She was wide awake long before she needed to be. She hadn’t slept much and what sleep she managed was light, easily interrupted by every sound that came from her baby boy. Even when the baby slept soundly she would lie awake and listen to his breathing. Sometimes she stared into the dark just waiting for the arrival of morning’s first light and the moment when she could nudge Joseph and tell him it was time to get ready. She had been waiting for this day for weeks.
Today they would take their month old son and present him at the temple.
Since the day of his birth they had known they would make this trip to Jerusalem. They knew this because the practice was established by God in the days of Moses. For centuries this is what the faithful had done in keeping with God’s law.
The presentation of their baby at the temple wasn’t their idea. It wasn’t something they discussed as a nice opportunity to make a family memory. It was never regarded as something they chose to do. They were commanded to do it. Even the timing of the trip was set forth in the Law. The time for Mary’s purification following childbirth had to be completed (Lev. 12:1-5). So it now was, and so they would go.
The temple presentation was an act of obedience.
As Mary and Joseph made their way to the temple that day another man was doing the same thing. This man was not presenting a child. Those days were long gone for him. He was, like the young couple, a man who cared about the Law of God. He was righteous and devout. He knew what God had said and he lived his life according to what God had spoken.
But the defining characteristic of Simeon’s life was his intimate fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. Yes, Simeon knew the Law, but he was one upon whom the Spirit of God rested. The Spirit had conveyed to Simeon a very significant promise. And when Simeon made his way to the temple that day he did so led by the Spirit.
Simeon arrived at the temple because he knew within himself that the Spirit was prompting him to go there.
And so they met. An encounter orchestrated by God, a confluence of obedience to the Law and sensitive response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. An obedient life and a Spirit-led life came together around the person of Jesus. So it is even now, this day. So it is for you.
Responsiveness to the leading of the Spirit and obedience to the written word of God are never two separate ways of living the life of faith. Think long and hard about any kind of spiritual talk that speaks of “fresh winds” of the Spirit that blow in a direction counter to the plainly written words of God in scripture. When Jesus is held at the center of a life of faith, obedience to the law of God and sensitivity to the Spirit of God will meet, congruent and inseparable.
This has implications for how we live our days. Obedience is never mere obedience, gritting our teeth with determined resolve to do what’s right even if we hate it and even if it kills us. And sensitivity to the Spirit is never vague impulse or a wave of sincere feeling. True God-honoring obedience is made possible by the Spirit, and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading is shaped by the word.
Following the Spirit, obeying the Law: which of these comes easiest to you? Answer this truthfully, and then pray earnestly for the other.
Lead me this day, O God, in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary: Attentive and obedient to what your word says. Lead me also in the footsteps of Simeon: Sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Help me to live this day in the Spirit of obedience, to the glory of your name. Amen.