He felt it even before he opened his eyes to see sunlight filtering through the slatted window after days of rain. Unbidden, the words of the prophet Malachi sprang to mind. Then suddenly the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.
Simeon lay on his pallet, flexing stiff limbs. Why was this Scripture coming to him today? He’d not dwelt on it for months, even though it spoke so aptly of the hope that propelled him forward into each new day.
Then his blood quickened as a new thought struck. Could today be the day? He recalled the promise the Lord had once whispered into his heart – that he would see with his own eyes the Messiah before he died. But as the years crept by with no sign of fulfillment, Simeon had sometimes been tempted to doubt he’d heard the Lord correctly. After all, why him? Who else had been promised such a thing? He knew of many men in Jerusalem more righteous than he. Why should he be so blessed? And yet – the promise had settled deep into his soul. He felt it now as a strain of music faintly discerned, yet always heard.
From the courtyard beyond his window came the clatter of iron against stone and the thick aroma of freshly baked bread. It was this, followed by the rumble of his stomach, that drew him from his bed, and he entered the courtyard, where he found his wife sliding rounds of bread from the clay oven. “Good morning, husband,” she greeted him with a glance toward the heavens. “I was just giving thanks that the Lord has chosen to bless us this day with blue skies instead of gray. After so many days of rain, it is as if we are experiencing His blessing.”
Simeon sank to a reclining position at the low table his wife had set with a bowl of fruit. “Perhaps in even more ways than this,” he said.
His wife turned, face flushed from the heat of the oven. “Oh?”
He lifted a fig from the bowl and held it, hesitating. His wife had anticipated such a moment as much as he had, and he longed to speak what was on his heart. But what if he was wrong? It would be hard enough to bear his own disappointment without adding his wife’s to it.
But she stood before him, waiting patiently for his answer. “I think today is the day,” he said at last.
She drew in a sharp breath. “The Anointed One has come?”
She lowered her head so that a strand of silver fell across her seamed cheek. “I pray that it is so.”
After he had eaten, he ventured into the streets, his steps turning automatically toward the temple. Jerusalem was unusually crowded these days, with so many brought here to carry out the letter of Caesar’s law requiring every person in his empire to be accounted for. Though usually immune to the crush of strangers, today Simeon’s senses were heightened, and he found himself studying the Jewish males in the crowd. Who might the Messiah be? Perhaps that tall young man with the square jaw and the confident stride? Or that older one, with the gray beard and wise eyes? But though Simeon kept his ear attuned to the Almighty, no Voice spoke in confirmation.
The temple on its hill rose before him, and as he drew nearer, the smell of roasted meat, mingled with the sharp aroma of frankincense, grew stronger. And now the conviction he had felt since awakening grew stronger. Of course, he realized. Here, in the Lord’s temple, is where I will see him. His pulse quickened as he approached the temple gates.
Once inside the temple courtyard, he lingered in the shadow of the colonnade, where he waited and watched. His gaze was drawn to the temple gates, where a young family had entered. The husband was stocky, his clothing simple and homespun, and he used his body to shield his wife from the jostling crowd. She carried a swaddled baby, and Simeon guessed the couple had come to dedicate their child and offer sacrifices to the Lord.
A faint breeze lifted the woman’s head covering, and Simeon saw that she was very young, hardly more than a girl. Still – there was something about her that hinted at a grace beyond her years. Her serene posture, perhaps, or the calm adoration that shone in her dark eyes as the child at her breast stirred and emitted a tiny squawk.
Then a small pink fist shot from the bundle, and a frisson jolted through Simeon. There, came the Lord’s voice. There is the One you seek.
Confused, Simeon looked at the husband, now bending over the squirming child. He was so plain and unassuming, nothing like Simeon’s vision of a Messiah. He struggled to understand. Him?
No, answered the Voice. Look to the child, and you will see the One for whom you have waited so long.
The baby? Wonderingly, he moved toward the couple. “The Lord be with you,” he greeted them.
“And also with you,” the man replied, polite but puzzled by this stranger’s approach.
Gazing at the child, he said, “So this is the Anointed One.” The man and woman exchanged glances, and Simeon held out his arms. “May I?”
The woman tucked the end of the swaddling cloth more securely around the child before placing him in his arms. Ohhhh. He had forgotten how tiny new babies could be, how practically weightless. He folded back a corner of cloth to look into the child’s face. Awe pervaded Simeon’s soul as brown eyes fringed with spiky lashes like his mother’s gazed back at him.
A warmth stole over his body, and the swell of praise that filled his chest overflowed onto his lips. “O Sovereign Lord,” he murmured, “as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Again, the couple exchanged glances, and the husband cleared his throat. “How do you know this about our son?” he asked, his voice low.
He smiled. “The Lord Himself has revealed it to me. But you are not very surprised to hear such things, are you?”
The younger man returned his smile. “No, not very surprised,” he said. “Not anymore.”
Simeon raised his hand, as gnarled and twisted as an ancient vine. “May the blessing of the Almighty be upon you both,” he said. Then his gaze rested on the young wife, who had stood silently throughout all of this. “My dear, this child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” He hesitated, but then finished what he felt compelled to say. “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
The girl’s large eyes widened, flashing alarm, and he felt a qualm, a moment of regret that he had uttered those words aloud. But then her features smoothed, and peace settled where a moment earlier fear had lurked. And Simeon understood what he had seen in her from the first. This was no ordinary girl, but a woman of extraordinary faith. Clearly, she had spent a lifetime seeking the Lord’s face, and she would continue to do so. And with a sudden flare of insight, Simeon knew that when the hour of darkness came upon her, God Himself would rise up to meet her there.
As He had met him here, in this place.
~ by Katherine Scott Jones
After Words: Often overlooked, Simeon’s story is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas story. This retelling, drawn from the gospel of Luke, is how I imagine these events may have unfolded.
May Simeon’s discovery of God’s promise kept be yours as well.