Today might be the day. Certainly there was something different about today.
Simeon sat in the Outer Court of the temple, the Court of the Women, watching, waiting. His eyes flitting eagerly over the people coming to offer their sacrifices.
Today had to be the day. Why else would the Spirit move him to come to the Temple? He knew it was the Spirit, he had felt the Spirit before, it was unmistakable. He had come to know the ways of the Spirit when the promise was given, the promise that would shape the rest of his life.
He would see, with his own eyes, the Lord’s Messiah. The anointed one who would restore Israel and fulfill the promises of God to his people, the one who would bring peace and prosperity, who would announce forgiveness and restoration, Simeon would see him before he died.
In the days following the promise, everyone was a possible Messiah. Simeon watched, examined, speculated. The knowledge of death following the fulfillment of the promise was a distant dark cloud consumed by the light of Messiah’s coming. It held no threat in comparison to the joy of the promise.
In those early days he was sure that the promise was imminent. The voice of the Spirit in his soul meant that his eyes would soon see the salvation promised by God so long ago. The years Israel had waited for Messiah were coming to an end, and Simeon’s wait would mark the end of the long patience of Israel.
The bleating of the sheep and the goats being led to sacrifice brought him back. More people. Simeon watched, looking at each person intently, waiting for the voice of the Spirit.
The passing of years had not dulled his faith or anticipation. Simeon still watched and waited, much as he was doing now. People came and went as they always had. Simeon watched, as he always had, but today was different. How many times over the years had he sat here waiting to see the promised one? He sat in “his place” in the temple courts, watching, waiting, and studying. The years had taught him who he was looking for.
There’s Anna. She was there in the temple even more than Simeon. Their friendship and conversations over the years revolved around the same thing—the promises of God to Israel. Each passing day bringing them one day closer to seeing the Messiah and the kingdom of God.
Simeon reflected on the day he had told Anna of his promise. Astonishment and joy congealed into an expression Simeon would never forget. She understood that the promise to Simeon signaled that the great promises of God were at hand. Since then they had often talked, always about the coming of the Messiah.
Each drank Scripture as their daily sustenance, always amazed at the new revelation they would discover of the coming one. Each time they met in the Temple courts they would discuss something new of the Messiah.
They discussed the one who would bring comfort to Israel, who would soothe the wounded identity of years of subjugation to Gentile rulers. How long had it been since the glory of God had left the temple? Even this magnificent temple, in which Israel found much pride and identity, was made so glorious by a Gentile overlord. But Messiah, Anna and Simeon agreed, would bring true glory back to Israel. Not because of the temple, but because God would again dwell with his people—Immanuel.
They would speak with curiosity of the words of Isaiah the prophet when he described the Messiah being led like a lamb to the slaughter. All while marveling that somehow the punishment that he would bear with stripes and wounds would bring peace to the people of Israel. What did it mean that he would be pierced and crushed? How would his wounds bring healing to others? Those were heavy conversations; discussions that always drove them back to Scripture and to prayer.
They wondered that soon Israel would be a light to the Gentiles. Soon people of all nations would stream to Israel to learn of God and be taught his ways. And Israel would stand as a beacon of hope and peace, summoning peoples from far and wide to hear the words of the Lord.
Soon they would fill their roll as the chosen people of God. The coming of Messiah would usher in a new age for Israel. One that would make the peace under Solomon appear as turmoil and the victories of David as unnecessary—swords and spears would become hoes and plows as peace draped thickly over the land and all people.
Simeon remembered these conversations as he sat in the Temple. He remembered the promises of God. And he contemplated the coming kingdom. He scanned the faces of the men who walked past, each a possibility of being the one. But as each passed the Spirit was silent.
He had learned patience as he waited for his promise. The lesson that Israel had been learning about God’s timing was his in a personal way as the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to years. The strength of his youth making room to the wisdom of his age.
Here came a couple to dedicate a newborn—tiny, just 8 days old. A poor couple, Simeon could see the doves they brought to offer. Why had his heart caught as he glanced past. Was this man with a small child the one? He looked again. But the Spirit drew his eyes to the child.
Yes, the child.
Simeon moved. The stiffness of his old bones forgotten as he approached the couple with infant. Eight days old and yet this was he. This was Messiah. The Spirit was clear.
He chuckled to himself as he drew closer. Years of looking for the one who would, and could take the throne immediately had led him to expect something different. Yet here in this babe rested the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. None, including himself expected a baby. Certainly the Chosen One would have to be an infant at some point, but Simeon had expected that he would see Messiah as the one ready to usher in the promises, not as the newborn who would grow into that man.
It didn’t matter. God’s promise to Simeon was true and it was now fulfilled.
He approached the couple with wonder in his eyes. His request to hold the baby met with polite, but curious and cautious permission. Jesus. His name was Jesus. Simeon understood the meaning. He held the child up and spoke:
“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 unexpected appearance of an infant as the one who would bring to culmination the promises God had made over centuries reminded Simeon that God’s ways were not human ways. That our best expectations may lead us to look for the wrong thing. He had been expecting and looking for a man, and yet here in his arms, weaker indeed than even he in fading strength, was the one who would conquer and rule.
Anna had seen Simeon rise from his seat. She watched him approach the couple. As he took the infant, she began to make her way to them. Her ears heard and her spirit lept. She followed Simeon’s words with her own of thanksgiving and praise to God and began to speak of the child, a child!, to everyone who was waiting for Israel’s redemption.
Like Simeon, we are waiting for a promise to be fulfilled. We don’t wait for the coming of Messiah, but for his returning. We too must wait patiently for our promise to be fulfilled. But we too can wait in expectation and in the time that we wait, learn more of the promises of God so that we may rightly live in the kingdom that baby so long ago came to announce.
Simeon shows us that patience, faithfulness, and obedience are how we respond to the promises of God. We do not wait idly, but expectantly looking for the return of the unexpected one. Christmas is a time to celebrate the coming of the baby who would be king, but also to look forward to the return of the chosen one. Waiting patiently for the God who is not slow, but who wants everyone to come to repentance.
And here we learn from Anna, announcing the king and the kingdom to all who will listen. As we do, we anticipate his return to fulfill the rest of the promises. When he does, will we hear him say “Well done, good and faithful”?