and lambs would lay down together (Isaiah 11:6), and where swords would be refashioned into farming implements (Isaiah 2:4) because all wars would cease.
Anyone checking today’s headlines would have to conclude that Simeon was either delusional or sadly mistaken about the identity of Jesus. He was convinced that this baby would bring peace, hope and joy to the world. But as little as three decades later, Jesus’ mother watched as her son was charged with sedition and nailed to a Roman cross. How different an outcome for her son than Simeon had prophesied!
It wasn’t just Jesus’ coming that mattered, it was what he accomplished when he came
But as she watched Jesus being crucified, Mary would recall something else that the old man told her that day. Simeon had said to her: “This child will bring about the fall and rising of many in Israel. He will face opposition. Because of him, the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And you, Mary, will experience profound pain and grief. A sword will pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:34-35).
These had been cryptic words at the time Simeon spoke them. Now, as she watched her son being crucified, this part of the old man’s prophecy came true.
Simeon’s prophecy was not fulfilled in the way that anyone expected. But he was right. God sent a king who would bring salvation to the whole world. While Jesus did not restore a physical Jewish empire, he did usher in a new kingdom – one that was “not of this world” (John 18:36).
Peace on earth
Even though our favorite Christmas carols point to the birth of Jesus as the source of joy and peace, ironically, it was his death that Christians ultimately look to. It wasn’t just his coming that mattered, it was what he accomplished when he came. When he died. And when he rose again.
The key to finding the peace, joy, hope and love we long for all year long, but especially at Christmas, is wrapped up in believing that the person whose birth is being celebrated really is who he claimed to be – the God of the universe, who came to live among us as one of us; fully human and yet still fully God.
It is only when we recognise that the one who created us came to establish a relationship with us that we start to see the ultimate meaning and purpose for our lives.