I’ve been doing some work for a sermon for next Sunday that will reflect on the story of Jesus and his parents meeting Simeon in the temple courts of Jerusalem just 8 days after Jesus’ birth. (see Luke 2:22-40)
Jesus’ parents were fulfilling their purification obligations as good Jewish parents when they were interrupted by Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man who had been promised that he’d see Israel’s Messiah before he passed away.
We should note this dramatic change in scenery as they meet Simeon. The first few verses are shaped by tradition, law, and ritual… Mary and Joseph are sticking to the book that is steady, timeless, and predictable.
Simeon’s presence, on the other hand, is “spirited.” Note the way Luke mentions Simeon’s response to the Holy Spirit three times in as many verses. (verses 25-27) Not mention this outstanding promise Simeon was given… that he wouldn’t die until the Messiah was born? Imagine being Simeon’s friend who heard of this outrageous promise that Simeon was given and the corresponding commitment Simeon had to bear in these waning years of his life.
Simeon saw Jesus, invaded the young family’s “personal space,” and spoke wonderful words of life and truth over Jesus. I can imagine that his family had mixed reactions to Simeon’s words for they were not only comfort but also warning and woe.
Earlier in Luke, a similar affirmation was given over John the Baptist when he was born, but it was from his father Zechariah in the form of a song. Jesus is celebrated, not by a family member, but by a complete stranger.
There is something to be said about receiving affirmation from someone that you’ve known for your entire life. They’ve been able to see “all of you,” the ups and the downs and have hung around long enough to see you grow up.
I’ve also noticed that some of the most familiar people in our lives, and some of our biggest fans, have a hard time allowing us to grow up… they have the temptation seeing us solely in the image of who we’ve been earlier in life. That type of pressure can be unhelpful and impossible to uphold.
Therefore, its important to allow our wings to be spread out, in some way, to get around “the other” in order to see ourselves within their reflection, too. We don’t need to abandon where we’ve come from, but we also do not need to allow our village to cast the only vote in our lives.
Perhaps this early encounter with Simeon in the Temple only 8 days in Jesus’ early life paved the way for his second visit to Jerusalem, some 12 years later, where he was able to capture a bit more of what was ahead for him, to allow his reflection to be seen “in his father’s house” among the wise and learned as they all shared their knowledge of God.
Our aim is to never betray where we’ve come from and, at the same time, allow the reflections of the stranger to be as comforting as parental blessing.