The Temple in Jerusalem was one of the most impressive buildings in the Roman Empire. It was a huge complex in magnificent stone and decorated with gold. It was the centre of Jewish life and a site of pilgrimage from all over the known world. To this amazing place came the Holy Family. Imagine them, if you can. A couple of modest means from an obscure village in the north. The mother is very young, her husband a little older. They carry their humble sacrifices as they come to perform the rituals required by Law. She carries her baby as the walk, perhaps a little hesitantly, into the imposing courtyards of the Temple. The priests, with their robes and headdresses, stand out and direct them towards the right place.
Meanwhile someone else has also come. Simeon, an old man notable for his piety and righteousness, has been brought in the Holy Spirit to the Temple that day. His life is marked by the intensity of his yearning for “the consolation of Israel”. He is devout and has a special relationship with God. “The Holy Spirit was upon him” we are told. This special relationship even extends to God speaking to him, telling him he is going to see the Lord’s anointed one, the Messiah or Christ, before he dies and today is the day of that seeing.
And so this meeting comes about: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus walk into the Temple precincts and there they encounter Simeon, this righteous and devout man looking for the consolation of Israel. This is a moment of very high drama. In this most important and holy location this devout and holy man takes the infant from his mother and holds him in his arms. God’s promise to him is fulfilled. He has seen the Lord’s Christ. An old man’s dream has come to realisation, the consolation for which he has looked has arrived and he has seen it.
Hear again the words with which he praises God, known in the tradition as the Nunc Dimittis:
“Master, now let your slave go in peace
according to your spoken word
for my eyes have seen your salvation
which you prepared before the face of all the peoples
a light of revelation for the Gentiles
and glory of your people, Israel”
“Let your slave go in peace”, says Simeon, “for my eyes have seen your salvation”.
From a man who has been promised a sight of the Messiah before he dies this can only mean one thing. His life has been completed and he is ready to give it up.
I wonder what, if anything, means that much to us. Is there anything that could happen that would make us think that our lives are fulfilled so that we can depart in peace? Is there anything we look for as intensely as Simeon looked for the consolation of Israel?
This being a sermon there is, I suppose, no surprise in my saying that Christ can and should be for us what he was for this devout and righteous man. Our best chance for the kind of contentment and completion that Simeon found is in the same encounter that he had. If we were blessed by the Holy Spirit in being put where Jesus was, if we were filled with that same Spirit as he was filled, if we yearned for the consolation and redemption of the world as he did, then we could find the same release that he found.
It is important to realise that Simeon doesn’t wish for death in our passage. When he says that he’s ready that doesn’t mean that he’s eager. It is just that now the one thing he needed has come and all is right for him. His life has been a looking for God’s salvation and now he is holding it in his arms, holding the baby who is the Christ, whom God has been preparing and has now put into Simeon’s grasp.
Hear the words he uses about what he has now seen: “consolation”, “salvation”, “revelation” and “glory”. Jesus is all these things: he brings comfort to the distressed, he saves those in trouble, he reveals God to all peoples in in doing so he glorifies those from whom he came. Simeon can see this because he has been prepared. This baby looks like just another child to most of those passing through the courtyards that day but the one who is looking for him knows what has happened.
For each of us the case is the same whenever we are brought by the Spirit to the place of meeting. We have been brought here this morning, to this room in this building in this village. This is the Temple precinct for you. God’s salvation is here and if you’re ready you will meet him. This isn’t your only opportunity but you are being offered the chance, as Simeon was. Jesus is here and your life can reach its highest fulfilment right now, if the Spirit enables you to recognise him.
In a few minutes we are going to share the Lord’s Supper and as we do so we are all invited into the very presence of the salvation God has prepared, the revelation he has made. The Christ, the one sent by God to redeem us all, will be coming among us. Whatever else matters in life, and many other things do really matter, Simeon is right when he says that nothing else matters as much.
I pray on behalf of us all that his prayer or song is one that we are all able to affirm:
“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
for mine eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel”