The events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ are both dramatic and significant. In a stunning display of harmonious glory, the angelic host filled the heavens with praise and joy. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to witness those glorious acclamations and to hear the words of heaven echoing around the hills of Bethlehem, the city of David, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”? These words reveal the aspirations of the angels themselves—an ardent desire to honour their God and seek the reconciliation of mankind. The last time they are recorded as rejoicing together was at the time when the first Adam was brought into existence (Job 38:7). Now those same strains of glory are being heard once more; this time at the arrival of the second Adam.

We can imagine the shepherds, excited and elated, searching for the Messiah of Israel in Bethlehem and finding the infant child just as the angels had described. They were unable to contain their excitement as they “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). They were the first evangelists of a new era and the message that was heard in the vaults of heaven was now being echoed further afield. It is likely that this news galvanised the people of Bethlehem to move the young couple from the inn to a house (cp Matt 2:11).

But God also wanted to reach out to the remnant of faith. This small group were quietly and unobtrusively waiting for comfort and looking for redemption in Israel (Luke 2:25,38) and God was now about to tell them that they hadn’t been forgotten.

We can envisage Joseph and Mary taking the 10km journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, carefully protecting the new child from the elements, making their way to the hub of Israel’s spiritual life in accordance with the law of God. The record places a significant emphasis on their adherence to the law of the Lord (Luke 2:21-24,39). This couple are faithful in their obedience to God and were ensuring that nothing was omitted in their compliance with His will.

The three key laws they fulfilled concerned the Lord’s circumcision, his redemption as the firstborn and the purification of Mary following childbirth.

Joseph and Mary would have seemed just like an ordinary couple as they walked to the temple, thronged by the vast numbers that assembled for worship, and arrived at the Court of the Women ready to present the Son of God publicly to his Father.

Edersheim informs us that the ceremony at the redemption of a firstborn son consisted of the formal presentation of the child to the priest, accompanied by two short benedictions, followed by the payment of the redemption money (Num 18:15). Payment of five shekels was compulsory but it is interesting that Luke omits this part of the ceremony as if he was saying that as God’s firstborn Son he belonged to God as much as to Israel (Num 18:15-16).

In Luke 2:22-24, we read of Mary offering for her purification “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons”. This was all they could afford. Edersheim once again explains how the ceremony took place.

He makes the point that there were 13 trumpet-shaped chests where contributions for the offerings were made. Standing next to trumpet-box there was the special ‘superintendent of turtle-doves and pigeons’, who informed the offerer of the price of the turtle-doves, and saw that all was in order. The offerer would not be required to deal directly with the sacrificing priest, only deposit in the collection box the required price for the two pigeons. “At a certain time in the day this third chest was opened, and half of its contents applied to burnt, the other half to sin-offerings. Thus, sacrifices were provided for a corresponding number of those who were to be purified, without either shaming the poor, needlessly disclosing the character of impurity, or causing unnecessary bustle and work.”

When the time of the evening sacrifice arrived, a trumpet was sounded to summon those who were to be purified. They assembled on either side of the great Nicanor Gate, at the top of the 15 steps which led up from the Court of the Women. From there they could see the offerings made and rejoice at the purification they had ceremonially received. We can see Mary, with the young infant nestled in her arms, standing on those steps and thinking about the significance of those offerings. The sin offering was a recognition that she was in need of forgiveness for all her failures. The burnt offering, a recognition that she needed to re-dedicate her life once more, following her confinement which led to birth. Ironically, she held in her arms the future Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

The Jewish world, however, was unaware of the significance of this new era; but all that was about to change. After carefully descending the steps with the other worshippers, Mary and Joseph were stopped by a grave man and an aged woman, whom they had never met before. The man was Simeon; his name means “hearing”. He is described by Luke as “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel”.

