Simeon’s waiting is over
Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:15). Waiting. That’s something we usually don’t consider to be a very good thing. In fact, to most of us, WAIT is a four-letter-word. We are forced to wait in checkout lines, to wait at the doctor’s office, and to wait for the repairman to show up at our home.
We think microwave popcorn takes too long, so how can we be expected to wait?!
Advent forced us to wait. Four weeks of waiting. While the rest of our nation was physically, emotionally and monetarily spent by the time December 25 finally rolled around, the Christian Church was just getting around to celebrating Christmas. Waiting encourages us to slow down, notice what is going on around us, look forward, look backward, anticipate and wait to celebrate. Waiting gives us opportunities for conversation and meditation that we might not otherwise have in our busy and hectic lives.
But when the waiting is over, it is time to rejoice! To break forth in jubilation! When we finally reach the front of the line, when our name is called, when we finally hear the knock on the door. And now our Advent waiting is over. We have ripped into the Christmas presents, visited with our relatives and broken forth with Christmas hymns and carols. Our waiting is over – not because we have celebrated Christmas but because Christ has come in the flesh.
Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” which means the relief or redemption of Israel. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. We can imagine every morning Simeon waking up and wondering, “Is this the day?” Every child who came into the temple would make him ask, “Is this the One?”
Simeon is a man on tiptoes, wide-eyed and watching for the One who will come to save Israel. Studying each passing face. Staring into the eyes of strangers. Patiently vigilant. Calmly expectant. Eyes open. Arms extended. Searching the crowd for the right face, and hoping that face appears today.
We can learn a lot from aged Simeon, because you’ve probably noticed how short-sighted we all are. We are like children: “I want it now!” Waiting, patience and thinking ahead are all learned behaviors, skills that need to be taught. It is easy to live for just right now, to indulge our sinful nature and gratify our natural cravings. Drug or alcohol addictions, out-of-wedlock childbirths and credit card debts all “happen” to people who couldn’t defer gratification to a later time.
God’s ultimate gift to you is to let you live with Him forever. But that wonderful destination can seem so distant as not to exist. Future thinking is an important skill that each of us needs to cultivate in our own heart. That’s why St. Paul writes, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly love, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Waiting is not a weakness. It comes from the serene confidence that God will keep all His promises, that our future is going to be way better than our past, and that God is managing all the events of our lives to get us to the finish line of faith intact.
What joy must have filled Simeon’s soul when His waiting was over! His heart must have skipped a beat when Mary and Joseph walked into the temple carrying their Son. The Holy Spirit whispered into Simeon’s spirit, “This is the One you’ve been waiting for.” And Simeon gathered the little Child in his old arms and lifted his weary eyes to heaven and broke forth in song.
In “Simeon’s Song of Praise,” Rembrandt portrays the joy and peace with which Simeon received the Christ Child. Rembrandt focuses entirely on Simeon’s emotion by leaving out almost all other figures. He doesn’t even picture the temple where this event took place. That is how deeply moved Rembrandt must have been by the subject of Simeon.
This may very well have been Rembrandt’s last painting. It was found unfinished in his workshop the day after he died in 1669. The woman with Simeon was probably added after Rembrandt’s death by someone else. Some think she is Mary, others are convinced she must be the prophetess Anna.
Rembrandt must have been fascinated by this subject because he created at least two paintings and several drawings about it. The contrast with his great 1631 painting could hardly be stronger!
In this painting, entitled “Simeon in the Temple,” Rembrandt displays the scenery of the temple and its courtyard. A great throng is gathered. A surprised Mary kneels next to Simeon, who is holding the Infant in his arms. Joseph is kneeling next to her with the two pigeons for the sacrifice. They are in front of the steps that leads to the high priest’s throne.
What is most striking about this picture is the light. Everywhere else in the painting, the people are in shadows. But there is a light upon Simeon and the holy family. If you look closely, the light is not shining upon the Infant. Rather, the light is coming from the Infant!
Rembrandt is depicting the Child as the source of the light, for He truly is what Simeon calls Him, “a light to lighten the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32)
Rembrandt, like other artists and theologians, portrays Simeon in both of his paintings as being well-advanced in years. Simeon’s time of service has come to an end for God has kept His promise. Simeon’s song rings out: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people
Israel” (Luke -32). You can almost hear the relief in his
voice, for he is at peace. His tired, old eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation.
His weary arms have held the Prince of Peace. Though Jesus has yet to be
visited by the Magi, step into the Jordan River, do battle with the devil in
the wilderness, drive out any demons or diseases, or preach on the Mount;
though He has yet to be betrayed, arrested, scourged, crucified, and laid in
the tomb – it is as good as done.
The waiting was over.
Make no mistake, Simeon is now saying he’s free to leave. Not leave the temple, but die. When I was a kid, when we would sing Simeon’s Song after Holy Communion, I used to think we were thanking God because we were free to go home from church now. That was my prayer, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant, depart in peace.” But that’s not what Simeon was singing. He was saying, “Now I can die and rest in peace. I am released from life’s sentence and free to die. I have seen Your salvation and I know it’s mine in this little Child.”
We are free to go for the same reasons. Not to go home from church, but to go home to heaven. We have worshiped the Child in the manger. We have praised the Savior upon the cross. We have glorified the Redeemer risen from the tomb. Like Simeon, we can truly depart in peace. Our wait is over.
It is time to rejoice!