Simeon and Anna
From shepherds who remain nameless, we meet up with two people whose names we know, but otherwise, know little else about them. Here are two more people who step out of the shadows of time to contribute to the Christmas story. These two have several things in common: They are both up in years. They both found the Temple as a place of worship. Both seemed to be waiting for some signal about the appearance of God’s long promised Messiah.
Before their contact with Simeon and Anna, Joseph and Mary had brought Jesus to Jerusalem for circumcision. Luke 2: 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Now 33 days after Jesus’ birth, Mary goes to the Temple for the Rite of Purification. All devout Jewish mothers after giving birth were expected to present themselves at the Temple for this Rite (see Leviticus 12:1-8). It was on this occasion our two subjects were introduced.
Aside from the angels, the first witness to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is Simeon. Undoubtedly, Simeon was a careful student of the Old Testament prophets. Luke described him as “righteous and devout” and that he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” While the prophetic writings were probably the basic source of information for him, we read of the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit in his life. So continuing in Luke 2, Luke reports on Simeon’s meeting with Joseph and Mary:
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him (Jesus) to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
As we have seen before, Joseph and Mary get surprised with another unexpected visit. After arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem to follow the Law’s instructions regarding the rite of purification, they run into Simeon. The Holy Spirit had guided him there. Simeon immediately identified the child in their arms as the Messiah. But how did he recognize their child and where did he get that insight? Yes, the Holy Spirit led him there, but what had he learned from reading the prophets?
Let’s compare what Simeon said to Joseph and Mary with what Isaiah the prophet wrote: 42: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”Simeon, was a “righteous and devout” man: He was also a careful student of the Scriptures and he knew what Jesus was to do. But he saw deeper into the journey that Jesus would take—he saw the true purpose of his birth in Bethlehem. So, he continued speaking to Jesus’ parents.
Luke 2: 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” It would appear that from the language of David and Isaiah, Simeon could see the sorrow and grief that Mary, Jesus’ mother, would experience through what Jesus would suffer. Listen to what we read in Psalm 22: 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
Yes, you recognize the scene from the cross where Mary witnessed the crucifixion of her son. That is also the picture that was in Simeon’s mind that day in the temple.
Our second witness, Anna from the tribe of Asher, then arrived at the Temple. She confirmed the same destiny of Mary and Joseph’s son as that given by Simeon. At 84 years of age, she looked down a few more years to the time when this son would provide redemption, not only of Israel, but for the entire world. This was the child, she said, to whom many were looking forward.
Luke 2: 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
After the visit by Simeon and Anna, things seemed to have quieted down in Bethlehem. According to Matthew’s gospel, it was a couple of years before another surprise came along, this time, from a more distant place.
Next: Herod and the Wise Men