But then we come across passages such as the one concerning Simeon and we discover that we actually know very little about this man. About him we read these words:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. (Luke 2:25-27 BSB)
Consider that single sentence, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.” It seems a rather interesting way to put it. Reading the entire paragraph, we know that he was waiting for the Messiah. “The consolation of Israel” was no other than Jesus Christ. This is the only time in the Bible that this particular description is used for Jesus. What does it mean?
We know what the word consolation means in English. We usually use it for to describe the comfort one gives or receives after a loss, such as after the death of a family member.
In referring to what Simeon was waiting for, it means much the same, but there is an additional element to the word.In Greek, there is also a legal component connected to it, as we would think of an advocate in a courtroom. The word refers especially to someone who goes beyond simple words of encouragement and also comes to help in some tangible way.
Another place where this word is used was for Paul’s travel companion and fellow worker. The apostles called him “Barnabas.” This name, we are told, means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36, or in KJV, “son of consolation”). This man’s actual name was not Barnabas, but Joseph. He was called Barnabas by the others because early in his time with the apostles, he sold a field that he owned and donated it to the work of evangelism. He did more than support the work with his words. He encouraged by taking action.
What Simeon awaited was not just a prophet to repeat the words of God. He was waiting for the One who be the fulfillment of those prophecies. He was waiting for the One who would act upon what had been promised.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
It was the Spirit of God who led Simeon to the temple courts that day. When the old man saw Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus, he knew that this baby was the fulfillment of the promise. He was the consolation for whom Simeon had been waiting.
Taking the Child in his arms, Simeon praised God and said, “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32 BSB).
The Spirit of God
There are a couple of things about this account that are noteworthy. First of all, notice that it was the Spirit of God who sent Simeon to the temple. Usually, we think of the Holy Spirit coming upon believers on the Day of Pentecost, which happened about ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Actually however, the Spirit of God has been present in the world since creation. There are numerous places in the Old Testament where we read of the Spirit working through or speaking to various individuals. Even in this story of the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that the child conceived in Mary was through the Holy Spirit.
It was this same Holy Spirit that directed Simeon to the temple on that day to see the One for whom the old man had been waiting. As we read, he was waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” He was waiting for the Paraklésis—that’s the Greek word. This was the One who was called to help the nation of Israel. This Paraklésis, this consolation, was the baby Jesus.
But Simeon understood that the help would not be only for the nation of Israel. He declared that the baby that he held in his arms was not only “for the glory to Israel,” but also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
When that baby grew of age, His life was one of continuous consolation. He ministered to many in teachings, in healings, and in many other ways. Of course the greatest help that He brought was his final one on earth when He surrendered His own life for the sins of humanity.
During his ministry years, Jesus gathered to himself a group of followers, with twelve of them being the closest disciples. Shortly before Christ was to be handed over to the authorities and be crucified, he was explaining to these followers what they could expect. Numerous times he told them that they would not be abandoned. He told them of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
“I will ask the Father,” Jesus told them, “And He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:16, 26).
Even though as we saw, the Holy Spirit had already been actively involved in many ways, this was to be an outpouring of the Spirit. It was a promise that was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
A little later Jesus repeated the promise: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father – He will testify about Me” (John 15:16).
And still later; “But I tell you the truth, it is for your benefit that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
Our Advocate is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who comes along side of us to help us. This word which we read as Advocate, is the very same word used when describing the Consolation of Israel, at least a form of the same word. Paraklétos: someone called to one’s aid.
John later writes in one of his letters, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
The Widow Anna
We assume Simeon was an older man, since he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. But if he was indeed old, he was not the only elderly person present at the time Jesus was brought to the temple.
The account continues: “There was also a prophetess named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was well along in years. She had been married for seven years, and then was a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:36-37 BSB).
We have no word about any special message given to her by the Holy Spirit. Whether she, like Simeon, recognized the infant Jesus as the Promised One, or whether she heard Simeon speak of him in this manner so it became known to her—this we do not know.
However, at the moment that Simeon was speaking of the infant Jesus, Anna also came forward, “giving thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
It was not only Simeon who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Anna was also waiting, as were apparently others present that day.
We Three Kings
One could say that the next characters of the story are not usually considered minor characters. We hear about them at every Christmas program and there are even songs written about them. Their images or statuettes are displayed in most of the nativity displays that we see, but although they are presented as visiting the Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child in the manger, they actually were not present there at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Their arrival was a about two years after Jesus was born. They did not come to the manger. After Jesus was born, although Mary and Joseph continued to live in the town of Bethlehem, they did not remain in the stable. As soon as they were able, they apparently moved into a house.
That is where these visitors came to see them, bringing with them gifts for the Child. They were the wise men who had traveled from a great distance to worship the Christ child. Rather than referring to him as the consolation of Israel, they called him the “King of the Jews.”
