Simeon’s Story: A Beautiful Sunset and a New Dawn (Luke 2: 22-38)

Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton on the December 27, 2020

I have a question for you this morning?  Which time of day do you prefer: sunsets or sunrises?  I’m more of an evening person so I have seen very few sunrises, but I love sunsets.  Sunsets are a benediction, a revelation of God’s glory and holiness, a peaceful blessing that carries me into a grateful and restful sleep.

Sunrises however are a promise of things to come.  Each sunrise gives a new day to love others and serve God.  Each day begins with a freshness full of possibilities. 

Simeon is a man who is caught between a sunset and a sunrise.  On the one hand he is in the sunset of his life.  But on the other hand he is privileged to witness the dawn of a new age in the coming of Jesus.

Verses 25 & 26 tell us four things about Simeon’s character.

First, he was righteous and devout. In the scripture, righteousness is used to describe one’s relationship to other people.  A righteous person does right by others, looks out for the widow and the orphan, and conducts his business with integrity.  The righteous person is someone we admire and seek to emulate.

The word “devout” is used to describe one’s relationship to God.  The dictionary defines “devout” as “having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment.”  A devout person makes her aim in life to please God.  She spends time in worship and prayer.  Her heart is warmed by the thought of God’s grace.  Her actions are suffused with that grace. 

Usually a devout person is also a righteous person.  One’s devotion to God is meant to spill over into their relationship to others. In our scripture lesson, Anna is another person who is righteous and devout.  She was probably over one hundred years old, but she spent all of her time worshipping, fasting and praying.  If you want a modern example, I would point you to Jimmy Carter, a man who prayers daily, who studies and teaches the Bible and who puts his faith into action. 

Second, Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”  This word “consolation” is the same word that is translated as “comfort” in Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming of the Messiah.”  So for example, Isaiah 40: 1 begins with the words, “Comfort, comfort ye my people.”  I can never read these words without hearing the opening aria of Handel’s Messiah.  The music reinforces the longing and hope that we often feel during Advent and Christmas.  Simeon was one who longed for coming of the messiah and who was sustained by that hope throughout his long life.

Third, the Holy Spirit rested upon Simeon.  In Luke’s gospel the Holy Spirit has already played a major part in the story of Jesus birth. In 1:15, Gabriel’s tells Zechariah that his son, John will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth and that he will be the one to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  In Luke 1:35 Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”  In Luke 1:41, Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb and she sang a song of praise because she was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In Luke 1:41 when John the Baptist is born, “his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.”  God’s Spirit marked each of these people to play a special role in the coming of Jesus, and Simeon was among them. 

Fourth, Simeon’s life was sustained by a promise.  Verse 26 says, “Now it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Most scholars believe that Simeon was an old man when he finally met Jesus.  No one knows exactly when he received the promise that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, but I suspect that he had been clinging it to it for years.  It was that promise that had kept him going.

Now at the end of his life he is presented with a glorious sunset.  The coming of Jesus into the temple is the fulfillment of all his longings and God’s benediction on his life.  He takes up Jesus in his arms and prays.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,

I guess you can say that these words are a sunset prayer. His life is complete, his longings are satisfied and his joy is full.  Now he can die with thanksgiving and at peace with God.

Simeon’s prayer has been a model for Christians throughout the ages. For almost 2,000 years, Christians have prayed this prayer at the end of each day.  How good it is to give thanks as we drift off into sleep.  How good it is to recognize that each day we are privileged to have seen the salvation of the Lord at work at our lives.  How good it is to entrust ourselves to God’s care. 

After studying this passage, I have decided to take up this ancient prayer and say it each night before I go to sleep.  I invite you to join me.  These words can help us to appreciate the beautiful sunset God has prepared for our lives and fashion a deeper trust in our hearts.

Although these words are a sunset prayer, for Simeon they are also a sunrise prayer.  When Simeon took up Jesus in his arms he also was privileged to see a new sunrise.  He foresaw that Jesus was to “be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory to thy people Israel.” These words echo the prophesy of Isaiah 49:6. In that passage God addresses his Servant, the Messiah and says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to restore the preserved of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

They also echo the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that God would bless not only Abraham but through Abraham he would also bless all the nations.  Further they pick up the words of Zechariah in Luke 1: 78-29 where he prophesied

through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

You see Jesus brings a new sunrise full of hope and that sunrise is now expanded to include all the nations, including us Gentiles. 

This past fall we have been examining all the promises God made in the Old Testament.  But with the coming of Jesus comes the time of fulfillment and Simeon is one of the first to recognize what God has done. Simeon reminds us that a new day is dawning.

Sunset or sunrise?  Which is your favorite.  In Jesus Christ we face a sunrise.  The King’s Singers have a wonderful Christmas carol called “Born on a New Day” which celebrates Jesus as the sunrise of a new day. Like Simeon, may we greet the dawn of salvation in the coming of Jesus.

You are the new day.
Meekness, love, humility.
Come down to us this day:
Christ, your birth has proved to me
You are the new day.

This new day will be
A turning point for everyone.
If we let the Christ-child in, and
Reach for the new day.

Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;
Healing sadness, ending strife;
You we welcome, Lord of life,
Born on a new day.
You are the new day.

To hear the King’s Singer sing their song follow this link
The King’s Singers – Born on a New Day – YouTube

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