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There is usually a lot of talk about peace at Christmas time. Many people misunderstand what the angels said to the Shepherds when they spoke about peace on earth. We all long for peace; the end of wars and threats between countries; peace among family members who don’t get along; rest for a troubled conscience; a peaceful, uninterrupted night of sleep. But Simeon knew that the kind of peace most people are looking for will never happen on this earth. He knew that there was and is only one way to have true and lasting peace. It’s the peace that comes from seeing the Lord’s salvation.
Although we are told that Simeon was righteous and devout, it seems that there were some things that were troubling him, things that had to do with God’s promise to send a Messiah.
As a devout man, he knew what God had promised. He knew what we heard in our reading from Isaiah. God is the one and only true God who challenged anything called a god to do what he does, to make predictions about the future that are 100% accurate. He declares that no word that has gone out from him will return unfulfilled. But Simeon was troubled. Israel was not the powerful kingdom it once was. They had no king of their own. They were ruled by the Romans. And the situation among God’s people wasn’t good. There was division even among the religious leaders. Pharisees and the Sadducees argued about many things. It didn’t seem that there were many left in Israel who were truly devout. Yes, people showed up at the temple and went through the motions required for offering sacrifices and prayers, but it seemed obvious that it was more tradition and obligation than a response of faith. People seemed to be more focused on the things of this world than they were on God and his promises. How could God send his Messiah into such a Godless situation. In fact, maybe Simeon was thinking the way many do today, “if he doesn’t come soon there won’t be anything left for him to come to.”
We don’t know exactly what was on Simeon’s mind, but from what Luke tells us, it’s clear that he was concerned about the comfort of Israel, the coming of the Messiah. Praying about the fulfillment of this promise of God must have taken up a good portion of his day every day.
What troubled Simeon still troubles us today. As we look at the situation in our world we see that more and more young people are turning to Atheism. We see a lot of people who claim to be Christians but over half don’t gather for worship, and some who do, see worship as tradition and an obligation instead of an expression of faith. We see a world that is full of division, a world where earthly things like notoriety and power and money are the things that people are most interested in. We hear leaders talk about peace and unity, but it seems to be just talk as there seems to be more hatred and dissention than ever. It’s easy to be troubled, to think that if Jesus doesn’t return as he promised and do it soon, there won’t be much left for him to come to. In fact, even Jesus wondered out loud, when the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?
How did Simeon find peace? We might think that he found peace when God graciously answered his prayers and promised him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. I’m sure that special promise of God did grant him a certain amount of peace knowing that the Messiah would come in his lifetime. But he might still have wondered, could it be today? How will I know he has come?
The thing that gave Simeon the greatest peace was seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise. In some way the Holy Spirit urged him to go into the temple courts at just the right time. He enabled him to find Mary and Joseph among the hundreds of people who must have been there. He enabled him to recognize that the young child Mary was holding, probably only 40 days old, was the promised Messiah, the one who had come to redeem Israel. As Simeon took Jesus into his arms, he finally knew a peace that passes understanding, a peace that nothing else in the world could give him.
He said, Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace. Why? Because you have kept your word. Your promise to send a savior has been fulfilled. Your promise to me has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen your salvation. Many great prophets longed to see this day and only saw it in faith, but by your grace I have seen it with my own eyes. I am holding the promised Messiah in my arms. This child has come for all, for the world. He will be a light for the Gentiles, showing them who the true God really is. He will be the glory of Israel, proof that their trust in you and your promises was justified.
Good for Simeon. He saw God’s promises fulfilled. He held Jesus in his arms. He could go home with a heart filled with joy and peace because God had kept his word and the savior, his savior, had come. But what about us? We will never get to do what Simeon did. We will never get to hold the baby Jesus in our arms, and God hasn’t promised us that we won’t see death until Jesus comes again in glory. How can we leave church with a heart that is filled with joy and peace?
Think about when we use these words of Simeon in worship. We use them after we have heard the words and promises of God in the vespers, or evening prayer service. We use them after we have received the Lord’s Supper in the regular service. We join Simeon in rejoicing that we can leave worship with hearts that are filled with peace and joy because God has kept his word.
Two or three have gathered together, the bread and wine were consecrated with the words Jesus gave us. Although we couldn’t see him, he was present with us as he promised. As we looked at the cross and as we received the bread and wine, we remembered what he did for us. We remembered that he was born to die. We remembered that he was forsaken by the father so that we would not be forsaken. We remembered that the body and blood we received with the bread and wine were given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Although we don’t see him with our eyes, we see the marks of his presence.
When we see an empty cross, or a depiction of his ascension we are reminded of the fact that he rose from the dead. He ascended back to heaven where his is preparing a place for us. As we remember all the things that God made know ahead of time and that have come to pass just as he said they would, we have the peace of knowing that everything else he has promised will come to pass when He knows the time is right. Like Simeon, we leave worship with hearts that are filled with joy and peace because, through the eyes of faith, we have seen the Lord’s salvation, a salvation he prepared for all people, a salvation he has prepared for and has given to me.
Simeon expressed his peace and joy in the fact that God kept his word, but he wasn’t finished. He also spoke of the future as if the Holy Spirit showed him in an instant everything that would happen over the next 30 years. He makes it clear that, although knowing Jesus as our savior may fill our hearts with peace and joy, it won’t make our lives on earth peaceful. He saw that Jesus would be then, and would be as long as the earth exists, a source of division. As Jesus himself said, he did not come to bring earthly peace, but a sword. He is the rock the builders rejected, that becomes either a stumbling block or a solid foundation for faith.
Just as the reaction of the Jewish leaders to Jesus revealed their jealous, worldly, unbelieving, hate filled hearts, so the reaction of leaders and others today to Jesus reveals their worldly, unbelieving, hate filled hearts. Like Mary, a sword pierces our hearts too when we see so many in our world, especially a parent, or a child, or others we love stumble over Jesus.
Simeon very clearly reminds us that the peace he had was not the kind of peace that the world can give. The kind of peace he had came from knowing that this world is not all there is. He had the peace of knowing that when his last day on earth came, he could stand before God and be invited to live in God’s kingdom of glory forever, not because of what he had or had not done, but because God kept his promise and provided salvation in Jesus. That’s the kind of peace you have as well.
In this world we will have trouble. When we profess our faith in Jesus the unbelieving and even hateful thoughts of many will be revealed. But Jesus has overcome the world. In him, no matter what is happening in the world, we have peace.