Now there was in Jerusalem a man by the name of Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him; and it had been revealed to him by this Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Inspired by the Spirit, then, Simeon came into the Temple Court. When the parents brought in Jesus to do what was customary according to the Law, then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
"Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, like you promised, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people; a light to brighten up the Gentiles, and the glory of your own people Israel."
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at these things which were spoken of him.
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, "Stop and look (get this), this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign, which shall be spoken against; (Yes, and a sword will run right through your own soul, too) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
And there was a prophetess, Anna daugher of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was of great age; for she had married as a young girl and lived with her husband seven years, and then by herself as a widow for eighty-four years. She never left the temple courts. Day and night she worshipped God, fasting and praying.
Now at this very moment she too came up and gave thanks to God, and she spoke about the child to all those waiting for the redemption of Israel.
What is the last thing God will ask you to do? I don’t mean the last thing as though it is the farthest thing from His mind. I mean, what is the very last thing God will ask you to do?
Will it be to bless the next generation to come and trust they will be the last one, the best one, the right one? Simeon blessed, like a priest would do. Anna confirmed, like a prophet(ess) should do. At the end of great, long lives, God asked them to lend the weight of their long years of devotion and righteousness to the Coming King.
Simeon and Anna were neither the latest nor the greatest. They were battle-tested veterans of the Holy Wars. They had worshipped God and God alone for long, bitter-tasting decades, maintaining the Kingdom would come even while Romans conquered and Herod plotted his own little kingdom.
Soon enough, Jesus would rise to maturity. He would call other young men to His cause and young women. Right now, His cause required the gravitas of seniority.
Two people, Simeon and Anna, who had passed the life test must now pass the baton. They could see in this child, unlike all the others they had blessed over the decades, the coming redemption/consolation of Israel and, through Israel, the Lost World.
What is the last thing God will ever ask you to do? Will it not be to bless the next ones to come, hoping they will be the greater still?
Indeed, is that not the last thing God asks of every generation? Are we not here to bless, confirm and commission the next, until Jesus comes again?
Why do I ask us today about the last thing we will do? I think because Simeon has this great, great gift. When he sees Jesus, Simeon knows for sure God is come and now he can go.
So, don’t quit until you see God.
Don’t quit until you finish your course.
One supposes we should look at our beginnings to see how we might end. Simeon is obviously of the tribe of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, or he would not hold this place in the Temple ritual. The priests make a sanctuary for God, wherein they work to make sacrifice for the sins of the people and so bring the people into a right relationship with God, if only temporarily, while they all wait for the final sacrifice, who will be the consolation of Israel.
Anna is of the tribe of Asher. In them,Simeon and Anna, Levi and Asher come together. This is how they begin. Asher’s name means ""to be a bearer of salvation." Asher is the eighth son of Jacob, born of Leah’s personal maid, Zilpah. His tribe lives on the West slopes of the Galilean highlands, with the provinces of Zebulun and Naphtali on his east. His province contacts the seacoast through them him open as the usual invasion route of enemies from that direction. Indeed, many of the invading enemies of Israel from the weakly held sea route are commercial customers of Asher’s people. He cannot fight them or he will lose his markets.
As such, Asher is stricken into immobility during the great stuggles against the Philistines and Deborah chides him for it (Judges 5:17). His little fiefdom sags into obscurity during the middle years of the Old Covenant. He is always listed between some other brother tribes. In fact, all of Asher’s history seems to be the story of someone caught in between. Asher is caught in between what is right and what is practical.
Anna is not caught between. She did not go back to her tribe when her husband died. She went to the temple and stayed. In her, from her beginnings, in her withered flesh, is the decision of one who lived between to take a side and so bring salvation. It is little wonder she is called a prophetess and called alongside to confirm the blessing of the priest. She is from those named to bear salvation.
For whence cometh your name? Are you one to bear salvation? Do you long for the redemption of your people, as Anna for hers? Would you know the Redeemer from among all the others? Would you have your people saved from indecision? Would you have them come to the right and the good?
Anna decides. After she decides, she commits. As she commits, she dedicates. Anna will know God when she sees God.
