Luke 2:22-40 (ESV)
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons”. 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon him.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may see our salvation and depart in peace for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve probably gone shopping when it’s busy, perhaps even recently as you attended the pre- or post-Christmas sales. If you have, you might have observed many people rushing about as they hoped to get their list of things done. You may have also seen children having to touch and grab things off the shelves hoping mum or dad will buy it for them to stop their whining. You may have heard checkout cash registers or pay wave machines ringing and dinging away merrily, and seen shopkeepers being rushed off their feet to attend to everyone’s whims and desires.
You may have discovered that in busy crowds you don’t always notice each other as there’s often too many faces to search through and too little spare time to stop and chat. You’re often just focused on doing what you came for and going home to some kind of peace and quiet.
In the same way you also could imagine the Temple in Jerusalem being a busy place.
You had money changers swapping the local currency for the Temple currency so you could buy your sacrifices. Then you had the people selling their animals for those sacrifices – including doves and sheep and goats and even cattle. Mixed with the sounds of coin tinkering, the coos of doves, the bleats of sheep, and the moos of cattle were the sounds of many people in conversations: haggling, laughing, talking, and wailing. You also had many Levites and priests going about their everyday duties at the Temple as they served the line ups of people coming to offer their sacrifices.
On one particular day in human history, in this busy temple complex, which was constantly buzzing and bustling, five people met who had never met before. This small gathering within a crowded temple is now remembered for the rest of history as significant and insightful.
One of those people was an old widow who was either 84 years old or had been a widow for 84 years. Either way this was quite remarkable as the average age (especially for widows), was much lower than it is today.
This old woman, named Anna, was there at the Temple every day, so she would have seen many regular people come and go. Since we learn she’s been waiting for the redemption of Israel, she may have been scanning the crowd daily; watching and waiting for the One who would come.
Another person was a faithful and devout man of unknown age named Simeon who was also watching and waiting. We don’t know how often he was at the Temple, but somehow, he knew he would see the long-promised Messiah before he died. The Holy Spirit would guide his attention as he scanned the crowds.
And then came a poor young couple and their 40-day old child.
Now you may wonder how I know Jesus’ exact age when it’s not specifically mentioned in the text, but we know this because this is the requirement for the people of God in Jesus’ day.
You see, the purification rituals for the mothers of children following childbirth required them to go to the Temple and offer a small sacrifice to God 40 days after childbirth. Their visit to the Temple was for Mary’s purification following childbirth, but it was also about redeeming their first-born son.
This is because, according to Exodus 13, every first-born male (who opens the woman’s womb) ‘belongs’ to the Lord, and so needs to be redeemed or ‘bought back’ from the Lord by paying five shekels to the priesthood (according to Numbers 3). If the child isn’t redeemed or bought back from the Lord, the child remains dedicated to serve the Lord.
The prophet Samuel is an Old Testament example of this where his mother Hannah ‘lent’ him to the Lord for the rest of his life. Like Samuel, Jesus too (since he wasn’t redeemed by his parents), would grow in wisdom and stature before God and his people, and he remained holy ‘to the Lord’.
So, into this crowded place was an old woman, a man, and a young family. To anyone else going about their busy routines, they would have all looked like an ordinary people. No-one unusual. No-one exceptional. No-one worth a second look. Except the child Jesus was very the One whom both Simeon and Anna were looking for.
Simeon was the first to see Jesus for who he truly is. He saw that, here, in this child wasn’t just the promised Saviour, but Salvation himself.
Now, I’m not sure how Mary or Joseph felt about meeting this stranger who put his arms out to hold their child, but they let him anyway. Thankfully, there was no Coronavirus in those days, so keeping a distance wasn’t required. Simeon, eagerly taking Jesus in his arms, then sang his famous song which is sung on many Sundays after we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
He sung how, now that he has seen, touched, and even held Salvation himself in his arms, he could now gladly be set free in peace. He is privileged to hold the Lord of Peace, the Light of the world, the Glory of Israel, God’s Word and promise in human flesh. He could now depart from this place, and even from this life, feeling whole and complete.
Even old Anna saw in this helpless and tiny Jesus the promised redemption of Israel, and spoke words of praise and thanks to God. Her joy is complete. She has seen her Lord.
Now think of the next time you’ll also eagerly put out your arms to hold the body of Jesus in your hands and taste the goodness and holiness of his blood in your mouth. While this meal may seem simple and ordinary, here you’re offered wholeness, peace, life, and salvation himself.
Here in the drudgery of your own existence as you cope with your own troubles and misery and relationship strains and post-Christmas blues, the Lord of life and hope and peace comes to you. In the midst of your busyness, your holiday resting, your feasting, your sorrow, or your loneliness, the promised Messiah comes to be truly present for you in his living Word and in this holy meal.
Jesus – the child, the man, the Saviour – continues to come to you through his Word. This Spirit-filled Word continues to unblock stubborn ears, soften hardened hearts, and open blinded eyes so you may see Jesus as your salvation.
This same Word and Spirit calls you to shift your eyes from the cares and worries and routines of your life, and gaze upon, and feast upon, the Son of God who came for you.
And as you hold Jesus’ body and blood in your hands and receive him into your own flesh and blood, through faith you see, and receive, your promised salvation. After receiving him in faith, you can leave this holy place in peace, knowing forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours.
Of course, you know all your troubles won’t automatically go away, but your fear of them goes away as you trust God is bigger than all your fears. God is on your side. God is with you. God has even defeated the enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you, so you don’t need to fear them anymore.
By eating and drinking in faith, trusting his words of promise and forgiveness, you leave in peace. Through faith you believe your sins are forgiven – all of them. Through faith you believe he is working peace in your hearts, peace in your family relationships, and peace in your work environments.
Sure, he won’t pay the bills, but he’s paid for your guilt. He may not undo the mistakes you’ve made in the last year, but he forgives you for them. You may not look forward to some things which might come your way this new year, but you go forward in peace knowing that your Lord and Saviour is still with you.
This is why we sing this same song of Simeon after receiving the Lord’s Supper. We all become little ‘Simeon’s; that is, we all get to hold Jesus in our hands and see our salvation, and since we receive the forgiveness of sins, we all get to depart in peace. This is what we see through faith.
As you reflect on your experience of Christmas, move about busy crowds, mull over what happened to you this year, and ponder what awaits you in the New Year, remember that, just as Jesus went to the crowded Temple and was revealed for who he truly is, Jesus also reveals himself to you through the church and travels with you. He is your constant source of forgiveness, salvation, peace, and joy.
I pray you may see a little of what Simeon saw, so that you can sing along with him: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the presence of all people.’
In this way may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.