When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant 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 for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Having celebrated the birth of Jesus. we are now invited to reflect upon his Presentation in the Temple. When examined in detail, this account of Simeon encountering and recognizing the divinity of the baby is rather confusing. The way in which Luke recounts this significant moment brings together three different Jewish ceremonies: the purification of the mother, the redemption of the firstborn, and the presentation of a child in the service of God. Whilst all these rituals were important, we need to be careful not to focus on the confused account we are offered here. Instead of focussing on the Holy Family, it is preferable that we now turn our attention to Simeon.
Luke tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout; that he was looking forward to the consolation of Israel; that the Holy Spirit rested on him. Simeon had also been shown that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon, old and faithful Simeon, was one who, through study and prayer, had grasped the truth that lies at the heart of the Old Testament. Simeon recognized that, in the baby Jesus, he was encountering the unveiling of God’s plan of salvation for the whole of humanity, and not just for the Jewish nation.
For Simeon, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple was both a time of revelation and a time of release. In his recognition of the Christhood of Jesus, he knew he had finally reached the end of his earthly life, but … he still had one more role to play in the narrative.
Simeon had spent his life in study and prayer. Simeon understood the power of prophecy, the speaking of God’s word to those amongst whom he lived. Today’s reading ends with Simeon playing his part in God’s prophetic plan. As well as prophesying Jesus’ destiny as a light for revelation to the Gentiles, Simeon also had words of prophecy for Mary: and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Through his study of scripture and through devout and faithful prayer, Simeon had had great divine truths revealed to him. He had also been called to share those truths with others, despite his old age. God is still in need of faithful prophets. Who God will choose to be a prophet is known to God alone. Our task is to read Scripture and pray that its great truths may be revealed to us. Then, we need to be ready for God to speak his word through us. Then, in our time, we can be sure of God’s welcome as we join faithful Simeon in God’s realm of eternal peace.