Waiting for Messiah
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically the song sung by Simeon upon seeing Jesus and taking Him in his arms, Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
Nunc dimittis. That’s the official Latin name for this wonderful departing proclamation from Simeon, meaning “Now release.” This older man had been waiting, for an undisclosed amount of time, for what Luke calls the consolation of Israel. He had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. Now … finally … as Joseph and Mary have brought this seemingly ordinary Child to the Temple in the normal way that Moses had told them to do with the birth of the firstborn son, Simeon is able to see through the commonness and recognize the Infant Priest for who He is.
Simeon, and a little later, Anna, were able to recognize this Child as the Messiah, God’s holy one, anointed for the purpose of being a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory of … Israel. They knew who He is, the reason He came, and, from the sounds of it, they also had an inkling of what being the Messiah meant in order to be the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. Their waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies about the coming of the Messiah was finally and at long last at an end.
Unfortunately, not everyone knew properly the reason why this long-awaited Messiah was brought into the world. Where all in Israel were, like Simeon and Anna, awaiting the coming of the Messiah, most others thought the coming of YHWH’s anointed one would herald a new age for Israel … but not in the way that we Christians understand it. Specifically, there was the widely-held belief that the Messiah was going to come as a victorious, conquering king, who would drive out the pagan nations that had for centuries imposed their will upon God’s chosen people. He was going to come, and he was going to oust the Romans and the Herodians, all those foreign oppressors from the Promised Land. He was going to bring YHWH’s kingdom down to earth and rule there until all of Judea’s enemies lay at her feet.
That’s what most Judeans expected from the Messiah; that’s also what the enemies of Judea were told to expect. That’s why Herod put to death boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem when he was duped by visiting Magi. For that matter, it’s why many years later Pilate would ask Jesus if He was a king as He stood on trial for His life. They all feared the ramifications that would come from the Messiah’s advent, but of course, they were all misguided in their conceptions of what the Messiah’s mission actually was. He wasn’t after earthly thrones and glory, all of which are fleeting. He wasn’t going to overthrow governments and kingdoms with political maneuvering and revolution. The temporal rulers of this world needn’t fear the Messiah’s hijacking of their temporal rule. That is not His aim; instead, the Messiah’s purpose was exactly what YHWH had revealed to Simeon: the salvation prepared for all peoples - the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.
Simeon knew this truth. Thus, as he held the holy Child in his arms, he proclaimed his recognition of YHWH fulfilling the promise given to him. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. No longer waiting for the Messiah, Simeon could die in peace … but not without a parting word to His earthly parents. Simeon’s words about Jesus to Jesus do not signify the end of his proclamation; Luke records that he also has some words for His parents, specifically spoken to Mary … but they’re not what you may expect. After a blessing upon both parents, he says to Mary, Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
A sword will pierce through your own soul also? That doesn’t sound like words that should be spoken to a brand-new mother 40 days after the birth of her firstborn son! These are dark, ominous words—not merely about Mary’s soul being pierced, but the fact that Simeon says that her soul will be pierced also. Before the infancy narrative of Jesus even comes to a close, we receive this somewhat darker prophecy. Mary’s soul was to be pierced, yes, but so was the little bundle of joy resting in Simeon’s arms. That’s what the rulers and powers-that-be didn’t know about the Messiah. That’s what the rest of Judea didn’t expect of the Messiah. He would come to them, not proud and mighty, but humble and lowly. He came, not to be served, but to serve. As we heard at Christmas, whilst we marveled at Jesus’ incarnation, He was born literally to die.
But again, that’s what the Messiah came to do, and Simeon and Anna saw this. They knew, even though this Child would die, by His death, YHWH’s salvation would come to all people - not just to Israel, but to all nations! The fulfillment of YHWH’s promises to all of mankind was found in this Child being dedicated in the way Moses had prescribed.
We have no idea how long after this episode occurred that Simeon - or Anna, for that matter - closed their eyes in death. We do, however, have much in common with these faithful saints of old. Where they waited to behold the Messiah before His salvific work, we wait in eager expectation Jesus’ return. We are waiting for the Messiah - not to lighten the Gentiles and Israel, but to put to death the last enemy, Death itself. Yet, in our waiting, we hold to the promises YHWH, the Triune God, has given to us: that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that He is always with us (especially in the Host and Cup of the Supper), and that eternal life is ours - when our eyes are closed in death, or when Christ returns. May that blessed Day come quickly!
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.