Sometime in the dead of night, in the fields outside Bethlehem, a group of shepherds is dazzled and terrified by the sudden appearance of an angel — indeed, an entire company of angels giving praise to God for the birth of the Messiah. The shepherds hurry down into Bethlehem, and find the baby lying in a manger, just as the angels said. Excitedly, they pour out their story to everyone’s amazement, then go back to their flocks, glorifying God.
Eight days later, Mary and Joseph circumcise their son according to the Jewish custom. And following the age-old tradition of dedicating every firstborn male to God, they bring Jesus to Jerusalem to offer the appropriate sacrifice.
There in Jerusalem, they unexpectedly encounter a devout man named Simeon, who had been led into the temple that day by the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t tell us whether Simeon knew why he was there; but I imagine a light of joyous recognition spreading over his face as he watches Mary and Joseph enter with their child. Simeon had “eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel” (2:25, CEB) and had waited so long for just this moment, when he would finally be granted a chance to see the Lord’s Messiah with his own eyes.
Simeon scooped the baby into his arms, praising God:
Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32, CEB)
What’s on your bucket list? What’s the one thing you want to see before you die? For this righteous old man, it was the wondrous privilege of seeing God’s promised salvation, embodied, made tangible. Having cradled the Messiah in his arms, he was ready to depart this life in peace, his hope fulfilled.
We will have many opportunities during the Christmas season to look upon images of the Christ child, and to ponder their meaning and significance. Will we experience the same sense of awe and privilege?