About these men we actually know very little, but that has not stopped us from filling in our ignorance with fables about them. First of all, although every nativity display shows three men with their camels, we actually do not know if there were three of them. We say that because the Bible tells us that they brought with them three gifts for the King of the Jews—gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And about these three gifts—we have come up with numerous interpretations of what they may represent. They undoubtably were valuable and they made fine and expensive gifts for the Child. They probably did have significance beyond their monetary value, but I have never appreciated those who have tried to draw deep and elaborate interpretations from them. The only interpretations that I shall draw is that they were gifts fit for royalty, and also that they were items that were used in worshiping God both in the tabernacle in the wilderness and in the temple in Jerusalem.
The star that the men from the east followed to the home of Joseph and Mary is another of the main features of this story. Many have tried to identify this as a comet that appeared and then reappeared. Others have said it must have been a peculiar aligning of planets.
Truthfully, I do not see how it could have been either of these things or any other natural phenomenon that we know. From the account in Matthew’s Gospel, we read that about two years before the men arrived in Herod’s palace, a star had appeared to them—a star that told them that the King of the Jews had been born. That star seems to have then disappeared, reappearing only after they left the king’s palace and leading them to the very place where Jesus was living with his parents, stopping over the house of the Child.
Normal stars do not move in such a manner, nor do any aligning of any planets. Comets do move, but not in that manner, and certainly they do not come to a stop over a house. Frankly, it is an exercise in futility to try and work out the nature of the “Star of Bethlehem.”
There are many other things about these men that we do know. For instance, what told them that the star that they saw shining in the eastern sky was an indication that the King of the Jews had been born? And why was that important to them anyway? They were not Jews. They were called “Maji,” which was a term for a sorcerer.
Seemingly, they also lived a very long distance away. How far away? Could they have been traveling two years to reach Jerusalem? It seems difficult to imagine, but at least we can say that they traveled from a very distant country. Did they come on camels? That is how they are always depicted. But although camels were used as pack animals for wealthy travelers from northern Arabia, the men themselves usually rode Arabian horses.
There is so much that we do not know about these men, and actually, it does little good to speculate too much about what is unknown. What is important are the lessons that we can draw from the actions of these men. It is true that their actions may involve some other questions whose answers are equally impossible to know, but at least thinking about these questions can cause us to question some of our own priorities in our own spiritual quest.
Waiting and Watching for the Revelation
We do not know why, for instance, these Maji knew that the star that they saw in their western sky was an indication that the King of the Jews had been born. We do not know how they knew to look for this star, nor how many nights had they searched the sky before that momentous night. But the appearance of the star was important enough to them that they waited, examining the sky each night.
Simeon also waited. We are told that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Christ. So he waited. He did not know when this promise would be fulfilled, but he waited and watched.
And the old woman Anna waited. She was in the temple night and day, praying and fasting for the One who would be the fulfillment of the prophecies. She was not alone in this expectation. There were others. She knew these people who were also present in the temple court, so that when the Christ child was at last revealed, she spoke of him to all who were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Obedient to the Vigil
They all waited—and they watched. They knew that the day would come when the One whom they sought would be revealed. They just did not know when.
But they were not passive in their waiting. They did not simply wait, as one does in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Their waiting required diligence.
The wise men, the Maji, watched the sky, each night looking for the star that was to be their sign that the King had been born.
Simeon listened. He listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Anna prayed and fasted. She worshiped in the temple night and day for many years.
These all were attentive to whatever was to be their indication to tell them of the next step that they should take.
Led to the Fulfillment of Their Vigil
And their constant vigil was rewarded. Simeon was “led by the Spirit to the temple courts.” Anna came forward at the very moment that Simeon was speaking of the Child. The Maji were first led by the star to the west, and when they arrived in Jerusalem, the priests and scribes next told them that they should go to Bethlehem. Then, at the very last, they were led again by the star, which went before them and stopped over the very house of Jesus.
Recognizing the Savior
Lastly, when it came to recognizing who was the Christ Child, these people may all have had rather minor roles in the Christmas story and were not present at his birth, but when they saw Jesus, they all instantly knew Him. They recognized Him. There was no confusion on their part.
When the wise men came to the house and saw the Child with His mother Mary, they instantly fell down and worshiped Him. Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all others who were waiting for Him. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and blessed God.
We Continue to Watch
Jesus intends to return, but just as these people of the Bible, neither do we know when. There are certain indicators in the Bible that tell us when the time may be approaching, but as Jesus himself said, “No one knows the day nor the hour…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:36, 42).
Are you keeping your watch? How is your own vigil? You may be waiting, but are you listening? Are you watching?
The apostle Paul says this:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). His grace…instructs us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we await the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13).
And Peter this:
You ought to conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness as you anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God … But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13)
These words of Jesus, Paul and Peter should remind us that in our watching for the return of Christ, we should be diligent to grow in holiness in our living.
And the lessons given to us by the minor characters in the Christmas story should be examples as how we should wait—continuously watching and keeping vigil so that when the Christ appears, we will recognize him as our King of kings and Lord of lords.
 Strong’s #3874 – Literally, the word is paraklésis, and it means “a call or an urging that is done by someone who is close to the one in need.” It is often translated into the word “comfort” or “encouragement.”
 Stong’s #3875
 We think it was about two years because of Herod’s subsequent actions. Because this Child was called “the King of the Jews by the maji, Herod had all male boys two years and younger to be slain.