My favorite Christmas story actually takes place after the birth of Christ. Jesus had been circumcised and named according to Jewish law, and Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem to present their firstborn at the temple. Can I set the scene for you? The story is found in Luke 2:22-35.
The temple was the center of Jewish religious life, and I picture it bustling from dawn to dusk, full of people waiting to see a priest about their skin conditions, money-changers hawking their wares, and pens of animals for sacrifice. A young woman carries her newborn while her husband handles the two doves for the sin offering required after the birth of a child. Doves are the lesser offering for those who cannot not afford a lamb. At barely over a week after the birth of her child, the young mother is tired and sore, but the law must be followed. They are faces like any other in a loud and busy crowd. We only notice them because someone else did. His name was Simeon.
Simeon lived his entire life in expectation of the Savior of Israel. He is described as righteous and devout, and some sources believe he was a rabbi. God guided Simeon to the temple that morning by the voice of the Spirit.
Imagine how many times he had been in the temple, hoping for this exact moment. How many decades of waiting have built up to this day? I picture him near the entrance to the Court of the Gentiles, shading his eyes to look at every person passing through the gates. He glimpses a young mother with her baby, and his heart leaps.
“Simeon, this child is my promised Messiah.”
In that moment, we hear the death rattle of the Old Covenant and catch our first glimpse of the New. In the Holy of Holies, a thread in the veil is loosening.
Simeon has lived his entire life looking for the salvation of his people. Modern Christians often forget Israel was looking for a political savior, not a spiritual one. The traditions of the Pharisees and teachers had long convinced the Jews that the law was the permanent way to salvation, and it stands to reason that Simeon would have been expecting a warrior-king like David who would free Israel from Rome. His old heart must have ached as he looked at the newborn and realized he would never see his people freed from their Roman oppressors.
Simeon steps forward to this little family and asks to hold the helpless infant. This is the unremarkable beginning of the God-Man. The miracles and ministry, the triumphal entry, the trial, the cross, the burial, and the resurrection are over thirty years away. He is just the baby of a poor carpenter and his young wife, born out of scandal in a stable for animals, but Simeon prophesies what He will become.