An event related to the Christmas story but rarely mentioned in connection with it is the presentation of the child Jesus at the temple.
The presentation itself – an expected ritual for Jewish boy babies – would not be especially noteworthy, but for the presence there of an elderly gentleman named Simeon. Devout and deeply spiritual, Simeon haunted the temple precincts continually, waiting for the fulfillment of a sacred promise received earlier in his life – that he would live long enough to see for himself the Savior of mankind – the long-promised Messiah.
The presentation of the child Jesus at the temple and the meeting with Simeon is dramatized in this brief video from “The Life of Jesus Christ” series of Bible videos produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Child was born a Jew; the mother was a Jewess, and the reputed and legal father, Joseph, was a Jew… When eight days old He was circumcised, as was required of every male born in Israel; and at the same time He received as an earthly bestowal the name that had been prescribed at the annunciation. He was called JESUS, which, being interpreted is Savior; the name was rightfully His for He came to save the people from their sins.
Part of the law given through Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness and continued in force down through the centuries, related to the procedure prescribed for women after childbirth. In compliance therewith, Mary remained in retirement forty days following the birth of her Son; then she and her husband brought the Boy for presentation before the Lord as prescribed for the male firstborn of every family. Jesus was born within five or six miles from Jerusalem; He was accordingly taken to the temple for the ceremonial of redemption from the requirement applying to the firstborn of all Israelites except Levites.
In connection with the ceremony of purification, every mother was required to furnish a yearling lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or dove for a sin offering; but in the case of any woman who was unable to provide a lamb, a pair of doves or pigeons might be offered. We learn of the humble circumstances of Joseph and Mary from the fact that they brought the less costly offering, two doves or pigeons, instead of one bird and a lamb.
Among the righteous and devout Israelites were some who, in spite of traditionalism, rabbinism, and priestly corruption, still lived in righteous expectation of inspired confidence, awaiting patiently the consolation of Israel. One of these was Simeon, then living in Jerusalem. Through the power of the Holy Ghost he had gained the promise that he should not see death until he had looked upon the Lord’s Christ in the flesh.
Prompted by the Spirit he repaired to the temple on the day of the presentation of Jesus, and recognized in the Babe the promised Messiah. In the moment of realization that the hope of his life had found glorious consummation, Simeon raised the Child reverently in his arms, and, with the simple but undying eloquence that comes of God uttered this splendid supplication, in which thanksgiving, resignation and praise are so richly blended:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
Then under the spirit of prophecy, Simeon told of the greatness of the Child’s mission, and of the anguish that the mother would be called to endure because of Him, which would be even like unto that of a sword piercing her soul.
The Spirit’s witness to the divinity of Jesus was not to be confined to a man. There was at that time in the temple a godly woman of great age, Anna, a prophetess who devoted herself exclusively to temple service; and she, being inspired of God, recognized her Redeemer, and testified of Him to all about her.
Both Joseph and Mary marveled at the things that were spoken of the Child; seemingly they were not yet able to comprehend the majesty of Him who had come to them through so miraculous a conception and so marvelous a birth.
from James E. Talmage, ‘Jesus the Christ’.