The Bucket List
If today were your last day on Earth, would you be satisfied with your life?
Many people who have unclear answers to such a question create bucket lists. Making a bucket list has become a popular exercise to help define what constitutes a satisfactory life. A bucket list is a collection of things to do or experience before dying that, in some way, is supposed to make life more satisfying or meaningful.
The concept comes from the phrase to kick the bucket, which, in the vernacular, is a synonym for dying. The phrase’s etymology is difficult to pinpoint, but modern culture has embraced the idea of creating and then expending the energy and resources to complete a personal bucket list.
Yearning for some experience (or someone) that will make life fulfilling before time runs out is nothing new. The clever quip, “If only . . . then I can die happy!” subtly expresses similar thoughts. While some experts and life coaches highly recommend using a bucket list as a path to personal development and overall satisfaction in life, others consider it a morbid exercise that focuses on one’s expiration date.
The Remnant that Waited
In ancient times, the Jewish people were conquered and dominated by one empire after another. As the years passed, the Chosen People began to lose hope in the promised comfort proclaimed by the prophets. As those hopes faded, they trudged through the daily challenges of life. Soon, few even remembered what they had hoped for and dreamed about.
So the vast majority of Israelites, even the religious scholars and leaders, chose to make the best of it by merely going along. A few looked to create their own solutions. Yet, there was still a small broken-hearted remnant that refused to give up hope as the people of the God Who Sees. These individuals continued to watch faithfully and pray, waiting for the long-promised comfort and redemption from their dreadful earthly existence.
In the midst of this political, religious, and cultural morass, a man named Simeon, apparently in the twilight of his life, had one thing on what we might call his bucket list: to see God’s promise of a Messiah fulfilled before he died. He was a righteous and devout man, a member of the remnant that tenaciously clung to the hope of Divine rescue. His life’s satisfaction was intimately intertwined with his prophetic hope, “Lord, if only…then I can die in peace!”
Led by God’s Spirit into the Temple, Simeon was vigilant. The only item on his bucket list was about to be crossed off. When Joseph and Mary brought their newborn son into the Temple, Simeon was ready. He went to them, took the Child in his arms and blessed God: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace . . . for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Lk. 2:29–30).
The Temple was a busy place in the heart of Jerusalem. How many people passed by the infant without giving Him a second thought? Did He go unrecognized on the road from Bethlehem? Was there no one to stop Joseph and Mary and inquire about the child at the mikvahs (ritual baths) before they ascended the southern steps to the Temple Mount? What made Simeon different? Was he more righteous or devout than all the others? No. What seems to have set him apart is the fact that he was waiting for the Consolation of Israel (v. 25).
The Consolation of Israel is the peace and blessing accompanying the Messiah’s arrival. Consolation means comfort. A promised time of comfort will be ushered in when Israel’s season of discipline will be complete, and God will rescue the Jewish people (Isa. 40:1–2). Simeon never lost hope in God’s promises. He was ready. He was watching. He was waiting.
He wasn’t merely loitering around the Temple in case something happened. He was there with a purpose. He waited, confidently expecting God’s hand to intervene in his life, in the life of Israel. He was looking forward to and was ready to receive someone or something. He waited vigilantly for the time to come to full term, when God would deliver the hoped-for promises of comfort and redemption in the Messiah. He didn’t know all the details.
Led by the Spirit
When the Infant Jesus, the God-Man, crossed the threshold of the Temple where the Almighty’s presence used to dwell, Simeon instantly responded with an embrace of worship, praise, glory, and eternal peace. We can hardly imagine how he felt while tightly holding the infant Messiah in his arms. His God. His hope. His salvation.
Simeon’s Spirit-led heart flowed with praise for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which led to the proclamation of blessings on Mary and Joseph. Standing there, their God-given son in the arms of a stranger, they were astonished at Simeon’s words. Salvation? A light to the Gentiles? The glory of Israel?
The Spirit led Simeon to the Temple for the distinct purpose of seeing the initiation of the fulfillment of the ancient prophets’ promise of the coming Consolation of Israel. And he was not alone. God has always preserved and continues to preserve a remnant of righteous believers among His people, Israel.
At the very moment of the divine revelation to Simeon, Anna the prophetess arrived to join in the impromptu time of worship. Giving thanks to the Lord, she quickly spread the word to “all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:38).
Yes, there were others who had not given up hope. They, too, were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem with the coming of the Messiah. The word looked in verse 38 is the same word used to describe Simeon’s “waiting” in verse 25. They were waiting for the comfort of the Messiah when He would rescue and redeem Jerusalem and the Temple (Isa. 52:9). The word for Anna’s thanks to the Lord in Luke 2:38 is rare and suggests a connection to Psalm 79 in the Greek Septuagint where the Temple’s defilement and Jerusalem’s destruction are mourned and continual thanks given in anticipation of God’s promised salvation.
The joy and exultation among the faithful must have been awe-inspiring as word spread through the halls of God’s house that day. Clearly, seeing Jesus was life changing for Simeon and Anna. As the Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12).
Obviously, many others missed or ignored the opportunity to find true peace and comfort in the promises of God that were wrapped up in the little bundle of life that day. But Simeon and Anna didn’t miss it.
Neither one is ever mentioned again in the biblical record. Yet Simeon’s bucket list was now complete, and he was at peace with the approaching end of his days. He had found genuine meaning and fulfillment in life and eternity. Satisfaction did not originate in his life experiences but, rather, in the faithful promises of God.
For many people, Christmas generates high expectations. Many want to feel loved and valued when they get together with family and friends. How those get-togethers turn out sometimes makes the difference between being satisfied in life or not. Yet, it is a well-known fact that for many, the Christmas holiday often produces pressure and disillusionment instead of joy.
Perhaps it’s time to follow Simeon and redefine what living a satisfied life actually means. Simeon probably lay down that night in absolute peace, knowing he was secure in God’s promises. He was satisfied with his life, ready and willing to leave this earth should the number of his days be at hand.
What are you looking forward to gaining from the upcoming holiday? Will your expectations make your life more fulfilling, more satisfying? This Christmas, be courageous. Wrap the arms of your heart around the Only Begotten Son of God in expectant hope and exuberantly declare your gratitude and praise for all to hear. It will change your life.