The familiarity of the Christmas story has not smothered new insights bouncing off the pages of Scripture. This year my eye has been caught by a detail in the story of Simeon. Three times in a few verses Luke tells us about the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
'The Holy Spirit rested on him' (2:25).
'It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit (2:26).
'Guided by the Spirit' (2:27).
Right from the beginning of his gospel Luke has told us that the Holy Spirit was vital to the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist will be 'filled with the Holy Spirit' from even before his birth (1:15), Elizabeth and Zechariah are filled with the Holy Spirit before giving prophetic utterance (1:41; 1:67), and, most importantly, Mary will become pregnant with the Messiah when 'the Holy Spirit will come upon you' (1:35).
But none of these leading figures in the story of Jesus attracts the threefold reference to the Holy Spirit's work like Simeon. Why does Luke offer this intense emphasis on the Holy Spirit?
It is always worth taking the long view of what Luke is up to, that is, taking up the whole of his writing in Luke and Acts, in order to understand a specific episode or individual saying. From that perspective, the Holy Spirit is God acting in the world to ensure his purpose is fulfilled. In Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah and John the Holy Spirit acts to bring the Messiah into the world. Simeon stands for the world receiving the Messiah. There wouldn't be much point to the Messiah coming and nothing happening!
God the Holy Spirit works to bring the Messiah and to ensure reception of the Messiah. Nothing is left to chance, or to the fickleness of human response. Quietly, within the Christmas story, Simeon through Luke's telling of his story reminds us that God is at work in history to ensure his purpose is fulfilled. At year 's end, with more than its share of bleak tragedy - shootings in the US, devastating storm in the South Pacific - we are told that God is at work. At year's end, with much to be despondent about in the church, we are told that God is at work. Our future is not in our hands. The Holy Spirit has the future of the work begun at Bethlehem in hand.
May the Holy Spirit rest on us, reveal Jesus Christ to us, and guide us to him!