Luke’s Gospel describes Simeon as waiting in the temple for the consolation of Israel. Simeon had grown old waiting, modeling a highly discerning contemplative posture that tirelessly refused mis-identifying a pretender Messiah as the expected one. This patient, discerning, contemplative gaze is desperately-needed now, with myriad deceivers afoot who offer false comfort.
The Israeli Defense Force and Benjamin Netanyahu are certainly falses comforts for Israelis now, as is the United States for Israel or for Ukraine. Hamas is a false comfort for the Palestinians, and Joe Biden and Donald Trump for Americans. Simeon invites us to look to the living Word of God, Jesus himself– refusing lies and false comfort from false Messiahs.
The consolation (paraklēsis) that Simeon awaits (or looks for) is offered to us by God, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort (paraklēsis) with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Daniel Bourguet, in his beautiful book,Encounters with Jesus,reflects on Simeon’s recognition and embrace of baby Jesus, who Mary and Joseph brought to him in the temple as the true, consoling Messiah he awaited.
“Simeon was fulfilled, completely and wonderfully answered, but in a way which was also very sober, requiring absolute faith on his part. The old man had seen dozens and dozens of young couples pass through the Temple, presenting their first-born sons to God in accordance with the law of Moses. Every new household in Israel had to do what Mary and Joseph were doing, and they all passed through the Jerusalem Temple (Lev 12). How did Simeon know that on this day the baby being presented was the one he was awaiting?
According the prophets, the Christ had to be a descendant of David and therefore of the royal family. Simeon could hardly be thought mistaken if he had been expecting a child of a wealthy family, presented to God with the offering of a lamb as the sacrifice, just as the law required of those with the means (Lev 12:6).Well, on this day Mary and Joseph were not bringing a lamb but two birds, as allowed by the law if the couple were too poor (Lev 12:8). How was Simeon to recognize in this son of paupers the descendant of king David?”
“Mary and Joseph were silent in the old man’s presence. They had told him nothing of what the Bethlehem shepherds had said, nothing of the visit of the magi. The magi had returned home by a route unknown. The shepherds had gone back to their fields. The son of David entered the Temple with no royal escort. Heaven did not open; no angel appeared; there was no shining star. No sign was given by God, no miracle! Nothing! There was nothing to attest to the child really being the Christ! The young couple were there with two birds as an offering and a tiny infant just like any other child of poverty . . . But Simeon knew him! If he knew him it is because of the most unspoiled and pure faith. Only the Holy Spirit could have placed this deep conviction within him, with nothing more than the thought as evidence, “This is him!”
The parents had said nothing, and neither had God; there was no need for even the hint of a sign; Simeon’s faith was enough . . . A faith as beautiful as this is a wonder to me in its simplicity.
A life fulfilled
Your hands have to be empty if you’re going to hold a baby! Simeon’s had been empty for many long years. When he received Christ his heart was complete, his life became full, just in one day; so completed and satisfied was he that he was ready to die. He asked nothing more than that he might depart in peace. Once again we are challenged by this man; what do we understand nowadays when we speak of a life that is fulfilled? So many trifles, so many vanities occupy our lives! Simeon’s life was fulfilled in that one day by a silent baby who he had held in his arms for a brief moment, and that is all! Our lives, so full of the superfluous, seem derisory beside this.
Simeon therefore teaches us one thing, forcibly — that Christ on his own can truly fill a life; he can even fill it silently, in God’s silence, and fill it to the point that death takes nothing away.
John the Baptist was filled with perfect joy, simply at the sound of Christ’s voice (John 3:29), so what must Simeon’s joy have been to hold him in his arms. “ Luke has no word to describe it; it is beyond words.”
Order your copy of Daniel Bourguet’s Encounters with Jesushere. This fine book includes chapters on Zacchaeus, the deaf-mute, the poor widow, and Simeon.