Simeon, the Priest, has a reputation. He is devout and righteous. The word "devout" only Luke uses in the New Testament but Plato knows it. The word means "to take hold carefully." You would want such an attribute for someone who will cradle your baby in his arms!
When combined with the word "righteous," the pairing describe a man who learned the truth of God early and who held to it well. Little wonder God "transacted business" or "revealed to this man" he would not die until he literally sees the coming of the Messiah. A lesser man might have crumbled then or curdled along the way. Not Simeon. He is holding on well to the right King.
We can imagine how other men shun him until they have need of real help for he is something other than the common man. He is what a Priest ought to be and so seldom can be. Of all his years, from all his service, all anyone can think of Simeon is of his devout, righteous faithfulness. He will not even feel the release of death until the consolation of Israel comes.
The Law (Priesthood) and the Prophets always interpret Jesus for us in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and the Body of which the Prophets are the shadow. At His consecration in the Temple, the Law and the Prophets come together, the first to dedicate and the second to confirm.
He is the One. Simeon sees it, he of the Law. Anna sees it, she of the Prophets. The Old Covenant’s highest points meet the New Testament’s only point. They are fulfilled.
Is it their wishful thinking? Simeon is far past dying and Anna is eight and a half decades companionless. Does Simeon want to see something so badly he contrives it? Does Anna need validation so much she confirms Simeon’s excited utterance?
The story leaves them as soon as it finds them. If they are mistaken, they are also forgotten. They gain nothing in the story by any misrepresentation they might make. An argument from silence is weak indeed but if one takes them at their spoken word, it must be that they both recognize Jesus together. Something plays on their heart strings, tugs at their soul and enlivens their eyes.
What if the last thing God asked you to do was to proclaim His coming in such a way as to fulfill all your life’s dreams? He would need for you to live a long time with Him in this life. Age would be an asset. Experience would benefit you. If you could get someone younger to listen, you would point them to the Kingdom to come.
You might say:
"I see the Lord come to pay our debts, settle our accounts and reduce our poverty. I see God here in the midst of us to arrange for our rescue, to effect our bail-out, to save us from ourselves. I have seen so much in my life but this makes it all worthwhile. All the wait is now accomplished in this one event. God is in the world embracing men. Believe in Him."
Instructive, isn’t it, God used some old folks to make all this come together. Joseph, we are told by history, was probably an older man, perhaps married previously, for he passes from the scene rather quickly, not long after Jesus is twelve.
Simeon is ancient. Anna is older. Instructive, isn’t it, how God used older people to make His will plain?
Perhaps it is that old people know not only what they have lost but what they are looking for as well. Joseph was looking for a godly wife and found a Blessed Virgin. Simeon looked for the consolation of Israel and Anna for its redemption and Jesus found them both.
One supposes the vitality of life is set in what we look forward to rather than in what we have left behind. Age can bring arthritis but it cannot cripple the well held soul.
What do we learn from this story so far, simply said?
God makes use of old people. Experience, reputation, recognition all have respected places in the Kingdom work. We must, therefore, live our young lives as though God will have something great for us to do along the way. We must live our middle-age without sagging to accomodate our pleasures. We must live our old age as though at any moment, God might call us to do the one last thing for Him, the thing He has intended to be our climax and His coronation all the time of our lives.
What else can we learn?
God used a woman, Anna.
Naturally God will use a woman, Mary, to give birth to Jesus, the Christ, born after the nature of a man, born as God on earth. That is the natural use of the woman.
Why, oh, why, did God have to use a prophetess? Couldn’t he have found a wandering prophet for this brief appearance? Doesn’t God know the trouble this will cause certain preachers in later ages?
A prophetess? Can He not find some other station for Anna or some other word to describe her? Why does she have to be a prophetess? Granted, the word "prophetess" is used in the New Testament only here and in Revelation 2:20 and is generally held to describe a woman who interprets oracles, but what do you want her to be; preacher or witch?
Settle down. We’ll just describe her the way Scripture does.
She is an old woman. Fifteen years old before she would be allowed to marry. Seven years a wife. Eighty-four years a widow. I got out my calculator and came up with 106 years of age when we meet her in Luke 2. She spent her youth and grief before the altar of God, invested her middle years in the Temple too and has now come to her old age with the unspoken reputation of being a seer.
