“He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…” Luke 2:25

Psychologists tell us that the time of the year when individuals are most depressed and most likely to commit suicide is during the Christmas season. The compressed calendar of traditional family holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s) can cause tremendous pain to those who have had terrible family experiences or to those who have lost family members and retain only the memories of better times. Moreover, the pressures caused by poor weather, unhealthy eating, increased alcohol consumption, chaotic schedules, and the like can make December a dangerous month.

What many of us are looking for during this bittersweet period is “consolation.” It is interesting that this word is used once in the Christmas story, to describe a venerable but aged prophet awaiting the “consolation of Israel” in the person of the Messiah. The concept of consolation is important, because Christ later taught that he would send a “consoler” when his ministry ended on earth.

The passage from the Christmas story simply says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Greek word translated “consolation” is paraklesis, and can also be translated “comfort” or “exhort.” A more literal translation means “calling to one’s side” (para = beside, kaleo = to call). A closely related word is parakletos, which is translated as “one who comes alongside” or “advocate.” Parakletos has the connotation of legal assistance, as the defense counsel or advocate for the accused. In a sense, the parakletos is both a comfort to the accused as well as an intercessor on the accused’s behalf.[1]

Consequently, the phrase “Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel” is rich with meaning, particularly as the notion of “consolation” and “the Comforter” appears in both the writings of Luke and John.

Literally, Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel in the person of the Jewish Messiah. A country that had groaned under foreign oppression and spiritless religious ritual was in dire need for the succor of the Savior. The Jewish nation, and in fact the entire world, needed the completing work of Christ as Savior in order to bring salvation history to its consummation. Simeon was spiritually aware enough to tangibly feel the terrible lostness of the human race and yet hope for the appearance of God’s Messiah. When he encountered Jesus, he knew in his spirit that God had honored his promise to bring the ultimate advocate to the human race.

During his ministry, Jesus picked up the theme of paraklesis/parakletos. John records a long session spanning more than one chapter when Jesus was training his disciples. Jesus directly spoke about the coming of “another” Comforter to minister to his followers:

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [parakletos] to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.[2]

It is intriguing to consider what Jesus taught about a consoler/counselor/comforter because it directly reflects not only the advent of the Holy Spirit following his ascension, but also on the nature of Christ’s ministry while he was here on earth. Did Simeon’s hope for the consolation of Israel correspond to Christ’s teaching about divine advocacy?

Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel direct us to love God first and foremost. Christ adjured us that those who love God follow God’s commands. In order to provide assistance in doing so, Jesus promised to send the Counselor to be with us forever. Christ also called this Counselor the Spirit of truth, meaning that the parakletos will serve as an advocate of the believer before God but also assist the Christian in discerning right and wrong in this life. This form of intimacy seems to have characterized the life of Simeon, and his prophecy asserted that such a relationship was possible for a much broader spectrum of humanity than just himself—Israel could be consoled and made spiritually healthy.

The second and third verses speak of the operative agency of the Comforter. When Christ was pursuing his earthly ministry, he was a teacher above all. His instruction focused on directing people to God and reminding them of the countless evidences of God’s love for humanity in the Old Testament. Similarly, Jesus pointed to the future work of the Comforter, exhorting the church to recall and embrace his saving work.

The final verse is ironic, because Simeon waited a lifetime to see the consolation of Israel, and in a metaphorical sense, the Jewish nation had been waiting centuries to experience the consolation associated with the physical advent of the Messiah. However, Christ said that he must leave in order for the Counselor to come. This demonstrates that the Christmas story was the beginning, not the ending, of the next phase of God’s saving work on behalf of humankind.

In sum, a wizened patriarch spent his life faithfully waiting for the coming of a Messiah who would bring wholeness to the world. That Messiah was Jesus Christ, whose atoning death and resurrection interceded on behalf of humanity before a just but loving God, advocating mercy and redemption. In this sense Christ was the first parakletos, but Jesus went on to teach that the reality of God’s presence would be universal with the coming of the Holy Spirit directly into the lives of believers. This consolation would be global in effect, as the Holy Spirit comes alongside all who are willing to be comforted and exhorted by God’s Spirit. This is a message of Christmas hope—that the consolation of history is found in the Spirit of God, available to all who trust in the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.

[1] See Vine’s Expository Dictionary, pp. 110-111.

[2] These four quotes are from John 14:15-16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7.