An Advent Essay – The One Who Hears

Now there was a man in Jerusalem who hears….

That is my translation of Luke 2:25 which introduces Simeon. Simeon literally means the one who hears. The fifth person in Luke’s gospel filled with the Holy Spirit is listening! The message Simeon receives is that prior to death he will see the Messiah. And so, this man of great age, holds on by filling his days with religious fervor and the good works of God. He cannot take leave of this world until he witnesses the promise of God fulfilled for the people of Israel.

Because he was “looking forward” as Luke 2:25 also says, Simeon was not looking down or around and being dismayed by the lack of any signs in his time. Because he listened to God he closed his ears to the doubts from within and naysayers outside who may have thought that God had forgotten Israel. Who could blame them. For it had been centuries since the last of the prophets. And yet, Simeon knew better. Or should I say, he heard differently. God’s word is the same yesterday as today and forever. Simeon clung to the promise of a Messiah was not to be an empty one. And while the masses may not share the same conviction of immediacy that Simeon does – they do share the desire for a Savior to make things different.

Simeon’s waiting was an all-out attack on the dissolution of the day. His waiting becomes his prophecy of light to a land of darkness. Who does these kinds of things? Who waits and waits without any results? Who holds out for so long even when everyone else has moved on? Maybe who is not the best question but how…

The New Testament’s ethical teaching must always be situated within the context of eschatological hope.

from The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays

Convictions and beliefs about the future dictate action(s) in the present. That is what, I think, Hays is saying in the quote above. What we believe about the final outcome moves us to work in a certain way today. For instance, because we believe that Christ is the ultimate judge and will set all things right, we can “turn the other cheek” today knowing that Christ is bringing justice for eternity. Because Simeon listened and heard from God that his life would not pass without seeing the Messiah, he was willing to continue looking forward.

Not only did Simeon’s looking forward strengthen him to hold on, it also gave him the courage to let go. The fourth hymn recorded in Luke’s gospel which is uttered by this one who hears is the nunc dimittis which means “now you dismiss.” Having held on and seen the promise fulfilled, Simeon now recognizes that his time is complete and the time for others is at hand. God then uses Simeon to bless the holy family and speak words to mother Mary about Jesus’ difficult destiny. These words from Simeon were surely tucked away in Mary’s heart for the days ahead. She would need to be reminded that God’s purposes would not be an easy journey for Jesus or her as his mom. Belief about the future is being shaped in Mary and it will come in very handy as she flees to Egypt, becomes a widow, witnesses Jesus’ ministry, rejection, and death.

Simeon held on because he believed God’s promise of a future Messiah. He heard from God and believed. As a result he was blessed by seeing the promise become real and held Jesus, the promise, in his arms. The second part of Simeon’s faithful waiting is the blessing he was able to perform for others. Blessed to be a blessing. 

God continues to speak in our day as well. Will we be a people who hears? Will we be a people who refuse to be distracted by the doubts within and the naysayers outside and listen for the still small voice of God? If so, our looking forward will help those around us focus on the promises of God and not the difficulties of our days.

Look forward. For that is where our hope will be made known.

Published by Todd Nelson

I'm one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky where I've served for the past thirteen years. The sub-title of this blog is "Grace is no accident" which happens to be the defining reality of my life. God's grace (gift) is the reason we have breath in our lungs and hope in our hearts.

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