He’s a lovely man, a right man of God. Righteous and devout. No one know how old he is, just that he had always been here in Jerusalem. As old as the hills, he says with a twinkle. Or as old as his tongue and a little older than his teeth. He knows how to make us laugh.
He is patient, too, which helps when it gets crowded around here. The pilgrims get anxious and want to know they are in the right place, that they are paying the right price for the right sacrifice, and that their prayers will be heard. He always has a kind word for them. Says the Lord loves them, even if they fill the place with noise, worry and hesitations. He doesn’t mind the pigeons and flies, does he? Then why should these people be a bother? Let them fuss and we’ll focus on what matters, shall we?
Simeon says we have all the time in the world.
He likes to use a poetic turn of phrase, which makes him a bit old-fashioned. They say he has always been like that, playing with language the way weavers tease wool back and forth and patterns emerge. Some even say that he was among the 70 who translated the Law and the Prophets into Greek. Maybe, maybe, though it is hard to fathom anyone could be so ancient. He certainly knows the texts well enough and that’s useful in these difficult empire days. We are not an easy people, and this is not an easy city. There’s a hunger about Jerusalem. The exile is ended, of course, and the city has been rebuilt for years, but things aren’t right yet. Rome’s hand is heavy and God’s word is quiet. There are so many distractions for the people these days, and so many temptations. People do still aim to be faithful, though perhaps fewer than before, and though the Temple is still a busy place, we struggle with politics. Maybe it has ever been thus. I am glad that, in these days, there is a man like Simeon on whom the Spirit rests.
We see each other most days, sometimes in the marketplace but usually at the Temple. Since my husband died, I have spent much of my time here. It is a good place to prayer and prayer is a good way to spend the days. Simeon says it is at prayer that we learn to listen. When he first said that to me, I didn’t understand. I was working on remembering all the words and getting them in the right order. Listening didn’t seem to be a part of it. But then I learned. The words are only there to get the heart in order. They neaten things up, make straight lines and channels. A bit like gardening or farming, I suppose. And then your heart is ready when the Lord comes. He comes like rain, like rivers of water, rushing through, bringing life. Even to an old widow like me, he comes. That’s what Jerusalem needs. It’s what the world needs, isn’t it? A right good downpour because we’re all so thirsty. Simeon says he’s been hearing rumours – and I told him not to be a foolish old man and that maybe he’d better stay away from the marketplace – but he told me they were rumours of God. He heard them first in his work with the Law and the Prophets – peppered with rumours, he said, rumours of something new, something wonderful coming soon. Consolation. And he tells me that the rumours aren’t just written; they are also heard in the heart. He heard a promise – like an angel whispering over his shoulder as he worked on the Law – that he would not die until he had seen salvation with his own eyes. He remembers the day clearly, and the text, too. The prophet wrote “Behold a virgin shall conceive . . . ” and he hesitated, hearing something, something all those years ago.
But where was I? Simeon is a good man. Yes, that was it. He waits and he listens and he believes, even in these troubled times. I must tell the priests all this, because they are worried. Too often, they say, he is found asleep in the courtyard, propped up against a pillar, his mouth agape. I am sure they are worried that he will die there and then the Temple will need to be cleansed. There must be laws against dying in the Temple. All old men, scribes or prophets, must withdraw and find a dignified place to breathe their last. Ah well, I will tell them. Perhaps this afternoon.
Simeon is awake now, and I watch his approach a young couple, coming to make an offering by the looks of it. The husband carries the doves and the wife holds their baby close, looking around with wide eyes at the height and the splendour of the Temple. It looks as if she is watching for something, as if she expects something miraculous to happen. Simeon smiles warmly, ready as always to show them which way to go.
Salvation will be like this, I think. Like the mystery of welcome and the newness of a child. Because a newborn child is real and yet not real. You can’t take your eyes off him, but you can’t see who he will be. Might even say here and not yet here. But we will hold out our arms to welcome the new, and in that shining moment, I think we will know God.