26 December 2022

Simeon’s song: Where were you when you first met Jesus?

Lieut-Colonel Richard Borrett

Lieut-Colonel Richard Borrett considers a significant moment in time when a long-held hope was fulfilled.

Key text

I wonder how often you have been asked the question: ‘Where were you when [insert an event here]?’ There are events that have such an impact on us that we remember exactly where we were, and what we were doing, when particular news reached our ears.

One day, when I was training to be a Salvation Army officer at William Booth College, an officer of considerable experience came to lead morning prayers. He asked who among us remembered the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The blank looks around the room conveyed the message – most of us were born many years later than 1953. It made us smile and the memory has remained. We remember trivial things, but some memories have a much greater impact, either on ourselves or upon the wider community.

Pause and reflect

  • What event came to mind when you read the earlier question?
  • Why do think that particular event came to mind? Does it say something about the generation you are part of?

In Luke 2:22–35, Luke sets the scene for a momentous and much awaited life-event in the experience of Simeon: Jesus is presented at the Temple according to a custom that goes all the way back to the times of the Israelites as recorded in Scripture (see Exodus 13). According to that tradition, the consecration of the firstborn son was a way of keeping God’s salvation through the exodus from Egypt firmly fixed in the national memory.

Luke provides more detail: Mary and Joseph bring ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’ (v24). This indicates they were not a rich family, as this provision is made for those without the material means to present a year-old lamb for a burnt offering (see Leviticus 12).

Photo shows a hand holding a dove in front of a blue background.

Luke 2:14

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.

Read the passage

Enter Simeon, who is part of a select group of biblical characters described as ‘righteous’. Through some sort of mystical experience, he knows that he is to witness something special and is led to visit the Temple in Jerusalem.

Pause and reflect

  • Have you ever done something on a hunch or through feeling simply that you ought to do it?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Did you consider that God might have been involved?

Simeon seems to have been prompted by God and so is ready for the encounter he has long been waiting for. Luke describes him as one ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’ (v25), a rather unusual term by today’s parlance. This is a reference to the promised arrival of Israel’s Messiah who would fulfil all God’s promises to Abraham and David, bringing salvation to all (see Isaiah 40:1 and 2).

So, Simeon is at the Temple, expecting to meet the Messiah when Mary and Joseph bring their newborn child to be presented, as required by the Law.

Upon seeing Mary and Joseph, Simeon takes the baby into his arms and praises God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations’ (vv29–31).

In this moment, Simeon knows his life is complete. Everything he has longed for and has been promised is here in front of him. Things aren’t going to get any better than this! The rest of his life will be lived in the reflected glory of this moment.

Simeon’s life is complete. Not necessarily finished – we are not told anything more about the rest of his days – but complete. What a thought!

Pause and reflect

  • What would it mean for you to describe your life as complete?

With all we now know about Jesus’ conception and birth, it is perhaps not surprising that Mary and Joseph appear bewildered at all that is going on. Not so, Simeon. Simeon is not so immersed in his experience that he loses all sense of his role in God’s purposes.

He blesses Mary and Joseph and brings to them some sobering words about Jesus’ future: ‘This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel … and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (vv34 and 35). These are hardly words of consolation, but history has proved their accuracy.

Simeon’s cameo appearance in Luke’s birth narrative is over. We don’t know what happens next. He has played his part and the story moves on. However, after this encounter Simeon’s life will never be the same. It tends to be like that when people meet Jesus. Where were you when you first met him?

Bible study by

Lieut-Colonel Richard Borrett

Lieut-Colonel Richard Borrett

Chief Secretary, Eastern Europe Territory

Let's pray

Lord, we thank you and praise you because you came to be the light of the world. We pray that more and more people will come to accept you as their Saviour as they hear and see the gospel message at Christmas.


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