The end of the year always brings both reflection and anticipation. Looking back we reflect on both the victories and the losses of 2015. Looking forward we anticipate what could happen in 2016. Unfortunately, for many of us, looking back can be a painful enterprise. As we reflect backward, all of the could-have-beens come into focus and the should-have-beens wound us afresh. The losses experienced over the last year suddenly seem to have healed less than we once thought. The pain throbs like it once did.
Looking forward, however, seems to be a much more exciting exercise. Perhaps 2016 will be better, brighter, more profitable, more fulfilling. For me, I always find the new year exciting. I enjoy pondering the possibilities and dreaming of the potential blessings to come. Spiritually, I believe looking back and looking forward is an essential discipline for each of us. We must never forget what lies behind us, both in terms of blessing and trial, and we must always look expectantly forward to what lies ahead. For me an unexpected and well-known story in Scripture helps bring the beauty of this discipline into focus.
Now there was a man in 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. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought 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.”
I think God intentionally gives us very little information about Simeon. We don’t know much about his background, his family, or anything he did throughout the whole course of his life other than this one huge day. We know he was righteous; he was devout; he knew the Scriptures and was anticipating the coming Messiah and restoration of Israel; and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t let that last fact pass by so quickly. The Spirit of God filled Simeon at a point in salvation history in which that was not common. We see the same thing to be true of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the Christmas narrative, but they seem to me more important to the story, at least from our perspective. From God’s vantage point, however, Simeon is playing a significant role of both reflecting and anticipating the work of God. I see Simeon seeing three important phases of God’s work.
First, he sees God’s past faithfulness both to himself and to God’s chosen people Israel. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word…” Simeon recognizes that in the child he now holds, God has fulfilled a personal promise made to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he passed. But the child does not just fulfill a personal promise. The child also fulfills a series of ancient promises made to a people, God’s people. Simeon recognizes that God has once again proven himself faithful to his people. Just like he did with Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David, God has once again kept his promises.
Second, he sees God’s present blessings. “…for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…” In these words Simeon recognizes the uniqueness of his place in the history of the world. For him salvation is not just a past memory or a future expectation; salvation is literally in his hands. The child in his hands was named “God saves,” and the fact was not lost on Simeon. He was literally gazing into the eyes of God’s plan of salvation prepared in eternity past. This salvation was not just for him, but for God’s people also. But the salvation was not just for them either.
Third, he anticipates the blessing God has prepared for the future. “…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel…” Simeon knows what few had grasped in his day: that because of this child, salvation would soon be available not just to Israel but to all nations. He knows the Scripture well enough to see the basics of the plan. He listens to the indwelling Spirit carefully enough to see the role of both Israel and the Gentiles in this plan. And he knows the character of God well enough to speak with boldness that this plan will come to fruition.
The outline of Simeon’s song has challenged me to discipline myself to gaze deeply into the unfolding plan of God as it intersects with my life. How might we adopt this discipline as we prepare for the new year?
Seeing God’s Past Faithfulness
• Can you remember all of the incredible things God has done within your life? Start small. What has He done in 2015 to bless you, provide for you, answer your prayers, open doors, resolve conflict, heal wounds? Now go deeper. What about the last five years? Or the last ten? Or your entire life? In what unexpected ways has He come through for you? When did He bring light into the darkness of a painful situation?
• Now think beyond yourself and into the plan of salvation for all of God’s people. How has your salvation been a part of God’s plan for all eternity? In what ways can you recount all of His faithfulness?
• What stories of God’s faithfulness have you neglected to tell? God wants us to tell others about what He has done, not just for all people but for us individually. People around you want to hear your story. What story are you not telling them?
Seeing God’s Present Salvation
• Sometimes when we look at our present situation, it is easier for us to think about what could be better rather than express gratitude for the beauty of how far God has brought us. How is where you are right now a product of the blessings He has provided? Where would you be without His salvation?
• As God’s child you have been adopted, accepted, loved, cleansed, declared just, purified, made holy, and redeemed. Have you taken these things that are now true of you for granted?
• Where is the darkness in your life right now? Where do you still need the light to shine and God to move? Use this time of reflection to petition God to finish what He has started in you. If all of your life is a story, then the most painful times come when chapters are unresolved. Ask God to finish your unfinished stories and bring your life to the resolution He has purposed, not the one you have planned.
Anticipating Prepared Blessings
• What are you longing to see God do in the year ahead? What brokenness might He heal? What personal failures might He redeem? What closed doors might He open?
• Where might God take you that you don’t expect to go? How might He be moving in ways you have not yet recognized?
• How might He exceed your expectations for the year ahead? How might He do immeasurably more than all you can ask, think, or imagine?
• When have you been disobedient in the last year and how might God in the year ahead provide opportunities for you to trust Him where you were once disobedient?
• Who might God bring into your life this year that needs to see the light God has entrusted you with? To what dark corner of the earth might He be leading you to shine his light?
• When might you be united with your Father, King, and Creator? Are you longing for that day? Are you anticipating the coming of the Bridegroom as a bride awaits the coming of her beloved? Are you longing for eternity and allowing that longing to shape your life now? What might God do through you if your eyes were constantly set on his coming consummation and the eternal weight of glory you are being prepared for?
I hope Simeon’s song will inspire you to gaze deeper into the plan and promises of God and how they intersect with what God is doing in your life right now. May 2016 be a year of new blessing in part because you see more clearly how God is moving around you.