Christmas Questions: Could it be today? (Luke 2:25-32)

Bob Brannon, DPhil   -  

Christmas is a time of joyful anticipation. But sometimes it leaves us wanting.

Family members fight or refuse to come over. People are together, yet loneliness lingers.

Joy remains elusive in the blur of the season. A palpable sense of staleness permeates even our best efforts to infuse this time of year with some semblance of significance. Why is that?

Men and women of the Bible had questions too.

For example, Mary asked the question, how will I have a baby when I am a virgin? Zechariah asked a similar question when an angel announced that his wife would bear a child in old age. How can I be sure this will happen?

Simeon sat in the temple courts waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. I imagine he asked some questions as well.

We don’t know a lot about Simeon. He may have been a priest, but we don’t know for sure. Many believe he was quite old when Mary & Joseph brought Jesus into the temple. But we can’t be sure of that either. The little we do know about him we learn from Luke’s gospel. You can read the account in Luke 2:25-32.

A week after his birth, Mary & Joseph gave their baby the sign of the covenant (circumcision) and named him Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Five weeks later they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with the Law.

It is here, in the temple courts in Jerusalem, that Simeon encounters the Messiah.

There is a lot here in this rich passage, about God’s faithfulness, his mercy, his providence, and about world evangelization. I want to focus on Simeon’s life and character and his response to the arrival of Christ. Although we don’t know much about him, I invite you to look with me at what Simeon does, what he sees, and what he says.

Notice first what Simeon does.

He waits.

Luke says he was waiting for the consolation of Israel (25).

That’s what advent is all about – waiting for the arrival of the Messiah.

That’s what Charles Wesley wrote about in the beautiful hymn, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free, from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.

That was Simeon’s daily song and prayer; come thou long expected Jesus. Come.

He was waiting for the arrival of the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel, the one would deliver the nation. This is what Simeon did – he waited and he watched. You might say he had a Messiah Mindset.

But weren’t all Jews waiting and watching for the long-expected Messiah? Sadly, no.

Simeon was part of a remnant who adhered to the orthodox teaching of the Old Testament and who believed in the promise of God. He was rare in that.

Many translations omit it, but in the original, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to begin v. 25 with a term used to excite admiration. Behold! Look! See, notice, perceive! Take special note of this rarity. Look at this special man of rare spiritual character.

Remember, there hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for 400 years. At that time Jewish leaders were largely political and not overly spiritual. Simeon, on the other hand, was righteous (just).

In other words, his behavior in the sight of God was in accordance with God’s standards. He wasn’t phony.

He was also devout, someone who consistently obeyed God, even when no one was looking.

He was very careful to walk in integrity and reverence. These two blended together. He was upright both in his duty to man and to God.

One more thing to note before we move on. Something else Luke highlights about Simeon.

Three times he mentions the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

First, in verse 25 he says the Holy Spirit was upon him. Then in the next verse, he says it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. That gives us a little more insight into his daily mindset. If you knew for sure that Jesus was going to come back in your lifetime, if the Holy Spirit revealed that to you, I imagine it would change your outlook.

This is where the question for today comes in. I can’t help but think that every day after receiving this revelation, Simeon woke up with the question on his mind: Could it be today? Could this be the day I will see the consolation of Israel?

We don’t know how long he waited; we don’t know if he was now an old man or not. Many believe he was. Either way, his posture was one of waiting and looking for the coming of the Messiah.

The third reference to the Holy Spirit is in verse 27. Moved by the Spirit – he is walking in the Spirit, obeying his promptings and following his leading – 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…

He was rewarded for faithfully waiting and watching!

Notice next what Simeon sees.

He sees the salvation of God.

The Holy Spirit moved Simeon to go into the temple courts just as Mary and Joseph were bringing Jesus in. The Spirit revealed to him that the child of this peasant couple was the One he had long awaited.

The promise given long ago has been fulfilled. As he looks into the eyes of God and smells that fresh new-baby scent, his heart explodes with praise to God.

My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (30).

In the wrinkled face of this small child, he sees the very salvation of God.

Do you understand what this means? Salvation is not found in a religious system.

Salvation is not contained in a moral code or set of commandments.

Salvation is found in a person – the Son of God.

Specifically, salvation is found in what this child grew up to be and do. He lived a sinless life and sacrificed his life on the cross for the sins of the world and three days later he rose from the dead to verify God’s acceptance of his sacrifice.

