Christmas 2017 is behind us. But the full Christmas story did not end with the birth of Christ, nor the visit by the shepherds. The Magi, chronologically, came sometime within the following two years, but I don’t want to extend the season quite that much.
Let’s focus on something that happened just a week after Jesus was laid in the manger. Meet Simeon, my third favorite Biblical character. He got it right.
Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented according to their law.
At the same time, God spoke directly to this man Simeon. Old enough to be thinking of his own death, Simeon was true follower of God. He knew the history of his people and the teachings of the Old Testament. He knew about the descendent of Abraham, long ago promised to God’s people. Somehow, he calculated the time for this man, this redeemer, this messiah was close. He prayed that he would be alive long enough to see God’s provision for salvation.
And God answered, “Yes.”
Directed by God, Simeon went to the temple on the same day, at the same time Jesus parents carried him in. Can you imagine the surprise when this unknown man went directly to Joseph and Mary, took the baby from them into his own arms, and began praising God?
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 (Luke 2:29-32).
Perhaps the most astonishing thing here is the setting. This happened in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. By this time the Jews were very ingrown and exclusive. The Messiah, whenever he might come, was supposed to be their political savior. He might rule over the entire world, but his blessings would be especially for Israel. An actual non-Jew, or Gentile, who entered the inner temple might well be subject to death. A Jew saying good things about gentiles might be thrown out or even stoned.
Simeon’s message was not his own. It had been God’s message from the beginning. It had been repeated throughout the Old Testament, but not given much credence. Now, in the form of this child, it had become reality. God wanted – wants – a relationship with all peoples. Simeon, this devout but unknown man, was the first to publically proclaim that message, which, today, we call missions.