Luke 2:22-32 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
While the nation of Israel had been waiting for the Messiah to come for ages, there was one man who had a special promise given to him that gave him specific cause to look for the Messiah’s coming. The birth of Jesus and Simeon’s reaction to it serves as an example for us to be able to look at how we receive God’s promises, especially when they come in unexpected means.
Easing Expectation Angst
Waiting can be hard, tiring, frustrating. If we are not careful, waiting can lead us to try to do anything to ease the tension that comes from waiting. For Israel, some had been waiting and anticipating the Messiah’s coming so long that they ended up following someone who looked like he could be the one. Others became somewhat skeptical, even when Jesus did show up on the scene.
Philip found Nathanael and told him “we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked… – John 1:45-46a
Philip was able to be skeptical about the city of Nazareth because the wait had become normal for him. Philip was not anticipating the actual emergence of the Messiah, and had to be prodded to even go to see the one that Philip couldn’t imagine him being.
For us, as we wait for God to fulfill His word to us, whether it is for His presence, for answers to prayer, or whatever, we face the challenge of easing our frustration before God is able to deliver His perfect work.
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” – Acts 1:6
When the frustration of waiting builds, we can get tunnel vision about the fulfillment of the promise. Philip demonstrated tunnel vision when he judged Nazareth as not being fit to produce a Messiah, and the disciples saw Jesus’ mission as nothing more than restoring the kingdom to Israel vs. Roman rule. Similarly, having waited as long as we have for whatever God’s promise is we run the risk of tunnel vision – of seeing what we want to see rather than seeing what God is continuing to do in the midst. When Simeon went into the temple courts, the last person he expected to see as Messiah was a baby. However, Simeon had a different perspective when it came to waiting that gave him the ability and privilege of seeing the promise made to him fulfilled.
Wine and Savings Bonds
When I was young, my mom would often give us savings bonds as gifts. To a child, the savings bond may look nice, but it does nothing for my immediate need of buying candy or the latest toy. Today I can appreciate what she was doing, but then, even though I loved her for getting me anything, I was bummed that this thing that was worth value eventually wasn’t something that I could use when I wanted to.
One of the challenges to buying a nice bottle of wine is the temptation to open and drink it right away, rather than letting it either breathe or stay in the cellar for years to let it fully mature. Ernest and Julio Gallo revolutionized the California wine industry with their signature slogan, “we will sell no wine before its time”.
Denzel Washington was asked in an interview what his favorite or most meaningful role was, to which he replied “my next one”. We are similar when it comes to the promises of God in our lives, where the most important promise God can fulfill is the one we are waiting for. What happens, though, when the promise is delivered, but, like wine or savings bonds, the delivered promise is not useful in its current state? What are we supposed to do with a promise delivered, but still required that we wait for it to fully be realized?
Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. – Luke 2:11-12
The Messiah was here, but in a sense, was not. He could be identified, but not because of an act he had done – not because anyone had been saved. He could only be identified as the “bottle of wine that will be great when it matures”, or the savings bond that can be fully utilized when it reaches its maturity date.
What made it ok for Simeon to see the Lord’s Christ as only a baby?
Holding On to a Promise
Luke introduces us to Simeon. For Mary and Joseph, Simeon was both a nobody and an important part of their lives. He said very little, spent no extended time with them, but in that brief encounter, made a profound impact on them. His life, what we know of it, also serves to make an impact on us, as we wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled in us.
There are three things we know of Simeon:
1) He lived waiting
2) He held on to the promise given
3) The Holy Spirit was on him
Faith and Waiting
Simeon lived a life of faith – otherwise known as “waiting”. Faith and waiting are not always synonymous, but in Simeon’s case they were. Simeon’s waiting was not passive, not benign, not fatalistic. His life was not on hold as he waited. Simeon did not try to hold God hostage because a promise had not been fulfilled. Simeon was just the opposite. It was in this state of waiting that he experienced both the presence of God and the word of God.
The word translated “waiting” actually means to receive to one’s self, expect, or to receive one coming from another place. It would be like knowing that your relatives are coming for the holidays, so you begin to plan for their arrival long before they get there. In one sense, you have already received them, even though they haven’t arrived yet.
Simeon believed that the consolation of Israel would happen, he just didn’t know when. However, the fact that it had not happened yet, or that there were external circumstances that would seem to prevent it from happening, did not deter him from “receiving that which was to come”. For Simeon, the consolation of Israel was ever present potential – something he could hold onto, receive, believe in, knowing that God was faithful to make it happen, even if he didn’t see the manifestation of it yet.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the work God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” – John 6:28-29
Our work, what God calls us to do, is to believe – to live in expectation of the One that was given, receiving Him who is to come. It is accepting a newborn baby as a savior. It is receiving as real the provision and promise of God, even though what we have in front of us looks like nothing.
Waiting begets… waiting
There is an adage that says, “Never pray for patience because God will answer by giving you opportunities to develop it”. Simeon was content to wait for the “consolation of Israel”, and somewhere in the process of his waiting, he was given the opportunity to wait some more…
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ – Luke 2:26
Simeon had been holding on to the hope of the consolation of Israel because of what God had said in the past, through prophets, priests, scribes, etc., but now he had an extra promise to wait for – one that was given directly to him. God engaged Simeon in his waiting by giving him something specific he could look for. God will do the same with us, as we are looking for what seems impossible, or seems as if it could not happen in the foreseeable future, God steps in with a “manageable wait” – a step we can take, something we can see, a word confirmed that we can hold on to, while we wait for Him to fulfill His ultimate word.
Hanging with the Holy Spirit
Simeon didn’t get frustrated or question the new promise in light of the fact the other hadn’t been fulfilled. Neither did he start taking matters into his own hands and try to make the promise happen sooner, but he continued to lean on the Holy Spirit, trusting the Promise giver, rather than the given promise. Simeon didn’t just focus on what God had said, but continued to look for what God was saying. Because of this, he was able to hear the Spirit of God when he was prompted to go into the temple courts, right at the time when Mary and Joseph were presenting Jesus.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” – Isaiah 30:15
Simeon, having heard the promise of the Father, remained in a place of quietness and trust, knowing that however long it took, God would fulfill His word. It was in that place of quietness that he was moved by the Holy Spirit.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience – Hebrews 4:9-11
Simeon worked at believing God, and by this entered a place of rest where the Spirit of God could continue to move in his life.
When we receive the promise of God, trusting the Promise giver, we are brought to a place of resting in His ability and desire to fulfill His promise, and in that place of rest we find strength, salvation, and the Spirit of God active in our midst.
Big Dreams and Baby Promises
The Magi from the East had no other expectation – they came seeking a baby who would be king. Simeon knew he would see the Lord’s Christ, or anointed one. We may receive a sense that God is working on our behalf. In all cases, the promise is both here and not here, manifest and needing fulfillment. So, how do we respond to God’s gift of a promise that we still have to wait for?
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” – Luke 2:27-30
Simeon recognized that his big dream, the one thing keeping him alive, if you will, was represented in the child in front of him. Because of this he embraced him and praised God. The Magi purposed to follow the star so they could find the newborn king and worship Him. We too, when we recognize the gift of God, in whatever form it comes – whether it is actionable now or sometime in the future, we are to follow Simeon’s lead: take it in our arms and praise God. We can do that not because we are trying to make something happen, but because we know that God is faithful to complete that which He started, and if what He gives us looks like a baby, it’s only a matter of time before that baby is able to fulfill that which he is called to.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands – Psalm 138:7-8