Luke 2:22-40 - Jesus is Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
In our reading today we read of how Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to do what pious Jews called ‘presenting him before the Lord.’ It was an ancient tradition that went back to the time of the Exodus when the first-born sons of the Israelites were spared and the first born of the Egyptians died. From then on it became the custom for Jewish couples to make sacrifice for their first son and, as it were, buy him back from God to whom he was said to belong.
There in the Temple precincts Mary and Joseph met two elderly people who had waited all their lives to see what they saw that day.This encounter between a baby whose life was all ahead of him and two elderly people whose lives were nearly over, speaks deeply to our hearts as we reflect on the significance of our own lives.
The first of them was named Simeon and when he saw the baby Jesus, he uttered those wonderful words which have become one of the great hymns of the Church and is known as the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
Simeon was one of those people in Israel who were known as ‘the Quiet in the Land.’ They shared the common belief that one day Israel’s glorious destiny would be fulfilled in the world, but they didn’t believe it would come about by political power. They believed in a life of prayer and quiet watchfulness, waiting for the day when God would fulfil his great purpose.
At some time during his life Simeon had received a revelation from the Holy Spirit that he would not die until with his own eyes he would see the Messiah. And there in the Temple courts, having waited patiently for many years, he lived his greatest moment; in the baby Jesus and he saw God’s anointed one.
And then Mary and Joseph met an old woman named Anna. She was a prophetess, and like Simeon she too was one of ‘the Quiet in the Land.’ Anna was a woman whose life had been touched by sadness. Her husband had died a mere seven years after her marriage, and she’d never remarried. She’d been a widow for sixty years but hadn’t retreated into bitterness. Instead, she’d found a new life for herself; one that found its meaning in the inner life of the spirit, A life characterised by unquenchable hope and nurtured by prayer and worship. She too, seeing the baby Jesus, realised her life journey was now complete; she’d seen the Saviour of the world, and she proclaimed this to all who would listen.
In Simeon and Anna, we see what our senior years can be. Sadly, apart from rare occasions like Anzac Day, our society doesn’t honour the elderly in the way others do. Our society is so focused on the cult of youth that it has forgotten that great Biblical adage that says: ‘Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by a righteous life.’
It is all too common, even in the Church, to overlook our senior members just at the time when, in God’s view, they may be receiving their most profound insights. That’s how it was for Simeon and Anna. Simeon models for us how to wait with patience and to keep looking for our own special ‘coming of the Lord.’ Anna models for us what to do after the promise is fulfilled. Her response was one of enthusiastic witness. ‘She began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.’
For the people of God, the closing years of life, though marked by physical and sometimes mental deterioration, can still be the golden age. God gives us the whole of life to live and intends that we should live the whole of life; but that we should do so in a manner that is appropriate to each phase.
The Christian psychiatrist Paul Tournier talks about this in his book The Seasons of Life. ‘True happiness,’ he says, ‘Is always linked with deep, inner harmony.’ And the secret of achieving it is to learn to let go of the goals which gave our lives meaning when we were younger, and to embrace new goals; doing what we didn’t have time to do when we were younger; being mentors to the generation that’s now running the world; providing the wisdom and understanding of life that only age brings; showing them through our own characters what faith, hope and love really looks like. If we do not make that transition, then our ‘golden years’ can become a cruel trial.
In Simeon and Anna, we see how God’s purposes for our lives do not finish at retirement. They go on until our course has finished and, like Simeon, we can say: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.’
Every now and then I re-read some of the sermons I preached when I was in my 20s and 30s and I cringe, realising that even though I thought I knew what life I was about, in reality didn’t. And I now appreciate so much those older people who supported and encouraged me, even though they must have shaken their heads over some of the assertions I used to make so confidently.
We may not understand as much about information technology as the younger generations, but we understand a lot more about life, and God doesn’t intend for us to retire from that journey of discovery. The Bible says we ‘still bring forth fruit in old age.’ And as Jesus kept the ‘best wine’ until last at the wedding in Cana, so He seeks to gather the best of the fruit of the Spirit from us now.
Simeon and Anna were ‘the Quiet in the Land;’ elderly saints of God who believed that the best was yet to come and lived their lives waiting for it. The supreme moment of their lives came right at the very end when they saw the promised Messiah. Everything else in their lives paled into insignificance in comparison. Now, they were ready to move on to that greater life compared with which this life is a mere shadow. Like the Apostle Paul, half a century later, who said: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’
If you are struggling with a sense that life has now passed you by, remember that the Bible teaches us that life is not a destination but a journey – a journey that does not end at death but goes on into Eternity; and you have hardly started yet.
Remember too that there are phases on this journey; the conditions constantly change and the way we face them changes accordingly. To use a sailing analogy, in the first 20 years we learn how to sail. In the second 20 years we face the challenge of the freshening breezes. In the third 20 years we often find ourselves sailing smoothly in a well-found vessel with a steady wind across our beam. In the fourth 20 years we may find ourselves lolling about in the Doldrums, seemingly going no-where, or battling gale force winds that threaten to swamp our boat.
It’s all part of that great journey. The important thing for us is to live it each day, faithfully doing what we know in our hearts God would have us do until, like Simeon, we realise that our work is done, and we can say; ‘Lord, now let me depart in peace; I’m ready to go.’