Anna lost sight of all else but learned to see God. All those who knew her, for someone had to ask of them, knew her as a prophetess.
"That old woman," they told the writers, "sees things no one else even notices."
She sees God so clearly she knows Baby God when she sees Him well kept in Simeon’s arms. She confirms Simeon’s blessing. The Holy Spirit sits on her shoulder, pokes her in the ribs and whispers in her ear, "This is the Him. Say what I told you to say."
Without fear of man, in wonder before God, Anna says it. She does not tremble as she speaks.
What do we know from the story now? God uses old people and women.
Make way, Oh, Church, for your Salvation. Born of a Virgin, protected by an old man, blessed by an older man, confirmed by an older woman. Make way, Oh, Church, for your Redeemer. Young folk, look to where the Old Heads turn, listen to what they bless, take heed as Holy Women confirm the truth.
What else is there here in this one story? The Holy Spirit speaks to Simeon.
The Holy Spirit, then called, this Holy Spirit, so it cannot be denied the One Simeon hears is the same One he obeys.
Know this for sure. Other spirits call out to Simeon in his long life. Hold well the truth, Simeon. God has something for you to do at the end but only if you walk with Him the whole way.
"Simeon," one spirit crackles, "this is too hard."
"Simeon," another coos, "come over and rest awhile."
"Simeon," yet another criticizes, "you don’t really believe this nonsense, do you?"
"Still waiting, Simeon?"
"We really like ourself, don’t we now, Simeon, to think God will keep you alive for His service?"
Oh, yes, along the way, different spirits compete with the Holy Spirit. The hardest thing in life may not be to see the end but rather to sort out the voices dueling in our head.
The good, you know, is often death blow to the best.
Learn, Oh, Church, the way to hear the Holy Spirit. Always, the Holy Spirit will point out how we may serve God as we point to God’s Christ. Baby God has a body, lives a life, fulfills a mission, offers a salvation. It is the Holy Spirit who whispers, "Look at Him. Learn of Him."
So don’t quit.
Don’t quit because you are old.
Don’t quit because you are a woman.
Don’t quit because the promise God gives you takes a long time to mature.
You will yet see God.
OK, it is nothing Jesus does here. He is carried in unable to focus His eyes clearly or coordinate His limbs. He is carried in here much as He will be carried later, lifeless to the tomb. Jesus’s vulneraiblity is the thing that makes Simeon’s declaration and Anna’s confirmation acts of faith only.
For all his helplessness, Jesus is the center of the piece. His presence makes this story a tale for the ages.
We hold Him now, you know, old people, holy women, those who wait for the Kingdom to come. We hold Him, we carry Him about, we bless and confirm Him. All most people know about Him comes from us. All most people know of Him comes through us.
Don’t quit because you are young and ambitious.
Don’t quit because no one seems to listen.
You will yet reveal God.
"Oh, God, today,
let me see You very plainly,
so I can show You very clearly."
I almost forgot Joseph and Mary. Remember the parents? Frequently, grandparents will push their kids out of the way to get to the baby. Sorry.
Joseph and Mary bring Jesus down to the temple for two reasons. He cannot do it for Himself and it is customary.
What if they had violated the custom? They had good reason. Jesus, as far as anyone knew, was illegitimate. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They had to travel to Jerusalem. There were a lot of good reasons to stay out of sight for a good while. Joseph and Mary had good reasons to violate the custom.
After they got to the temple they had exactly two tasks. Hand over the Baby and listen with their mouths open. What do you think "marveling" means?
Mary gets an extra word, one she cannot in any way understand at that point. Still, she gets the message and maybe, just maybe, Mary finds something in those words to get her through the terrible days to come, when she thinks her Son is crazy and when she sees Him die.
Yes, yes, we can go on to plum the depths of all their relationship. Why did Jesus ask her what He had to do with her at Cana? Why did Jesus commit her to the care of one of His apostles, while He hung on the Cross, if He knew He was coming back in three days?
No, just now, focus on the word "customary." Joseph and Mary take their life in their hands, endure another uncomfortable trip and do what is the usual. In this they bless Simeon and Anna and God.
So, don’t quit doing the customary things of the faith, for therein there is great blessing.
Don’t quit finding God in routine things.