Christmastide 1: Psalm 99, 100 & Luke 2.21-40

From James Flaherty

In Luke 2:21-40, Joseph and Mary obey the law of the Lord and present the child Jesus in the temple. And there’s more to this day than ritual.  

God prepares it, and for a long time has been preparing it, as a blessing for many. We see this in Anna and Simeon, two faithful witnesses in the temple who remind us why we wait for the Lord, how we wait, and what kind of Lord we wait for.

Because this passage is more about Simeon than Anna, I’ll focus on him. But it’s worth noting that Anna, a widow, “worshiped day and night in fasting and prayer.” Seeing the child Jesus, and maybe with the help of Simeon’s blessing, Anna holds him up for those who are present and awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.     

What do we know about Simeon? The Lord has revealed to Simeon that he won’t die before seeing the Messiah. The Holy Spirit is upon him—which I take to mean the Spirit helps him and guides him. And importantly, Simeon allows the Holy Spirit’s help. Simeon sees God because God makes it happen. Without God’s intervention, the appearance of Jesus in the temple likely would have appeared like just another ritual, Jesus himself just another child. (Which makes me think, where else does God appear to us? And in our faithlessness where else do we mistake Him for something other than Himself?)

How does Simeon respond when he sees this lowly infant? He takes hold of Jesus in praise and worship: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

This child is no mere child. With God’s help, Simeon sees the light of the world, grace and truth, God’s son.  

A few thoughts on Simeon’s statement “you may let your servant go in peace”:

When I think about dying, I ask myself what I’d like to do first. But Simeon’s witness prompts some helpful and corrective questions: What has the Lord said? What will the Lord do? And will I be a part of that or not? Will I wait for Him or not? The desire to reject my own priorities—this is a great desire, but it’s incredibly hard to apply. Instead, the prayer to exalt the Lord as Holy King—not as an obliging dispatcher of blessings—is one I have to make humbly, daily, inconveniently, and loudly. Simeon reminds me of that.

What a wonderful, helpful thing to read Psalm 99! Read it aloud. Read it alone, but not in private: Read it to the Lord, who knows the world because He made it and renews it.