(for the First Sunday After Christmas, December 28, 2014)
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 firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22-40, NRSV).
The angelic host are not the only ones expectantly praising God for the arrival of the baby Jesus.
Joseph and Mary enter the temple precinct to present their new son before God. Their offering of two birds is modest and humble: the gift of the poor.
But Jesus is expected. People are waiting. The Spirit of God is speaking.
And both Simeon and Anna have been listening.
Simeon is first to recognise this special child. Guided by the Spirit, this ageing saint embraces the baby Jesus. As he looks to heaven, expectation is increased and confirmed: ‘salvation’, ‘a light for the Gentiles’, the ‘glory’ of Israel. It is a fulfilling of God’s promise; the pinnacle of Simeon’s God-dedicated life.
We can only imagine Mary’s response to this old man’s prophecy. Even as she holds her tiny newborn Mary is asked to look into what is, at best, a mixed future. Jesus will divide; penetrate hearts; be a sign. They will know suffering. It will not be easy.
In the same way, eighty-four year old Anna cannot but speak. She eagerly talks to anyone about the child. Like the angels and Simeon her highest praises are directed to God. Jesus fulfils her deepest expectation.
I love these childhood stories. They seem so personal. Joseph and Mary are protective and proud. They dream of Jesus’ future. It leaves me wondering: How did Luke come across these accounts? Was he privileged enough to sit with Mary and ask?
These three are a very normal little family. They return to their forgotten hometown. Years pass. Jesus grows. Learns. The ‘favour of God’ surrounds.
That first trip to the temple, however, must have forever remained to remind them all that Nazareth was never going to be big enough to contain this widely celebrated life.