Simeon saw God. Simeon already had experienced God in powerful ways, but he was one of the first people to see God, to hold God and look into God’s face.
To agree with that idea, you have to accept the notion that Jesus Christ was (and is) fully divine, that God was expressing himself in flesh in a way for all the world to see. Some people go all their lives in church and never fully grasp that notion, but it is central to basic Christian theology.
I think of Simeon as the proxy for all those who ever desired to see God in full, people so filled with anticipation and hope that they modify their lives dramatically.
We don’t know a lot about Simeon, but in the bare outline of his life we can see our outline for living as those who seek the face of Jesus Christ.
First, we are told Simeon was holy in how he lived and pursued God. He stood out, even in a culture of people often referred to as “God’s Chosen.” He would have followed God’s laws, but his was also very much an internal holiness, too, a burning desire within to please God to the fullest. We are told, in the language of the old King James Version, that “the Holy Ghost was upon him.”
What does the Holy Spirit bring to a life? If Simeon is any evidence, hope and joy are the two most evident gifts. Simeon lived in the same world as all his fellow Jews, a world often touched by disease, death and conquest, a place where even the temple could be touched by evil. (In his visions of what the babe would do, do you suppose he saw the adult Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers?) And yet, he firmly believed God would keep his promises to restore his vanquished people through a messiah so great that the non-Jews of the world would be brought into a state of light and truth, too.
And in his holiness, in his trust of God, Simeon was rewarded. Hang in there, Simeon, the Holy Spirit said. You will see God’s answer. And when the time came, the same Spirit said, follow me, follow me Simeon, into the temple, and I will show you.
All that waiting; all that praying—he saw the baby, held the baby, and it’s no wonder he began lyrical prophecy. Hear it again:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Simeon was ready to go, to die, to be with the God he had so long trusted. He knew the completion of God’s plan would take a long time. Holding that baby, he stood more than three decades away from the death on the cross that freed all people from the eternal grip death and sin had on us. But despite Simeon knowing he would not see the Christ’s great work in his lifetime, he experienced comfort and great joy—a person walking so closely with God can see the big picture and rejoice in it.
We are beyond the baby, beyond the cross, beyond the resurrection, beyond Pentecost—in our minds, far beyond it all. We anticipate something different, not the coming of a baby, but the coming of a great, gentle, loving ruler, one who will set all things right.
Can you trust the promise? Can you live into it? Can you let that truth sink into your heart so deeply that your choices and desires align with God’s great, hope-filled promises?
I’m certainly not there in a satisfying way. But I would like to see a day in my life where I realize I carry in me the hope and joy of Simeon.
The featured image is “Simeon and the Infant Jesus,” Peter Brandl, available through the Google Art Project.