After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
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 firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
Jesus was brought to the Temple and named in the common way. They called him “Jesus” as they had been told. His was an ordinary name for Jewish children. Its meaning carried a very ordinary longing, the longing for salvation.
What were the parents who gave that name hoping to be saved from, I wonder. From everything, I suppose you could say. There were so many things that one might wish salvation from – from the Romans, and the Law, certainly. Perhaps from the past and from the present, and from the future that seemed inevitably coiled into both.
In later years Jesus would be found in the Temple as a questioning boy, as an ordinary pilgrim and again as an angry prophet. But today the child is the object of others’ action and by their deed bound into the community in that very physical way practiced by the Jewish people.
Then Simeon speaks and yearning itself is named, and the beginning of hope’s fulfilment.
People through the ages have longed for so many things – for justice, for love, for freedom, for wholeness and reconciliation, for emancipation in law and society, for peace, for forgiveness and an end to pain. Sometimes it is enough to see the dawn and to know that the light of hope’s fulfilment is coming.
In imagination can you stand with Simeon? Can you stand beside those who suffer injustice, prejudice, poverty? Join their longings with your own and rejoice at signs of hoped-for change begun, watching keenly for the first signs of a new kingdom order?
And will you commit to live and speak, to pray and act to hasten the coming of fullness of life?
Jesus, child of promise bearer of our deepest longings we cradle you in our tired-of-waiting arms and gaze into your face.
In your eyes we see the hopes of the ages, and our own longings too.
In the life and ministry that you will have we are destined to fall and rise.
Give us to depart in peace and to confess the pale but certain dawn of grace that we have seen.
The Rev’d Dr John McNeil Scott is Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College