How did he know? How did he know that they were the ones? How did he know that this was the child?
All he had been given was a promise. At some point in his life, at a time unknown to us, Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. He had been told this would happen, but didn’t have clue as to when it would happen or who he was looking for. No details, no dates, no descriptions. Just a promise.
At first there was an excitement to all of this, an eager readiness to see what the Spirit had said he would see. Every day felt like the day. Every morning brimmed with possibility. Every occasion of temple worship was charged with the presence of the Holy. Something of enormous significance was about to happen. God was going to do a work which generations of faithful men and women had yearned to see. And Simeon would see it.
But years passed. The mornings became increasingly difficult for Simeon. He didn’t charge into the day with the same energy he once had. It took a while to get moving, and when he moved he moved slowly. The brimming possibility of each day had gradually become a wistful perhaps. He still went to the temple. He still said his prayers. After all, he was a righteous and devout man.
The years brought questions. There were moments when he wondered if he had misunderstood what the Spirit had conveyed to him years ago, but the nagging doubts never lingered long. With the passing of time Simeon had lost some energy, he had lost his wife. He had even lost most of his hair. But he never lost his conviction that God would one day bring salvation to Israel – and to the nations of the world as well. Simeon had been given a promise.
And the promise was enough. It was enough to get him out of bed each day, enough to strengthen his soul when his body was weak and tired, enough to comfort his heart when he felt alone, enough to keep him alert and attentive.
What we imagine to be true of Simeon’s life we know to be true for a fact of our own. Most of us know all too well how the life of faith soars and slumps. We live some of our days in eager pursuit of what God has for us, even if we’re not exactly sure what that is. God is at work in the world and we’re involved. And then there are days when we live as if by muscle memory, saying the right things, doing the right things, but we do so because that’s what we’ve always done.
The enemy of our faith rarely attacks us at the point of our deepest held beliefs. That is heavily defended territory for most of us, and Satan is smart enough to know it. Rather than a frontal attack on our beliefs, the enemy of our faith simply lulls us into inattention. We stop noticing the divine presence. We stop looking for God’s activity in our world. Today will be like yesterday, this year like last year. Our expectations flat-line.
What Simeon never stopped doing was paying attention. That’s how he knew. That’s how he spotted that particular couple and sensed something different about their baby. The long awaited moment of recognition came to a man who held fast to a promise and lived his days believing. That’s not easy to do.
This day is another opportunity to rub the crust from the eyes of your soul and pay attention. Advent is a deep yearning to see God at work in the world. The baby Simeon blessed in the temple that day would one day explain that the Spirit moves like wind. You can’t see where it comes from or where it is going, but you can notice where it is moving (John 3:8). And the moment of recognition belongs to those who pay attention.
Gracious God, I want to live my days like Simeon – grounded in the conviction that you are at work in this world. I confess that there are days when it’s hard to believe this, hard to see what you’re doing. Your absence seems obvious, your presence illusory. Help me to pay attention today and keep me alert for signs of your grace. I will hold to your promises confident that you are holding me as I wait and watch. Amen.