Some would call me a pessimist. I prefer the term "realist" instead. If you are a realist, you know that you have to be cautiously optimistic about things—emphasis on cautiously. A pessimist says, "Ina Garten's enchiladas take an hour to make. There goes the time when I was going to fester on the couch." An optimist says, and lies, "That's no time at all! I love to spend my spare time stuffing tortillas!" A realist says, "It not only takes an hour; it takes a lot of ingredients. I will also be in a bad mood because of all the time I spent at the stove. So an alternative plan is to pick up Chuy's." Like, let's just be real.
Simeon is a realist in the story of Advent and also a character you may have never heard of. I've never seen him in a Nativity scene or like—anywhere? But he sure did have some really important things to say.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your 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.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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.” Luke 2:22–35
This passage is Simeon’s only mention in the entire Bible. He is not the focus of the narrative. He doesn’t get extensive coverage like David or Abraham. I guess they decided one speaking part was enough for the realist, and that kind of feels fair.
What makes him both stick out and fit right into the story of Advent is that he was waiting. Simeon was longing for redemption. He was anxious for earth to receive her King. And maybe part of this is because he had been told that he would live to see the consolation of Israel, yet he wasn't getting any younger.
Into the temple walk the teenage parents, Mary and Joseph, to dedicate their newborn son to God. The typical offering for this ceremony would have been a lamb. However, these two of little means bring turtledoves instead. No lamb to offer—just the lamb of God.
When Simeon sees Jesus in the temple and then holds the newborn King in his arms, he is filled with hope. Simeon is captivated by Jesus. He doesn’t just proclaim how this infant fulfills past prophecies; he also points to the cross and the sacrifice ahead for this baby and for his mother. That's where he really steps into his realist tendencies.
Simeon doesn't say, "Mary, he has your eyes! And "Joseph, he has your...patience!" He doesn't say "congrats y'all" and move on. He says that "a sword will pierce through your own soul also." I'm sure Mary was like, "What a perfect thing to say to a new mom."
But what Simeon was alluding to here is that the Christian life was never meant to be easy: not for Jesus, not for Mary, and not for us. Some of us learn this early in life. Some of us just learned this.
I fall into the latter category. I think I imagined that if I prayed, read my Bible some mornings, went to my Bible study, and at least tried to keep cuss words to a minimum, life would be peachy and I'd be spared from sorrow. Instead, I was reminded that I needed to brush up on my theology and that the Bible is far more real than that.
Jesus spoke to this in John 16:33 when he said, "In the world you will have tribulation." He doesn't say you "may" have some trouble or "potentially" could experience hard seasons. He says "you will have tribulation." Now THAT'S some realist talk if I've ever seen it. I love His honesty. But what I love even more is that Jesus doesn't just give us honesty; He gives us hope. In the same verse, He goes on to say, "But take heart; I have overcome the world." That's the thing about the Christian life. We aren't promised that everything will be easy, but we are promised that the battle has been won.
Jesus spoke to this, Simeon spoke to this, and more of us should speak to this too. We should be more real about our suffering. We should also be more real about our hope.
Hope came for this elderly man who was waiting and waiting for a sign of redemption. Hope came for the mother of Jesus, from her time at the manger to her time at the foot of the cross. Hope came for all of the broken people in the line of Jesus. And hope has come for you and me.
Hope has come for those of you reading who are knee-deep in grief. Hope has come for those of you who are just ready for the holidays to be over. Hope has come for those of you who are too weary to rejoice this Christmas. Hope has come for those of you with broken families, busy schedules, and unmet expectations. For all of us, hope has come.
We can all be real this Advent: like Simeon, we live in a fallen world, and we are not promised that our lives will be easy. But also like Simeon, we do not find ourselves waiting without hope. There's nothing more real than the promise of a Redeemer who is coming again to make all things new.