It is a reality, not widely understood, that a person in possession of hope has the strange misfortune of being cast down; for as each day passes the burden grows stronger to believe in something not yet realized.
And yet he believed.
The day started out the same. Simeon had gotten up, put on his temple robes, kissed his wife goodbye, and walked the same 10-minute dirt path to his job. As he walked he watched the dust scrape up between his toes from the front of his sandals, just like any other day. Along the way, he overheard some shepherds blathering how a host of angels showed up in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. That tidbit was not like any other day.
Simeon paused. Shepherds don’t talk about angels.
For a moment.
Curiosity got the best of Simeon, and so he went over and begged their pardon, asking, “What is this of angels appearing in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere?” He was interested for his own reasons.
They said it was some shepherds out by Bethlehem. Said the angels even sang about some baby and when they went into town sure enough there he was with this really young couple. The weird part was it was a poor family, in a shelter for animals, nonetheless. They even had the baby in a feeding trough. Why would angels be singing about a baby like that?
It is rare to hear shepherds talking about angels and singing. Shepherds talk about wool, the weather, and how they don’t get paid enough. Simeon chuckled to himself, but wondered, could it be true? He went on to work.
Simeon wanted, wanted something to be true. Could the shepherd’s gossip be true?
Simeon was a righteous and devout Priest at the Jerusalem temple, dedicated to his work. He had not achieved special rank or leadership in the Temple system, but many respected him as a man of God. At the temple you would think he would be accustomed to hearing about heavenly events. After all, the temple was where God’s presence was on earth. It was his job to be near God, the creator of heaven and earth, and angels. Why wouldn’t the angels appear here to make an announcement? Doesn’t God live in the Holy of Holies? Why would angels celebrate God’s presence in the middle of a pasture?
Too often, at the temple, the supernatural God was left behind in the ordinary things of administrating a nation’s business- dealing with Rome, cleaning up after sacrifices, and debating the law. It could be easy to overlook God here.
It intrigued Simeon to hear shepherds talk about such things because a while ago, maybe a year or 10 years, age prevented him from remembering quite rightly, that God had promised him, (him!) that he would see the promise of Israel, the Messiah, before he died. It was a hope he carried fervently, yet as each day passed the burden of it would bring him down to ordinary life; praying, washing up after a sacrifice, talking about the law, kissing the wife goodbye.
He so wanted the Messiah to be true. He so wanted God’s message to be true.
So day in and day out Simeon went to work as the sincere Priest at the temple, hoping God’s word was not hollow. He was devoted to the law and all its copious details. He showed up on time, administered the daily sacrifices, cleaned up, and gave advice to people about the law concerning this or that. Day after day he would wake, do his job, go home, eat, sleep, and get up to do it again.
But.. in the monotony of life God put an off ramp in Simeon’s trip. That’s the thing about off ramps, you are cruising along at a high rate of speed, you are comfortable, if not bored a little. But here is the off ramp with its chance at adventure, something different. Something like a giant ball of string or a theme park, or the mountains. Or at least getting out, stretching a bit, breathing in some fresh air. The question is, will you take it? Would Simeon take his?
God message was a sign telling Simeon an off ramp was coming a few miles ahead and he would get to see the Messiah. It would fulfill his hopes and dreams. Simeon wanted God’s words to be true.
This day at work would be different. It started with a stirring in his heart as he went about his duties. That was different. A whisper, so gentle, spoke to him, “Go into the courtyard.” He hesitated. Was that God? Did I just hear something? What if I get in trouble? Should I go out to the courtyard? What if it ends up being nothing? I don’t want to be disappointed again. Go in the courtyard.
With a sigh he decided to go. Down this hallway and through this corridor, by a couple conversations at the watercooler (excuse me, pardon me), and then he arrived at a spot that overlooked the square. Everything looked normal. Priests were going and coming to perform duties. Others were coming to worship and make their sacrifices and other business.
Then it happened. His heart leaped for the briefest of moments. In the gate came a young family. She was no more than 14 and he not much more. She held a baby in her arms. They were a poor family bringing in two young doves for sacrifice instead of the customary lamb. They looked a little overwhelmed.
The baby looked to be about 6 weeks old, this meant Mom was coming to be ceremonially purified from the birth. The baby was wrapped in a simple blanket.
Something stirred in Simeon when he saw them. Is he the consolation of Israel? Is this who God is talking about? But, but, he is poor. Not from a prominent family. He looks so ordinary. Not God like. Really?
Something stirred in Simeon again to go see the babe. Something told him he was the one. So filled with hope Simeon went. He went because he wanted Jesus to be true.
Simeon walked across the courtyard and greeted the young family. The couple stops, a little stunned. Why is a Priest coming to us? Did we do something wrong? Are we in trouble?
Simeon smiled, “May I hold your baby?” Simeon could not believe he was being so forward. The young mother, protective like mama bird with her younglings, looked at him a little wide eyed. Dad stiffened and straightened his back a little bit.
Quickly, she composed herself, smiled, and said, “Of course.” He is a Priest at the temple after all. So she offered the child, but Dad remained stiff.
When Simeon took Jesus into his arms he knew this was what God promised him so long ago. He wanted Jesus to be true, and here is the truth! This babe is the consolation of Israel. He would restore people to God. He began praising God right there in the courtyard.
Simeon, knew, that Jesus, the consolation of Israel, is true!
Simeon exclaimed, “God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:32 (MSG)
Embarrassed, the young couple looked in shock at the Priest. They marveled at what he said. What an incredible word for a Priest at the Temple of God to say about your baby! How could he know such a thing? They knew Jesus was true, but how did this priest know? They had not told anybody about how Mary conceived Jesus, how the angel appeared to her and telling her how God would bring his child to earth through her. They had not told anyone about how an angel appeared to the Father to save their marriage when he was considering leaving. They had not told anyone how some shepherds came that night, and worshipped him, right there, in a manger. How did this Priest know… that Jesus was true?
Simeon, after praising God for this blessed child, turned and looked at the couple with knowing grandfatherly eyes. He blessed them as only a Priest can and then looked directly at Mary.
“Your child is destined,” he choked up for a second, but his words were deliberate. “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)
With a sincere smile that put a wrinkle in his eyes he gently gave the child back. Mom, well, she was speechless. She was stunned at his words, but she cherished them too. Simeon turned and walked away, grateful to a God keeping his word.
Simeon longed for Jesus to be true. God had not spoken in Israel for almost 400 years, since the days of Nehemiah. Soon, those days will be over. Soon, this little babe is going to light a match with the fires of God. God is getting ready to speak through this babe and the world will never be the same. Simeon would never be the same.
Like Simeon, I believe we celebrate Christmas because we all want Jesus to be true, even if we don’t believe he can be true, we still want him to be true. We long for a Savior to take away our sin and shame. We long for comfort in a world filled with conflict and monotony. We all long for peace, goodwill, and pure hearts. The off ramp on the trip called life has a huge billboard with Jesus’ name on it. Best price ever, it reads. This adventure is free!
Like Simeon, we have the choice to see Jesus. What choice will you make this Christmas?
The good news is we are not Simeon. We do not need to wait for Jesus to be true. He is true in this moment and in every moment to come. The choice to believe in Him is now.
The promise of Christmas is this: We no longer have to want Jesus to be true. He is true.