2 February 2012

Luke 2:22-32

"My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples." (vv. 30-31)


Forty days since Christmas, and the Church celebrates the day on which Mary and Joseph would have brought their firstborn son to the temple, on the 40th day of his life (Leviticus 12:2-6). They offered the poor family's offering of two pigeons, and at the same time dedicated their first-born son, claimed by the Lord as every Jewish firstborn son was (Exodus 13:2), but at the same time, holy in the unique way that was already becoming clear through the events surrounding Jesus' birth.

So, an ordinary family celebrating God's gift to them as families do; but then the unexpected breaks in with the arrival of Simeon. His life was marked by a longing to see Israel comforted (Isaiah 40:1) and by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit - for Luke a key marker of God's power to act through individuals.

Though our reading focuses on Simeon, we need to remember that his prophecy is linked to that of Anna (Luke 2:26-38), a woman of great age and equal holiness, whose praise to God is intertwined with words about Jesus, associating him with the redemption of Jerusalem.

For Simeon, simply the presence of the baby was enough; his task was over and his life complete. Even if he was not elderly (and the text does not give this indication), he had the profound sense that he had achieved the purpose for which God had created him. He has seen; that is enough.

For Simeon and for Anna, this baby is a sign that relates to their vision of God's future for God's own people. When the messiah comes, Israel will find comfort and Jerusalem will find redemption. So the child is the "salvation" which God offers to Israel - in this baby, the hope of a renewed future is made real. The Gospel will reveal the nature of this renewal as the story unfolds.

There is a profound rightness in the Church's traditional celebration of this event as Candlemas, when candles were blessed and given to the faithful for use during the year. For Simeon's words end with the ringing acclamation of Jesus as light and glory (verse 32) - the Old Testament often describes God's glory as light (eg Exodus 13:21). For Israel and for Gentiles (non-Jews), the light of God's glory has become visible in this child, bringing the two together in wonder at God's revelation - and this will be a theme of Luke's story throughout.

To Ponder

How does the image of light help you understand the salvation that Jesus reveals?

Simeon knew that the Lord had given him a specific purpose in life, and he knew when it was fulfilled. What purpose might the Lord be giving you? And how might you know when it is fulfilled?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.