Jesus was born into and grew up in a distinctively Jewish culture, with its many traditions and rituals. He spoke out against many of these during his three years of ministry as an adult, not because there was anything wrong with the traditions and rituals in themselves, but because people (specifically the religious leaders of the day) had substituted the tradition and rituals for a real relationship with the God that those traditions and rituals were supposed to point to.
When Jesus was eight days old, Jewish law stated that he must be presented at the temple for dedication and circumcision. His parents, being good Jews, brought him to the temple when he was eight days old. But what happened there was well beyond the normal ceremony that would’ve taken place. In fact, we don’t hear anything of the ceremony itself, but instead we hear about interactions between Jesus’ family and a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna – both of whom are only mentioned here in Scripture and nowhere else.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:22-38)
Both Simeon and Anna were waiting, like many other Israelites, for the “consolation” or the “redemption” of Israel. (For some helpful political and historical background, read this earlier post that covers the 400 year silence between the Old and New Testaments.) They had been praying for God to raise up the promised Messiah. Both Simeon and Anna were senior citizens. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. And on this day, in response to a prompting of the Spirit, Simeon “just happened” to be at the temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph were bringing their baby boy in to be dedicated to the Lord. There was nothing at all special about this on the surface. Jewish law required parents to have their firstborn males dedicated in this way – so it happened all the time. And, I’m sure that Simeon didn’t know that he was looking for a baby. The expectation was that the Messiah would be some great world leader. But the Spirit of God told Simeon that this baby was the One. Simeon praises God for this baby who would be “your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples.” (The name Yeshua, or Jesus, by the way, means “the Lord saves.”) According to Simeon, Jesus would not only represent “glory to your people Israel,” but would also be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In other words, this Jesus would be a Savior for all who trust in Him (not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well).
Remember Gabriel’s words to Mary?
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)
And to Joseph?
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20-23)
And what the angels said to the shepherds?
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
Imagine what confirmation this chance encounter in the temple was for Mary and Joseph as they remembered the words of the angel to them – and the words that the angels said to the shepherds (which the shepherds would probably have mentioned when they showed up to worship Jesus in the stable)! Simeon had not heard these announcements, but the Holy Spirit revealed this information to him as well.
And then Anna walks up. We know from this brief mention of her that Anna was only married for 7 years and then her husband died and she is now 84 years old. So, she has been a widow for a long time (50-60 years). And she has spent that time in the temple fasting and praying for the Redeemer to come. That’s a long time to fast and pray. I get antsy toward the end of an hour-long prayer meeting at my church! But she is rewarded for her patience and she erupts into spontaneous praise at the sight of her Savior.
Simeon and Anna were longing for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer. This was more important than anything else to them. The Lord longs for relationship with you. Do you long for relationship with Him? Do we treasure relationship with Christ more than anything else – more than financial security, a job, or a relationship?
This blog is named for one of my favorite verses, Psalm 63:1, which says:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
May Simeon and Anna be our models as we thirst for more of the Lord this Christmas season.