In the church’s lectionary tomorrow is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the occasion when Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem to seek God’s blessing upon their child. There they met Simeon. I am fascinated by this man, who the Greek and Russian Orthodox call “the God-receiver” (Theodochos). ‘Simeon’ was a common name in Israel, and was derived from the second of Jacob’s sons (Gen 29.33). In the context of Luke’s Gospel the name Simeon fittingly means ‘God has heard’. Later apocryphal accounts suggest that Simeon was a priest and a great teacher. It has been suggested that he was the son of Hillel and father of Gamaliel and was president of the Sanhedrin in AD 13, but this is conjecture. Luke says the Spirit had revealed to Simeon “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (2.26), but this does not necessarily mean that he was an old man when he ‘received’ the young Jesus into his arms.
Although much is uncertain about the person of Simeon, here are five things we do know about him.
First, he was a man of faith, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” (v25); REB “the restoration of Israel” ; or “he was waiting for Israel to be saved” (GNB). It couldn’t have been an easy wait, but Simeon hadn’t given up hope. He had kept the faith, when perhaps many might have given up. Then, to his great delight he discovered that the God in whom he had believed, keeps his promises. No wonder he burst into a song of praise.
Secondly, he was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Three times in Luke 2.25-27 we have a reference to the Spirit at work in his life. Simeon is a reminder that the Holy Spirit was active before Pentecost. But whereas pre-Pentecost the Spirit was active only in the lives of special people, from Pentecost onward the Spirit is given to all who put their trust in Jesus. Would that all the followers of Jesus had the spiritual wisdom of Simeon! He was a man gifted with insight and discernment!
Thirdly, he was a good man, “righteous and devout (Luke 2.255)”. I.e. he had a good and positive relationship both with God and with his fellow Jews. The word “righteous” describes his behaviour towards others, while the word “devout” describes his relationship toward God. In our terms, he had not simply a Sunday faith, but a Monday-Saturday faith. Would that all the followers of Jesus could be described as good people – people whose lives are consistent with their faith!
Fourthly, he was a blessing to parents and children alike, for he blessed both Mary and Joseph (Luke 2.34) as also the baby Jesus (Luke 2.28). Would that could be said of all of God’s people! Sadly, it’s all too easy for older people to criticise young parents. It’s all too easy too for older people not to know the names of children in the church, let alone to take an interest in them.
Finally, he pointed people to Jesus. His prayer [the Nunc Dimittis] pointed to Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2.32). This child was to fulfil the prophet’s hope expressed in Isaiah 42 : he is to be the Saviour of the world: In this respect Simeon challenges us all; I would suggest there is a particular challenge to the retired to share their faith with the many older people still searching for meaning and purpose; desperate for a faith which enables them to face up to death.
Simeon is an example of a a man with Spirit-filled faith, and in that regard we could all do with emulating him.