I’m writing a series of blog posts for Advent (yes, I know it’s July; my client plans ahead!). It is a challenge to find something new to say about such a familiar story, but that is forcing me to really read the text, and I’m learning just how much I have missed over the last four decades or so of hearing it!
Last year I learned that the angel who came to Zechariah announcing John the Baptist’s coming quoted to him the exact words that had been the final words of the Old Testament. The first thing that God said after 400 years of silence was to announce the fulfillment of the last thing he had said. Wow.
I also noticed for the first time the incredible, sacrificial love Joseph showed to Mary. Amazing.
This year’s big revelations have been that the Magi didn’t ‘follow’ the star all the way to Jerusalem (read more here) and, today, that Simeon wasn’t a priest.
I knew that Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah and that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see Jesus before he died. I always assumed that meant he was very old, but that’s not really borne out by the text. I also knew that he went to the Temple on the day Jesus was brought there to be presented to the Lord, and that that was due to his paying attention to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I was certain he was a priest. I thought he was likely to be in the general temple area, and just went out into the courtyards from wherever he had been performing his normal priestly duties. But no. He was just ‘a man in Jerusalem’ (v25).
That somehow shifts my whole perception of him and the event. This wasn’t one of the temple ‘officials’ greeting Jesus. There was no-one among the priestly class who was ready and expectant (or filled with the Holy Spirit and listening to his promptings). (I’m not sure whether Anna the prophetess had any official standing within the temple – the phrase ‘she never left the temple’ (v37) suggests to me that this was her reputation rather than her position, but that is total speculation.)
Simeon’s devoutness hadn’t resulted in him getting work in the temple. I don’t know if it worked like that anyway – perhaps he wasn’t from the right tribe to be a priest (if that was a thing?), but whatever, he was just some man, going about his daily life.
Somehow that makes it seem more impressive, to me. I think we expect those who work for the church or in ‘Christian professions’ to be listening out for God’s word to them all the time, but not just ‘ordinary Christians’ getting on with our ‘secular’ lives.
Sometimes, this story tells me, it is those who aren’t caught up with the busyness of ‘doing religion’ that are more open to the promptings of the Spirit.