What an overwhelming sight! Simeon’s eyes beheld the beloved Son of God, the salvation of the world.

Notice lastly what Simeon says.

He says, dismiss your servant.

Let me die. Think about it.

Picture this old man waiting in the temple courts for the fulfillment of the promised Messiah’s arrival. Day after day he watches and waits.

And then one day in walks a peasant woman and her child, and something inside him rises up and says, “This is the One! Bless him!” And so he takes the child in his arms and he praises God. Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace (29).

Oh, Lord, after all these years of waiting and watching, you have let me see the Anointed One. My eyes have seen the Lord’s Christ. Let me now depart in peace.

The watchman’s wait is over. Dawn has come and his job is done. He can now die in peace.

In the words of one commentator, these verses seem to tell the story “of a slave who is instructed by his master to keep watch through the long, dark night on a high place to wait for the rising of a special star and then to announce it. After wearisome hours of waiting he at last sees the star rising in all its brightness. He announces it and is then discharged from keeping watch any longer” (Geldenhuys).

Presumably, that’s exactly what happened. We don’t hear anything further about this obscure saint. But this brief encounter with him raises a couple of questions we would do well to ponder this Christmas.

Have you seen Jesus?

Have you seen him? Have you seen the rising star?

Not the baby in the manger, but the Son of God on the cross?

Have you seen the empty tomb?

You may not even be aware of it, but I believe it was the Holy Spirit who moved you to read this today, just as he moved Simeon to enter the temple courts when Mary and Joseph were there.

He led you here today to see Jesus!  To encounter him and receive salvation through him. Will you ask him to open your spiritual eyes to behold the salvation of God in the person of Jesus Christ?

Here’s the thing. When you have seen Jesus, you’re ready to die. You’re ready to be dismissed and depart from this life. Not that you will, but that you are ready. That’s the point.

The reverse is also true. Until you have seen Jesus, you are not ready to die. Until you have received salvation through him, you aren’t ready to meet your Maker. Today is the day of salvation. Jesus is here! Do you see him? Will you put your faith in him?

This could be your best Christmas ever.

If you truly see the Savior, you will, like Simeon, be overwhelmed with joy and praise to God. Will you open your heart to him today? Will you ask him to reveal himself to you? He has promised that when you seek him, you will find him.

Are you waiting & watching for his return?

The hallmark of Simeon’s life was looking for the consolation of Israel, watching and waiting for the coming of Jesus. That is to be the hallmark of Jesus’ followers now.

Just as he promised the Jews that he would come to deliver them, he has promised us that he’ll come back to restore this broken and cursed world.

Are you watching for him?

It could be today! He made it clear that it could be at any time, that it will be when we least expect it, like a thief in the night. Are you watching? Are you waiting? Are you ready? Are you living in light of the reality that it could be today?

Do you ever wake up wondering, Lord, could this be the day?

Imagine how our lives would change, how our church would be ignited, if we asked that question daily.

Watching and waiting for Jesus’ return changes our thinking, reorders our priorities, conditions our affections, limits our preoccupation with problems, and focuses our attention on what matters most.

It wakes us up to the realities of God’s presence and work in our lives and the lives of people around us.

Knowing that he might come today adds urgency to our mission to know and show the transforming love of Jesus to our neighbors and the nations.

My friends, he is coming back. Are you watching for him?

He’s coming to fix this broken and twisted world, to make all things new.

He’s coming soon. The signs are everywhere. You can feel it.

Joni Eareckson Tada asks, “Can you hear the sighing in the wind? Can you feel the heavy silence in the mountains? Can you sense the restless longing in the sea? Can you see it in the woeful eyes of an animal? Something’s coming… something better.”

Something better is coming because Someone better is coming – and he’s coming to bring a better world.

It could be today! Are you watching and waiting?

When the saintly H. S. Laird was dying, his son went to his bedside and asked, “Dad, how do you feel?” He turned his face towards his son and replied, “Son, I feel like a little boy on Christmas Eve.”

That’s how Simeon felt every day as he waited for the first Christmas. My friends, we live our lives between the first Christmas and the second.

We celebrate his first advent again this week, but our focus is on the future – that glorious morning when he breaks through the clouds to take us home.

To help fix your mind on that blessed hope, I encourage you to wake up every morning this week with that question – Lord, could it be today?

 Blog post adapted from the message by the same name delivered on Sunday, December 19, 2021.