[The following was originally posted in 2005 as part of an on-again, 0ff-again writing project of mine called “Bible Redux.” Hope you enjoy it. And if you’re interested in seeing more like this, please let me know in the comments!]
The old man adjusted his robes and took a breath as he slowly made his way into the temple courts. Around him, people prayed, spoke softly, presented sacrifices to the priests.
It was large, this temple. Much larger than the temple of his youth. Some were still angry that such a wicked man could have been allowed by G-d to build something so lovely. Simeon felt this himself, from time to time. But when his anger or his disdain crept up, he would repeat to himself that the whole earth belongs to G-d and everything in it. One place is as good as another to pray. A temple is a temple. As long as the True G-d is worshiped there, what matter who builds it?
He walked over to his usual spot. He liked praying in the courtyard. Something about the way the sunlight hit his face made him happy. He bowed his head, and raised his open, wrinkled hands before him, and began his prayers.
All of his life, he prayed. From the time he was a boy, his faith had been strong, and he prayed fervently, as if his very breath depended on it. Even now, so very many years later, he prayed just as fervently as when he was a teenager. Some joked amongst themselves that he was actually praying for his next breath, for another day of life. If they dared ask him (which they wouldn’t), he would probably have laughed and said yes. Simeon was old. How old, no one knew. But old enough to know suffering and many frustrated and disappointed years. He felt each of them every morning, when he got out of bed and his joints creaked and groaned. With each sigh, he felt the weight of a life spent waiting crush his chest.
Yet every morning, despite the pain, despite the doubt, he arose, dressed himself, and walked to the temple to pray.
What did Simeon pray for? He prayed for his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren. He prayed for his neighbors, his friends, his countrymen. He prayed for the priests and teachers, that G-d would continue to grant them wisdom in leadership. But most of all, most importantly of all, he prayed for the deliverance of his people. He prayed that the Promise would be fulfilled. He prayed that David’s line would be restored, and that Israel could again be strong and favored.
He prayed for Messiah. The coming of Immanuel, the sign of the Promise.
He knew the writings of the prophets. They were written on his heart, from years of listening, reading, questioning. There were some parts he didn’t understand. Their king would suffer? How could the Holy One allow it? Yet even in his confusion, he prayed, “Adonay, come quickly, you are my Deliverer, my Shield and Strong Tower.”
Every day, Simeon prayed. And every day he waited. And every day, deliverance did not come.
How long had it been since Israel heard the words of a prophet of G-d? Generations. Even his father’s father’s father had not heard rumor of one of G-d’s messengers. No word from the Lord. Silence in heaven.
Meanwhile, war and rebellion on earth. The Maccabees revolted, and then were defeated. And Rome, cruel Rome! It came like a wave, and it was all Zion could do to bear it. There were a few benefits to their occupiers’ presence. The roads were getting better. Crime was down. But everywhere, fear filled the air. There was tension. Anxiety. All it would take would be one band of Zealots, anarchists drunk on stupid anger, to provoke Rome to action. How fearsome that would be, to feel the fury of this godless empire crush down upon them.
So every morning, the old man walked to the temple, lifted his hands in the early morning sun, and prayed. Deliver us. From enemies outside. From our wicked hearts. Deliver us from evil.
Another man’s faith would have wavered, perhaps. But not Simeon’s. He was filled with hope. In his dreams, and in his very bones, the truth was revealed to him: He is coming. Wait for him.
On that last day, Simeon prayed as he always did. He asked, “How long, O Lord, until we see your Kingdom come? How long until our King appears?”
Suddenly, he felt shot through with light, with heat. He gasped, startled, and opened his closed eyes. The sunlight blinded him, dazzled him, so he lowered his eyes and rubbed them with his gnarled fingers. When his vision cleared, he saw, walking across the courtyard, a girl carrying a baby and a man carrying a small cage with two birds in it.
He felt the chills rise and fall along his spine, spreading out to his fingertips and toes. And in his head, reverberating like the shout of an angel, one word:
Simeon felt himself begin to weep. He nearly ran through the crowd to meet them, his body filled with energy he hadn’t known in years. He nearly shoved people out of the way, so anxious was he to see this family.
When he reached them, out of breath and smiling wildly, he stopped short. The girl, still a teenager it appeared, looked a bit alarmed and held her child close. The man, a little older than she was, put his arm around her and took a bit of a step forward.
Simeon raised his hands in reassurance. His tears calmed the couple. Simeon reached out with ancient, shaking hands, asking for the child. His mother hesitated for only a second, and then passed her precious newborn son to the old man.
No words could express what Simeon felt, looking into that baby’s clear eyes. The baby sucked on its fist for a little while, and then reached out and touched the old man’s white beard, grasping and pulling a little of it. Simeon laughed. “What is his name?” he asked the father. The younger man cleared his throat and said, “Yeshua.” Simeon nodded. “G-d saves. Of course.”
He looked up to the bright, blue sky, and said aloud, even in the hearing of those around him, “Merciful Lord, you are faithful to your word. I am now ready to rest, for with my own two eyes, I have seen Your Salvation, which you have shown in the presence of all as the dawn of understanding to those outside, and a glory to Your People.”
The young couple was stunned, speechless. Simeon handed the baby back to his mother, and then reached up his hand and placed it on the father’s head, blessing him. He did the same to the mother, saying, “This baby you hold will be the rise and fall of many in Zion. He will be a sign spoken falsely against, so that the true hearts of men will be revealed.” He paused, looked at her, and sighed. “And you, my dear, will ultimately be pierced through with grief for his sake.” The woman looked into his eyes. Simeon saw in her face a mix of confusion and gratitude. He smiled and half-shrugged.
As he turned away, at that very moment, another figure familiar to the temple appeared. The old widow Anna. She began speaking to the couple and praising God because of the child. Simeon smiled as he walked away.
He didn’t finish his prayers. They had been answered. He slowly made his way to his home, a room adjacent to his grandson’s house. His granddaughter-in-law saw him and walked out to meet him in the yard. “Grandfather, you’re home early–are you feeling ill?”
He laughed and shook his head, as he made his way to his room. “No, my child, I’m very well.”
He closed the door, and slowly laid down on his bed. He silently prayed one last time, a praise to G-d for being the Faithful One of Israel. He prayed for the baby who would deliver them all, that He would be strong and wise. Simeon knew this would happen, of course, knew without a doubt, but these are the prayers that old men pray. Prayers that aren’t spoken out of doubt, but out of faith and joy and thankfulness. Prayers that say to G-d, “Your Will be done. Amen. Selah.”
And Simeon knew that on the other side of death, he would greet that boy again.
He was feeling very well indeed.