Jews of the first century AD followed a number of customs when a baby was born. According to Leviticus 12, the mother of a male baby had to go through a time of purification that lasted forty days. At the end of that period, she had to bring a burnt offering and a sin offering. Ordinarily, the burnt offering had to be a lamb, while the sin offering was a pigeon or turtledove. Those who were poor and could not afford a lamb were permitted to offer one of these birds for the burnt offering and one for the sin offering. In the case of a firstborn child, the baby was consecrated to the Lord, an act that involved visiting the sanctuary and paying a fee of five shekels to the priesthood to buy a non-Levite child back from a life of temple service (Ex. 13:1–2; Num. 18:8–16).
The events recorded in today's passage occurred when Mary and Joseph went to the temple in Jerusalem to follow the aforementioned legal requirements after the birth of Jesus. That Mary and Joseph were obeying these commandments says a lot about their piety, and the offering of two turtledoves indicates their poverty (Luke 2:23–24). In any case, on this occasion, Mary and Joseph ran into Simeon, a righteous man who was "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (v. 25).
Luke's use of the phrase "the consolation of Israel" is striking, and it is clearly to be taken in a messianic sense. Throughout their history, the people of Israel had suffered greatly, both for their own sin and because of the oppression of others. Their land was frequently overrun by foreign powers who knew the strategic significance of Palestine, which connected Africa, Europe, and Asia. They suffered under slavery in Egypt and endured the troubles of exile. In short, they were a people in desperate need of consolation and comfort—the kind of permanent comfort that could come only when the Son of David would arrive to guard them and to provide for the forgiveness of their sin (Isa. 40:1–2; 53; Amos 9:11–15).
Simeon spent his life waiting for this consolation, for the Messiah to come and redeem His people. He had been given a unique promise that he would not die before he saw the Christ—the Messiah—with his own eyes (Luke 2:25–26). When he was an old man, this promise was finally fulfilled, and he marveled at the glory of God in the face of the infant Christ. Thus, he was prepared to die and meet His Creator.
Only when we have seen the Messiah—when we have acknowledged Jesus for who He is and bowed in worship—will we be ready to meet our Creator. There is only one way to stand before God unafraid, and that is clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. If we have repented and believed on His name, we have nothing to fear in life or death. Have you seen the Messiah by faith? Have you come to trust Him at His word? Are you telling others that only He can save?