A few weeks ago I attended an annual luncheon in our communityÊwhere good friends gathered to enjoy a delicious shrimp meal and goodÊfellowship. The program is always a delight when a very gifted person,Êwith a wonderful sense of humor, presents some of the happenings inÊour community during the past year. It is filled with humor, and youÊlaugh until your sides hurt. Though the speaker uses a lot of humor,Êthere comes a time when he shifts gears and is very serious. He reminds us of the community leaders who have died since last we met, and talksÊabout the contributions they have made to our area. It is just one moreÊreminder of life’s brevity.
Another year has ended. Already one year of the new millennium isÊhistory. Wealthy is the person who can have a full life and then be ableÊto say at the end, “I am ready to go home. Come, Lord Jesus.” Simeon,Êthe man in our text, was one of those rich people.
We know little about him. The Bible only tells us that he wasÊ”righteous and devout.” He could have been a rabbi. The text implies heÊwas old, and that he had been given a promise he would not die until heÊhad seen the Messiah. Then came the most exciting day of Simeon’s life.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the ceremony ofÊpurification. Forty days after the child was born, the ceremonial lawÊrequired the parents to present him at the temple and offer a sacrifice ofÊtwo doves or young pigeons. When Simeon saw Jesus, there was noÊquestion in his mind that he stood in the presence of the Messiah. ItÊwas then that he took the child in his arms and spoke these famousÊwords known to us as the Nunc Dimittis:
“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,
According to Thy Word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of allÊpeople.
A light to lighten the Gentiles;
And the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Let me stop here and tell you of my experience with this hymn. OurÊfamily attended church each Sunday morning and evening. At most ofÊthe Sunday evening services, we used the Vespers as our order ofÊworship. At the close of the service we sang the Nunc Dimittis. ItÊbecame repetitious, and I am sure that, as a sixteen-year-old boy who hadÊbeen to church twice that day besides attending Sunday school, I gaveÊthose words little thought. In fact, I could have been critical and said,ÊThese words lose their meaning when we sing them over and over. WhyÊdoesn’t the pastor choose some other hymns for the closing. But heÊdidn’t. Little did I realize sixty years ago that, while we were singing thisÊsong, the Holy Spirit was instilling the truth of the hymn into my heart.Ê
Now that I am 76, it is one of my most precious passages of Scripture.ÊOne day, when I am about to die, I pray that Simeon’s words will be myÊwords, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace, because my eyes haveÊseen your salvation.” Take me home, Lord.
When I hear people criticize some of the liturgical parts of ourÊservice as being meaningless because of their repetition, I am tempted toÊsay, Go careful, my friend. You don’t know what meaning these wordsÊwill have in your life as the years go by.
Having spoken these words, Simeon handed the child to Mary andÊsaid, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many inÊIsrael, and will be a sign that will be spoken against, so the thoughts ofÊmany hearts will be revealed. A sword will pierce your own soul too.” It was a prophecy of what would happen in the years to come.Ê
Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a controversial person. ManyÊwould be blessed by Him, while others would fall. While he did notÊknow the meaning of the “sword piercing Mary’s heart,” he describedÊclearly that day when Mary stood beneath the cross and watched herÊSon die for the sins of the world.
Simeon was an old man who was ready to die. What a beautifulÊpicture he leaves behind. If you had asked him, Where are you goingÊafter death, he would have had a quick response. I am going to be withÊthe Lord, for I have met my Savior.
Standing by the bedside of dying people has always been anÊemotional experience for me. It is in this setting that we especially seeÊthe preciousness of life. Most always I find myself wiping away a tear,Êwhether or not I know the person well. When the man or woman hasÊlived his or her life without Christ, it is sad. Let the medication wear offÊand they are restless. But stand by the bedside and watch the believer inÊthose last hours, and you know what it means to have victory in Christ.ÊTry to answer the dying person’s question, “Why doesn’t He come now and get me?” Fear has been removed and there is a longing for theÊheavenly home.
Simeon presents us with the death of a rich man. Who is the rich man? Is it he or she who has many possessions? Is it the person whoÊlives in a huge house, drives an expensive car and travels to many partsÊof the world? Certainly money, and what it can buy, can enrich our lives and bring us satisfaction. But there is more to being a rich person thanÊhaving financial wealth.
Let me tell you about a rich woman, 80 years old, who came to ourÊdoor on December 12 with a Christmas box of candy, cookies, and bread. It was bitter cold. She was on her way to the doctor for a blood testÊbecause of a heart problem. She lives in a comfortable home and hasÊmore than the necessities of life, but is by no means rich in the financialÊsense of the word. The following are some of the possessions which putÊher in the category of being rich. She lives with the memory of aÊhusband who loved and cared for her until his death a few years ago.Ê
They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.ÊTheir marriage was blessed with six children. These kids love her andÊmake frequent visits to be with their mom. Those who live in distantÊparts of the country send her airplane tickets making it possible for theirÊmother to visit them. While her health is not the best, God has blessedÊthis woman with long life. She has a strong commitment to Jesus Christ,Êwhich motivates her to love Him by serving people. Can you believe it?Ê
At eighty years of age, she is employed by a large supermarket, serving as itsÊhostess. She walks up and down the aisles greeting people, helpingÊthem to find things on the shelves, and making their shopping a moreÊpleasant experience. She also has marvelous opportunities to share herÊfaith with people when the situation is right. While she is in no hurry to leave her family and a host of friends, she lives with the assurance that,Êwhen death does come, there awaits her a heavenly home. I am thoroughly convinced that, when her children stand by her bedside and death draws near, they will hear her whisper, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, because I have seen my Savior and he lives in my heart.”
The old year is about gone. We have experienced God’s presence.ÊWhen we sinned, He forgave us. When we were weak, He comforted us.ÊWhen we were confused, He directed us.
We face the new year withÊgreat confidence, for He has promised to be with us always. If that is your faith, you too are very, very rich.