In the Psalm 130, the writer assumes the character of a soldier posted to keep watch on the city walls through the long dark night. The sun has not yet risen. Daybreak has not yet come. But it will come, and then, at last, his watch will be over. And so, he watches for the dawn with confidence. Indeed, the psalmist says that he waits for the Lord “more than watchmen for the morning” (vv. 5–6, emphasis added). He waits with greater certainty than even the watchman who knows the inevitability of the sunrise. He is sure of the dawning of Israel’s Hope, in whom there is “plentiful redemption” (v. 7).
When Simeon went to the temple that day, in Luke 2:27, he also was like a watchman waiting for the dawn. “Righteous and devout,” he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25). Presumably, day after day he had been patiently waiting. But like the psalmist, he knew for certain that daybreak was at hand: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26). But for all his confidence, little did he know when he entered the temple precincts that day, as he had done on so many other days before, that his wait would finally be over.
The Mosaic law required that forty days after giving birth, a new mother had to sacrifice a lamb and a pigeon for a sin offering. If the family could not afford a lamb, “two turtle doves or two pigeons” were an acceptable alternative (Lev. 12:2, 8). In Exodus 13:2, God also said, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” Numbers 18:15–16 then provided for the redemption of the consecrated child by the payment of five shekels.
Given this background, the eye of faith needn’t strain too hard to see the holy ironies unfolding in the temple that day. In her arms, Mary held the One whose blood would accomplish what the blood of the two pigeons could only symbolize. Her poverty could not accommodate the sacrifice of a lamb, but the true Lamb, who slept cradled in her embrace that day, would make her clean from every one of her sins. Mary and Joseph paid five shekels for the redemption of their Son at the temple. But their Son would pay with His life for the redemption of the world at the cross. Never before or since have these ritual actions, so familiar to generations of Jews, carried such a weight of meaning. And it was just as these rites were being performed that Simeon arrived to resume his customary vigil.
What joy must have flooded his heart when, led by the Spirit, he took Jesus in his arms, blessed God, and began to sing, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Luke 2:29). The sun had risen at last. The long dark night was over. And now he could go to his rest, for “my eyes have seen your salvation” (v. 30).
Notice that the baby Simeon held would not simply bring salvation. He is salvation. Seeing the infant Jesus was to see the Lord’s salvation. He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32). He does not merely give light and bestow glory. He is the light and the glory of Gentile and Jew alike. What we get in the gospel is not some abstraction, some list of benefits and blessings—forgiveness, adoption, sanctification, and the like—doled out in a cold transaction. What we get in the gospel is Christ Himself, and in Him, all we need. He has become for us “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The gospel is not coldly transactional but gloriously personal. Jesus Himself is the Lord’s salvation, our light and our glory.
And notice too the scope of the salvation available in Christ. Jesus was prepared, Simeon sings, “in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:31–32, emphasis added). Salvation is for all, available to all, in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have good news for every person—this tiny helpless infant, so vulnerable, so weak, is God’s magnificent provision for the redemption of the world.
What should our response be to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? An answer comes when we mark carefully the order of Simeon’s song. He embraced his own departure in peace only because he had first seen the Lord’s salvation. It was only because he held in his embrace the Lord’s Christ that he welcomed the embrace of life’s earthly end. In his arms, the Resurrection and the Life slept contentedly, and so death held no terror, and the end of life’s long wait drew near with grateful anticipation rather than grim regret. Jesus was born that “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). He came to turn death into a doorway to rest for all who believe. There really is no way to face eternity, until, like Simeon, our eyes have seen the Lord’s Salvation. The pressing question we must ask ourselves then, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, is this: Have I embraced the Lord’s Christ? After all, there is abundant room in Him even for me.
This post was first published on Dec. 25, 2017