Luke tells us he was an upright and pious man. Heaven seems already his. Hope for heaven doesn’t seem necessary, at least not for himself.
Simeon has been waiting for salvation for his people. But not just for his people – for all people. As he holds the Child, he says the prayer he has been waiting to say all his life, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have made ready before the face of all peoples, A light for a revelation to the gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.”
Salvation is in that child right then and there. Jesus will not be made ready. To use a playground cliché, Jesus was born ready. As an infant, he is already ready, and for all peoples, both Gentile and Jew. Simeon is not pleading to somehow stick around for 33 more years until the day when Jesus dies on the cross or is resurrected. Salvation doesn’t have to wait till then. The Incarnation is enough.
And the process of holding the Child provides its own quiet theophany, an experience of God amid the twilight of his years. In holding the baby Jesus, Simeon holds the embodiment of God’s peace. In taking Jesus into his arms, Simeon takes God’s peace into his heart. And in so doing, he opens his heart, making it capable of awakening to God’s unmediated presence. Simeon’s act of tenderness, the act of holding a child in his arms, removes the veil between himself and God.
What leads us to this kind of theophany, this kind of God-reception? Our text from Luke mentions the Holy Spirit three times. First, the Spirit has guided Simeon’s life in general. Secondly, the Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon that his death would not occur until the anointed one came. Lastly, the Spirit leads Simeon to the temple to meet the infant Jesus.
As Simeon realized, there is a spark of the Good in us, sacredly and holily moving within. If we are indeed seriously seeking truth, something will guide us on the right path to that truth.
Something tenderizes the heart and makes it ready to receive the love of God. This something is a someone, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit softens the hardened self and makes tender the callous heart, so we can see and feel love knocking at that heart’s temple door.
If we home in on the essential process of the heart, we see that the process of the heart means allowing the heart to become tender and softer. And out of that tenderness and softness, we receive and hold God’s gift of love to us.
The Jewish context makes the story much clearer. According to Mosaic law, a mother was seen as needing purification after bearing a boy, even if that boy was the Anointed One, the Christ. This purification process took place 33 days after the new one’s circumcision. And circumcision happened on the 8th day after birth. 33 plus 8 equals 41. So, after 41 days, a ritual offering could be performed at the Temple. This ritual offering in effect enabled the child to be presented to the Temple community and to the God worshiped therein.
Also involved in this process was a kind of tithe or tax. That tithe or tax was 5 shekels, the texts tells us, and it was mandated by Hebrew Law when presenting a baby boy to the temple.
The text mentions two turtle doves? Well, if you couldn’t afford to offer a lamb, turtle doves or pigeons, both much cheaper than a lamb, would suffice. This tells us that the family coming into the Temple are not of the means to afford a lamb. Concisely put, this is a family dealing with some issues of poverty. Yet they are faithful whatever the costs.
So, we meet Jesus and his family at 41 days old. Jesus is being carried by Mary and Joseph joins them, coming into the temple to present Jesus as a child of Yahweh. They come with 5 shekels and 2 turtle doves for the sacrificial offering. This was how it was done for faithful followers of Torah, the way of God.
Simeon’s prophecy which comes next is also entrenched in Jewish tradition. It is a prophecy born of a long wait. Simeon’s speak his truth to 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.”
The newborn revelation baby Jesus presents is scandalous good news. He will later embody it on the cross. The good news preaches that the kingdom of God is a revolution of the heart. It is a revolution that requires the heart be made vulnerable, that the heart be pierced and broken, in turn enabling compassion.
In John chapter 1 we are offered the poetic version of the Christmas story in the gospels. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I’d offer a paraphrase that makes more sense to me. “The Word became embodied and dwelt among us.” Or the Word became a living poem given to us.
Infant Jesus, a single-word, sacred poem that embodies God, dwelling here and now, among us and hopefully within us – that is the meaning of this day.
As for Simeon, he holds that embodied Word in his arms. He holds that sacred poem cooing and peers into the eyes of God.
What does the poetic Truth embodied in 41-day-old Jesus mean? What does the Word embodied in Jesus say?
Those poor in spirit, those who’ve emptied themselves of go-it-alone-ness, who’ve opened their hearts to the tenderizing power of the Spirit, who’ve received the impoverished power of love, those like Simeon, will know the kingdom of heaven.
Most all of us have held a baby. Holding a baby is what peace looks like. How can you demonize, how can you hate and harm a baby or someone whose baby you hold?
What does it take to hold a baby? It takes a receptive, easygoing heart not afraid of being vulnerable.
To hold peace in our hearts, both externally and internally, takes the same. It takes a receptive heart toward God, others, and ourselves. A receptive heart gives way to a vulnerability that reaches out with relaxed arms and with an at-ease-ness capable of holding God’s gift of love close to us.
If enemies open-heartedly held the babies of their enemies, war would cease, and peace commence.
Simeon in holding the Prince of Peace is assured of the world’s salvation and can go and depart in peace. The world has been made right. May we sit and hold peace in our arms. May we realize peace and breathe that peace into the world. May we know the enlightenment of holding the infant Jesus in our arms and seeing the universal light of salvation.