Giving birth to a child in a manger might have been no big deal, but if it were to happen today in our culture, Mary might have been asked, “Are you the lady who had a child in a manger?” And Joseph could have been reprimanded for not having strong words for the indifferent innkeeper.
We do not know much about Jesus’ early years. Therefore we appreciate the few peeks we have into those first few years of his life. We have one of those brief looks at Jesus when only a baby as our text today.
Mary and Joseph went to the temple when Jesus was forty days old. During that visit they met Simeon, whom Luke describes as “righteous and devout.” It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. On this particular day he was moved to go to the temple, where he saw Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
Simeon took the babe in his arms and, as he looked into the child’s face, uttered these words:
“Lord, now lettest Thy servant depart in peace according to your word;
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which thou has prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
When Simeon looked into the face of Jesus, he found new peace. Remember that he is described as a “righteous and devout man.” This person knew a great deal about the Messiah who was coming. He had read the prophets and remembered what Isaiah had written: “A virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son, and his name will be called Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). He had also learned from the prophet Micah that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem. Simeon spent much time around the temple, and you can be sure he heard some fluent and brilliant rabbis preach on the coming of the Messiah. To acquire this knowledge about Jesus made Simeon excited! To look into Jesus’ face changed Simeon’s life. Learning about Jesus is quite a bit different from meeting him.
Simeon was now ready to die. His soul was at peace; he was ready to go and be with God.
How much like Simeon many of us are! We are faithful members of the church. We may not be technical theologians, but we have acquired much Biblical knowledge during our lifetime. A few of us have attended a theological seminary to study Christianity and other important disciplines that relate to the Christian faith. However, while there is much Biblical illiteracy among lay church members, there are also many who have much Biblical information. If one has average intelligence, goes to church every Sunday, and attends Bible studies and small group classes, they will know a great deal about the Christian faith. This is where we can identify with Simeon.
Having an intellectual understanding of Jesus, yet having never met him, is possible. Knowledge about Jesus does not bring peace; meeting Him does. When this peace invades your soul in your later years, it is easy to pray with Simeon: Any time you are ready to receive me into your heavenly home, I am ready, Lord. I have heard many people pray this prayer when their body is worn out, loved ones and friends have died, and their work on earth has been completed. “I am ready when you are, Lord.”
It is right for a younger person to pray, “Lord, now let your servant be a strong witness for you in a culture that is just as indifferent as was the innkeeper on the night of your birth.”
In Simeon’s prayer there is a verse that tells of Jesus’ birth marking the beginning of a new age. He prayed, “(Jesus is) A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” The world had entered the Christian Age. The covenant message, once given to Abraham, was still for Israel, but it now extended to all people. Those who received Christ as Savior and Lord were now His people, and we could talk about the “spiritual Israel.” No one was to be excluded from this salvation prepared for all people through faith in Jesus Christ.
In this Christian Age, God is revealed in Christ as our Father, whose will is to live in a personal relationship with us. Through His Word, God wants to look into our face, take us by the hand and say, “Come follow me. I will comfort you, forgive you, strengthen you, and direct you until we meet in the heavenly home.”
When we receive Christ, it is the beginning of new age. Then, and only then, can we join old Simeon and say, “I am at peace.”