The Song of Simeon

The scriptures tell of a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem many, many years ago. The land of Israel was under foreign rule during his days, a vassal state within a pagan empire. It was a time of wickedness, when the leaders of religion were engaged in priestcraft and secret combinations, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). There was a “famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). A prophet had not prophesied in Jerusalem for over 400 years.

But this man we are speaking of was an oasis of true and living faith in a desert of apostasy. He believed in the ancient prophesies of the coming of a Messiah, a Savior who would redeem his people, the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). I said that Simeon lived in a day without prophets, but that is not entirely true because this man himself possessed the spirit of prophecy:

“And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

We assume that Simeon was an old man, near the end of his life.

One day he felt prompted by the Spirit to come to the temple. Eight days earlier a miraculous birth had happened in a small town about 5 miles to the south. The shepherds of Bethlehem had “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17), but we don’t know whether Simeon had heard any of these accounts. Whether prompted by the news from Bethlehem, or simply by a feeling that he should be in the House of the Lord that day, Simeon obeyed.

“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when [Mary and Joseph] brought in the child Jesus, […] then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:27-32).

Simeon’s faith was confirmed; he saw with his eyes, held in his arms, proclaimed with his tongue, and knew in his heart that this baby was the Son of God, the very Messiah he had hoped for. We don’t know how long he had waited for that day or how patiently he had endured. All we know is that a miracle happened in his life as he held that little baby within the walls of the temple.

~~~

The celebration on that first Christmas wasn’t so much about the baby, but about what that baby would do. As our Christmas hymn proclaims, the birth of Jesus Christ was “the dawn of redeeming grace.” The light of the gospel – these “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10) – caused even the angels to celebrate.

When it comes to our relationship with the Lord, one of the best ways to “bask in his life-giving light” is to bask in his light-giving life, as it is described in the scriptures. What did this baby do?

First, he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52), developing his spiritual, social, physical, and intellectual capacities as he grew to manhood. Then he “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) – healing the broken bodies and souls of all who had faith to be healed. He taught the higher law of consecration and the power of forgiveness. He showed us the love that is the greatest of all virtues and commanded us to share that love with others.

Can you see yourself among the fishermen, called by the Lord to serve in his kingdom? Are you like the woman at the well, not sure at first what to think of this man who promises to give you living waters? Do you count yourself among the ten lepers, miraculously healed by his word? Have you sat among the 5,000, dining on the incomprehensible and untraceable abundance of God’s generosity? And have you, like the woman in Simon’s house, bathed his feet with your tears while pleading for his mercy? Did you weep with Mary and Martha at the tragic death of a family member, and see the tears roll down the Savior’s cheeks as well?

And can you see him nailed to the cross, carrying with him the burden of all our sins? Will you walk with me on that first Easter morning to see the empty tomb, and to hear the angels proclaim, “He is not here: for he is risen” (Matthew 28:6)?

~~~

When Jesus ministered among the Nephites he instructed them to share his gospel light. He said:

“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do” (3 Nephi 18:24).

I don’t know of anyone who has more literally fulfilled this charge than did Simeon, who bore testimony of the Savior while actually holding the Christ child in his arms.

Like the old man Simeon, we live in a time of anticipation, when prophesies of the coming of the Messiah are not yet fulfilled. Most people in the world have stopped watching for him. Will we be faithful to our witness? Will we hold up our light – his light – for all the world to see?

Jesus Christ is the son of God. He said that he would come to earth, and he did. He said that he would die for our sins, and he did. He said that he would rise again from the dead, and he did. He said that he would come again to reign as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16), and he will. Let us believe him, and be faithful to him.


Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist. Cover image is a detail from Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1631.

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