Christmas Day has passed, and for many of us it is a temptation to move on with our agendas. The New Year is approaching and we might tend to begin focusing on the world’s calendar time. This Gospel text helps us remember the story in which we remain as people of God focused on the Kingdom of God. To us has been born a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord! What difference will we allow this to make to our lives? Luke’s narrative has much to speak to us…
The passage opens describing Mary and Joseph as they bring the baby Jesus to the temple in accordance with Israelite laws.( See Leviticus 12) The offering they bring tells the reader they are poor and cannot afford a lamb. Beyond simple logistical information, this fact maintains Luke’s theme that God uses humble means to enter into humanity. This was presented earlier by calling poor shepherds as the first visitors and using a dirty feeding trough for the first crib. Perhaps it invokes thought from us: how might we live into God’s pattern of presenting the Gospel through humble avenues, rather than investing in entertaining shows which feed a culture of consumerism more than our souls?
Next, Luke brings our attention to a character whose role is brief but influential: Simeon. His description is interesting. Simeon is not given a title. He is not a priest or a rabbi. He isn’t even assigned the title of prophet, which Luke gives to Anna just a few verses later. He is simply described as “righteous and devout.” We are told he has been looking forward to God bringing comfort to Israel and that the Holy Spirit rested on him. It is a simple description, but one with which the preacher might find it helpful to sit a while.
The Holy Spirit rested on him. This seems significant. Along with this statement, we learn the Holy Spirit also revealed something to Simeon (that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Messiah), and that the Spirit guided him into the temple (to experience all that happened next). Perhaps part of the profound message Luke is communicating here is the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. We do not have to be a priest or a rabbi, or a minister or a scholar, etc., to experience the work of the Spirit in a deep and meaningful way. (And just because we are of named title doesn’t mean we automatically will!)
The Holy Spirit rested on him. The Spirit revealed to him and guided him. How does the Spirit’s presence come to someone like this? Simeon was righteous and devout. Likely, this means he spent ample time in prayer and mindfulness. He was also “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” This tells the reader he had in mind the big picture. He wasn’t only looking for a resolution to the immediate needs surrounding him. When we bring ourselves devoutly before God, presenting ourselves and our mind for God to shape, the Holy Spirit does a work in us much like that done in Simeon.
Through the Spirit’s work in Simeon’s life, he truly understood what the presence of the Messiah was meant to be. Far from simply conquering the rulers of their time, the Messiah was to bring “salvation,” “a light for revelation…and for glory,” and someone who “will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” Not everything would be perfect. Simeon knew that Mary would experience a soul-piercing sword. The Messiah’s coming did not mean everything would be happy and peaceful. It meant simply and yet profoundly that Immanuel had come. God is with us.
The Holy Spirit rested on him. Simeon understood the presence of the Messiah because he already knew the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Then Luke brings our attention to the prophetess, Anna. Much like Simeon, she has a devout heart constantly turned toward God. When we read that she never left the temple, but “worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day,” we might take a step back and believe the presence of the Holy Spirit is only for the great saints of the faith.
But what gave this woman such passion for God? We know she became a widow at a young age. She knew sorrow, like many of us. And instead of allowing sorrow to overtake her life, she allowed the Holy Spirit to spring up hope in her. It was a hope nurtured through worship and praise and prayer and fasting. These are not things only done by extraordinary saints! These things can be done by very ordinary people. People like any of us.
Could this be Luke’s invitation to us? Immanuel has come. God is with us! And because of this, the Holy Spirit can rest on us. Even when a sword of sorrow has pierced our soul, the Holy Spirit can nurture hope in us. If only we will come as we are. We can come from a life of brokenness. We can come so poor that we can’t even afford the proper things. The Holy Spirit wants to rest on our broken lives. Christ wants to turn our brokenness into worship, even if that worship begins as lament. Let us present ourselves to God in worship, in praise, in fasting and prayer. We don’t need to have fancy titles to experience the presence of God.
Immanuel has come. God is with us! Come, Holy Spirit, and rest on us.
 Although John Wesley seems to interpret the phrase “The Holy Spirit rested on him” as an indication that Simeon was a prophet. See John Wesley, “Wesley’s Notes on the Bible,” [cited 20 October 2017]. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.i.iv.iii.html.