Simeon and Anna
Simeon and Anna are not likely to be names that you immediately recognize when it comes to the story of Jesus. Their stories are only recorded in the Gospel of Luke at the beginning of Jesus’ life. Both Simeon and Anna are present when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple at 8 days old to offer sacrifices and to have Jesus circumcised. They are both led to this little family by the Spirit (in the case of Simeon, this is mentioned explicitly, while Anna is led to them implicitly, but one can hardly imagine that Anna is not in tune with the Spirit after praying and fasting consistently for something like 70 years). I invite you to read their stories below:
Again, these are not likely to be stories that church’s choose for their summer VBS programming. They are not the stories that we are likely to tell very often at all, outside of the Advent season once every 3 or 4 years. But, nonetheless, they are important stories. They are some of the very few stories that we have of Jesus that come prior to his ministry some 30 years later. And they are instructive to us of exactly what kind of hope Jesus was able to inspire in the people that he was born amongst.
Simeon’s age is not listed, but we can infer that he is in his old age, just like Anna, since God is making promises to him about something that is going to happen before he passes away. (Think of the story of Abraham–part of the reason why this is so astounding is that God gives him the promise of a child in his old age. If God had made this promise to a young Abraham, perhaps an 18 year old, I think we would be less impressed with the fulfillment of this promise.)
So, here we see a story of two people who are in the twilight years of their life meeting an 8 day old child. And they both praise God because of Jesus. Of course, the gift of children is truly a blessing and something that is worthy of praising God for, and yet, there seems to be more to these particular stories than just that fact alone. As readers, we are given the inside scoop from the authors of the Gospels that Jesus’ birth means more than just any birth. They tell us the significance of Jesus’ birth in light of his entire life, and in light of the events at the “end” of his life. What we are witnessing, then, is the praise that Simeon and Anna give to God as a result of that saving work even though it is still decades away from happening. Both Simeon and Anna praise God because of the hope that Jesus offers to the people of Israel, the Gentiles, and the city of Jerusalem.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on an 8 day old child, but as these stories unfold in the Gospels, we see that this Jesus is up to the task. He is connected with his heavenly Father, and what is to happen next in his life will do just as these early prophets in his life say.
These simple, often overlooked stories foreshadow a tremendous life in Jesus, and they give us more than just a hint into the true nature and identity of Jesus. However, they also bring hope and a fitting conclusion to the lives of these two worshippers, Simeon and Anna.
They have both been yearning for God to reveal the next stages in the life of the people of Israel, and they both have now seen the Messiah in Jesus, in this little infant. It is as if they are bearing the weight of the history of their people, and then finally, when they see Jesus with their own eyes, when they are able to hold him with their hands, they understand what God is doing now and how their story fits into God’s history.
Remember, the people of Israel have had a pretty tough go of it. From the pinnacle of their society in the reign’s of King David and King Solomon, they have seen the nation of Israel divided, corrupt kings introducing idol worship, foreign enemies carrying each of the now two nations into exile, the destruction of their capital cities and their holy places, the desecration of the Temple by foreign rulers, occupation by the Romans, and those are just the highlights of an 800 year history. Imagine the weight that this history would bear–especially since their story began with God calling them to be a people set apart for his purposes. But now, they aren’t set apart. They are subjugated, just like all of their contemporaries who were not able to face the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, or the rest.
And here, in Jesus, there is hope again. At least for these two people, Simeon and Anna, there is hope. Because where the people before yearned for God to do something in their midst, they now believe that God has. Here is Jesus–the hope of the world. The hope for the weary.
And so, this week, as we continue to labor in our context, in a world hurting where protests, riots, and racism make the headlines everyday, and where a worldwide virus continues to claim lives and to direct our actions, may we recognize what Simeon and Anna recognized. That here is Jesus–the hope for the weary.