Simeon was overjoyed at being able to actually meet the messiah. He had been promised by the Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had and it was by the same Spirit that he was able to recognise Jesus.
It is when we reach verse 34 that Simeon gives a kind of overall summary of Jesus’ work and his fate.
First of all, he will cause many people to fall. This is a hard saying but it is true. What I think this means is not so much that God judges man but that man judges himself, and his judgement is his reaction to the nature of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
If when he is confronted with the goodness and holiness, the mercy and forgiveness, and the compassion and righteousness of God, and his response is cold indifference or actively hostile then he is condemning himself. At least until he does accept the gift of life - and that offer is always open to us – we remain wilfully outside of the Kingdom of God.
But He also causes people to rise. For people who do accept the gift and run towards God,, they are within the Kingdom. Their personal lives are transformed. They gain strength and confidence from knowing that God himself loves them and cares for them. They gain a backbone and are able to stand up for themselves. Their personal circumstances can be changed and set right again. They can be set free. Jesus is the helping hand of God that can grab hold you and pull you out of the mire and into the light.
So Simeon prophesied that Jesus would cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and when we are confronted with the gospel ourselves we are always faced with the same challenge. Do I run towards the gospel or turn and run the other way? These challenges are not “once for all” occasions, they are everyday challenges that we have to meet every day. Conversion is a daily challenge and can be a slow process. I know I fail often but at least I do know the standards that are expected, and when I confess I am forgiven and given a fresh go at it.
Simeon then says that Jesus will be a sign that will be opposed. I would say it is very difficult or even impossible to remain entirely neutral towards Jesus. We either run towards Him or away from Him and probably the biggest barrier to any of us running towards the gospel is our own pride.
Taught by our society to be competitive strong and self reliant, lots of us, men especially, can see faith as a sign of weakness to be avoided. And because I need to be strong – I can do this alone. But it takes a different kind of strength to know your need and what is good for you. We are afraid that the piercing light of Christ will shine a light on all our faults and failings and expose us.
And it does. But that exposure is between you and God and takes place in the secret places of our heart. Once those demons, addictions, personal traits and self-interest have been dealt with, you are forgiven and free to be the person God created you to be in the first place.
Because the reality of standing alone is quite the opposite. In remaining resolutely within our own fiercely defended cocoon we remain brittle and exposed and vulnerable - but with God in our life that makes us strong. Two is better that one!
And then Simeon looks at Mary and says “And a sword will pierce your soul too”
Suffering is part and parcel of the Christian story. As we look forward towards the cross and beyond that to the resurrection, let’s remember that the word “passion” as in the passion of the Christ means suffering borne willingly. Mary’s suffering will be far from willing as she is destined to watch her son die in agony on the cross.
In that moment of darkness I’m sure that she never thought she would see light again. But the piercing light of God would overcome even that calamity in time.
Simeon was a prophet. And as Jesus was fond of saying “Those who have ears, let them hear”.