Simeon was a story gatherer. As an elderly man, he carried the weight of the stories of his people, both collective and individual. Every time someone came and shared with him his or her story of loss or loneliness, a child born or a child lost, he surely felt the weight of his role.
He would do all he could under the Old Covenant to bring those weights to God; yet, I imagine the cumulative effect of his job as an elder in a flock who had been waiting under 400 years of divine silence weighed his soul down.
Luke, whose gospel gives the most detailed accounts of the events surrounding and emanating from the birth of Christ, tells us the following:
Now there was a man Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Luke 2: 25.
A short sentence that clues us in to significant details of this man’s life. He was the ideal Jew, the best you could get under the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit would come upon him and guide him, which was a rare occurrence. And he was waiting for the comfort of his people, for the One who could fully bear the weight of the stories that sagged down his soul.
The Greek word translated waiting is prosdechomai, an incredibly active word in the Greek middle voice which, according to HELPS Word Studies, signifies high personal involvement. It gives the image of someone leaning in towards something, actively ready to receive it warmly, or on tip toes looking for expected thing.
The word translated consolation, paraklésis, is actually the same root word used to describe the Holy Spirit later in Luke’s gospel and the sequel Acts, in which the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role. This word means encouragement and comfort from close beside. When my son was in incredible pain after rupturing his ear drum, I spent the night curled up beside him whispering comfort to him as I rubbed his back. This image is close to the idea portrayed by the word translated consolation in the above verse.
Elderly Simeon was leaning in, eagerly awaiting the Messiah whom the Holy Spirit had told him would arrive before his death. He longed to see his people consoled, to lay eyes on the One who would be able to bear the weight of their stories and console them from close beside in a way he knew he never could. We have no indication that he knew to expect a baby.
In walks a poor couple, most likely exhausted from traveling all the way to Jerusalem with their baby. They had come to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord, as the Law commanded. They could not afford the expensive offerings, so they had to settle for the pair of pigeons.
Simeon picks up the child and knows.
And he came in the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents bought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The Greek word, dechomai, translated into the phrase took up the child, is the same root as the word chosen for Simeon waiting eagerly for the Promised One.
All those years of eagerly waiting to warmly receive the promised one culminate in this one moment of him actually warmly welcoming an infant into his elderly arms. In a surprising moment, Simeon warmly received the Messiah that he can been eagerly, actively waiting for his whole life.
I imagine that as lifted up the promised Child, physically bearing the One who would bear the weight of the sins of the world once for all, the burdens of the stories he held lifted. This fragile, little, squirmy child, so frail and small he had to be held, could and would bear the weights that had been too much for Simeon.
With the weight of the world transferred to the One who could bear it, Simeon could depart in peace. The old man of the Old Covenant warmly welcomed the New child who would usher in the New Covenant of grace. All would be well.