Like Zacharias and Elisabeth, he was righteous before God (Luke 1:6). More than that, he was one who was a cautious, careful observer of divine law. This is the meaning of the Greek word translated “devout”. Worshipping God in truth meant everything to him, and yet mingled with that sense of careful worship, was a man driven by faith and hope. He was waiting patiently for the comfort and consolation of Israel. He kept the law of God but waited in faith for God to deliver His people (cp Gal 5:5). He was to wait no longer—the Comforter had arrived. The words of Isaiah 40:1-2 were about to take shape; Jerusalem was about to be comforted and her iniquity pardoned; if only they would hearken.

Three times Luke emphasises that Simeon’s presence there that day, together with the message he delivered, were all driven by the Spirit of God (Luke 2:25-27). God’s power was once more at work reaching out to the remnant of faith and introducing His Son to them. They would have needed little encouragement to understand the nature of the work as they heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, uttered 600 years before, suddenly take on a new urgency. God’s Son, God’s servant, God’s beloved, had arrived and now the work of comfort and redemption could commence in earnest.

“Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” Simeon cried out, “which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

The name Jesus means “the salvation of God” and it is a powerful reminder that man cannot save himself; only God can accomplish this. When Simeon spoke of salvation for all people, he revealed the sentiments of a generous, large-hearted Jew. He knew it was something that all mankind would need. Under the influence of inspiration, he revealed his understanding of Isaiah 52:10 (“The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”) and echoed the thoughts of the servant song in Isaiah 49:6 as well (“I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth”).

Simeon had understood that God’s wisdom and foresight were now being unveiled. The young child in his arms would one day become “a light for the unveiling of nations, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32 Roth). This is an allusion to the work of God’s suffering servant in Isaiah 42:6 (“I will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles”). His work would eventually become the source of glory for Israel as well (Isa 62:1-2; Ezek 43:4; Zech 6:13).

Whilst Joseph and Mary marvelled at these words, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, as if he knew that Joseph would not be alive to experience the tragedy that would strike the family. “Behold,” he declared, “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (apokalupto – to take off the cover)” (Luke 2:34-35).

The word “set” means to lie outstretched. This prediction had a very literal fulfilment because when the Son of God was crucified, he was stretched out upon the cross for all to see. There would be many of his own people who would at first stumble and fall at his work of salvation (1 Pet 2:6-8), but there would also be many who would pick themselves up and rise again in full assurance of faith. It was a time when people’s motives, along with their deepest thoughts, would be exposed.

More tragically, Mary herself would keenly feel the pain of her son’s rejection. It would feel like being run through with a sword. Her very soul would be cut to shreds with sorrow and anguish that only a mother losing her son could feel.

It was also a time for removing the veil over people’s hearts. Although the Son of God would “not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street”, his work would be so confronting that many would search their hearts and either accept him or reject him. There was no middle ground with him. Man’s motives and beliefs would be put to the test and their innermost thoughts exposed.

So what are the lessons we can take away from Simeon’s life? Like Noah before him, he was a just man, that is, a righteous man. He was a person who had integrity, whose word was his bond, who was fair and equitable in all his dealings. Moreover, he was devout, that is, circumspect about his worship. Ecclesial life and meetings were important to him. He had a sense of responsibility in that devotion. He was a contributor and circumspect in his service in the house of God. These are the qualities God seeks from His people.

At the same time, he was patiently waiting for the manifestation of God’s Son in the earth. He was eagerly waiting for God’s salvation (Lam 3:26; Rom 8:23). Once again, like Noah, he was waiting to be comforted by God (Gen 5:29). Furthermore, he understood the magnitude of God’s salvation as described by the prophets. He knew that both Jew and Gentile were to be embraced by the purpose of God and in this he rejoiced.

When he spoke the words of Luke 2:29: “Lord (despotes – Powerful Master), now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” he was expressing a confident calmness about his death. He saw himself as a humble servant who would be released from his time of service. To depart in peace is to die with a conscience that is at peace with God. Here is the answer of a good conscience — fully reconciled and in complete harmony with the ways of God. Death held no fear for him. The Messiah had arrived; that was all he needed to know. He had full confidence that God would take care of the rest and would fulfil His promise. He knew that all would turn out right in the end. It was a wonderful declaration of trust and faith; something that we should emulate as we wait for the return of our Lord from heaven.