Readings Isaiah 62:1-3 and Luke 2:22-40
Image, Severino Blanco, Simeon Blessing the Christ Child, 1980s.
Following the account of Jesus’ birth, Luke includes a brief section devoted to the infant Jesus. At one level, this section demonstrates that Mary and Joseph fulfil all righteousness under the law, drawing the reader’s attention to the way Jesus is part of his people and their covenant with God. At another level, the section demonstrates how, in being part of his people, Jesus’ birth is very much a response to their longing. That the arrival of Christ as the awaited messiah is an answer to prayer.
Despite only gracing the pages of Luke’s gospel for a handful of verses Simeon and Anna are rich characters. Both have lived long lives devoted to God, shaped by hope, and open to the movement of the Spirit.
Simeon was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, holding onto the promise that death should not take him before he had laid his eyes on the messiah. The Spirit draws him to the temple to see the Christ child, letting him gaze upon the consolation of the people, the light of revelation, the salvation God has prepared.
The prophet Anna never leaves the temple, passing day and night in prayer and fasting. Anna been widowed 60 years, committing those many decades to a life of religious devotion. She too is drawn to the child; she too is led to praise.
Both Simeon and Anna respond to the presence of the Christ child and the long-awaited promise of God. Simeon, having given thanks, turns to Mary with a word of preparation: and a sword will pierce your own soul too. Out of deep compassion for what the Spirit has led him to see, Simeon’s gaze moves swiftly from the child, to the one who birthed him, who shall know much suffering.
Anna follows her praise not with a word to the family, but to the city. She spoke about the child to all who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem. What’s interesting to consider is, does this imply she, who never left the temple, went out with the good news of great joy that the longed-for redemption had arrived? She might not have needed to, for many looking for redemption would be coming to the temple, but either way, her gaze moves swiftly from the child to those the child was born for, who have known much suffering.
The angels announced to the shepherds that they bring good news of great joy for all the people. Simeon and Anna are such people. They stand in for the many in Israel who live lives of devotion and hope. The righteous and devout, the praying and fasting, those who walk with the spirit and exercise the gifts of God. They are those who are steeped in the words of the prophets, awaiting the vindication of the people and the glorification of God’s name. Those who know that despite the fear and frustration of living under tyranny, God’s people will be a crown of beauty in the hand of God. Simeon and Anna are those who know they shall not perish before they have seen salvation.
Simeon and Anna, like Mary and Joseph, like so many others come to this temple in faith and hope. This temple, which just 160 years before this story (and only 75 years before Anna’s birth) was attacked and occupied by the Romans. This temple that, in an act of anti-Jewish suppression, was transformed into a temple of a pagan religion. 160 years since this temple became the focus of the Maccabean revolt, and was reclaimed and cleansed as a sign of the righteousness of the guerrilla resistance and the faithfulness of God.
This is the site of Christ’s presentation. The place that Anna never left. The place the Spirit drew Simeon. This is the place where Christ has come, for Christ comes to the needy and long-afflicted. To those who have fought tyranny and held onto their identity amidst oppression. To those who long for deliverance, salvation, and redemption. To those clinging to life in the face of death because they know that with God they will be vindicated. That with God they shall find again their jewel set in God’s own diadem.
The Christ child was not born into a fairy tale kingdom, but a world of trial and woe. Simeon knew that the empire which ransacked God’s temple would employ similar violence against God’s messiah, and warned Mary of the sword aimed at her soul. The Christ child was not born to a land of plenty. Anna knew this and rushed to tell the people that God had once again heard their cries and had acted with beautiful impossibility for their redemption. So too the Christ child is born today in the homes and hearts of those who have known the brutality of worldly tyranny and imperial disregard. The Christ child is born today in the heats and homes of those who long for deliverance and cry out for justice. The Christ child is born today into the bombed homes and broken hearts of his birthplace. The Christ child is born today in the homes and hearts of those who gather faithfully before the promise of God with hopes that shall not be vanquished. The Christ child is born today in the homes and hearts of all who know they shall not perish before they see the salvation God has prepared. Today we join with all of those, then and now, to receive the coming of Christ into the world, proclaiming good news of great joy to all who look for redemption.
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