When Luke started his Advent story, he began in the temple, which for the Jewish faithful was home. It had been rebuilt centuries earlier by returning exiles to signal God’s hope was alive in the homeland. Hope was in short supply, however, “in the days of Herod”. Amidst expanding empires, Israel’s role in civilization had diminished; and when Rome subjugated the Jews by way of occupying the land and violating the temple’s sanctity, labeling the Jews as atheists and offering a pig on the altar, this place of God’s presence now seemed all but a fading relic of God’s past glory. But hope always defies the way things seem, bubbling beneath the surface, going against the grain.
Luke writes “And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
While the ways of the world trailed off in various diverging directions, Simeon kept himself to the way of the LORD as established in His words. It is a way that transforms how we perceive life and God at work within it. It was a way that brought Simeon into God’s presence and permeated his spirit with hope. “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
The hope God gives is not abstract, like some floating wisp of ideas detached from reality, but always connected to the world in which we live. God had promised Simeon he would one day see his Messiah; not a conceptual figure or representation of idealism, but a person whose life would be all about God’s salvation. The hope that held Simeon’s heart all his days would be a human who was so much more than that.
One day God’s presence moved Simeon to enter the temple, this place he and so many others longed for God to glorify. He was about to discover God’s presence had just returned. Jesus had been born about forty days earlier; now on this day his parents had brought him to the temple in Jerusalem “to present him to the LORD”. Sometime during their visit, their path crossed with Simeon’s. A lifetime lived upon the way of the LORD had led Simeon right to Jesus; “…then he took Him into his arms…” The hope that held his heart for so many years Simeon now held in his arms. A life of waiting, hoping, and anticipating now culminated in this baby as God’s past glory visited Simeon’s present with a glimpse of a glorious future.
Captivated by wonder, Simeon “blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bondservant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’”
In this tiny infant Simeon saw his entire life story reach a climax that made his every moment worth the wait. Everyone sees death; not everyone sees Life. Having hopefully seen it from a distance all his days, he now beheld it before him, savored it, and was satisfied in the heavenly peace that saturated him. The hope that was somewhere out there had come home. But not just for Simeon.
This salvation he saw had been prepared amidst “all peoples” for “all peoples”. Drawing on Isaiah’s messianic imagery, Simeon likens this little one to light that will both reveal God to the Gentiles and return glory to Israel’s story. Like Simeon, Israel’s story was reaching its climax in this advent of its Messiah. Israel had always thought of the days of Solomon as their golden years, when God’s great glory filled the temple; bygone days that were mournfully missed. But now here in the infant Jesus, the infinite incarnate, the perfect image of the Father, God’s great glory has returned to the temple. This place of God’s past glory has become the place of God’s present glory; a glory that will shine out salvation throughout the world’s future.
Jesus has arrived; our Advent story has concluded. But Simeon offers one final comment to an amazed Mary and Joseph: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed…to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
As Jesus would eventually affect all life in Israel, he would inevitably do the same throughout the world. Being either a step to raise others up or a snag over which others would fall, who Jesus is reveals who we really are. The person of Jesus forces us all to show our true colors. How we respond to him reveals where we stand with him.
Historically, globally, and communally, that puts all Jesus-followers in the place of Simeon—waiting, hoping, anticipating. Waiting for God to work His salvation out upon this world, hoping in God’s Spirit to remain faithful witnesses to His salvation, and anticipating the Second Advent of Jesus our Messiah.
Jesus was brought home to the temple to be presented to the LORD that the LORD may present Jesus to the world. Hope had returned to the home that had been lacking its hearth. But the home is a haven just for momentary respite, a harbor to ready the ship to sail again. Hope went home so that hope would again set out to visit homes, hearts, and lives.
I pray that as your Advent season concludes and you begin a New Year, Christ-centered hope will attend, keep, and cultivate you all your days. “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”