20221225 Simeon and Anna’s Story
Luke 2:22-40 NET
I’ve been sharing the Christmas stories from Luke’s Gospel this month. We started with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the angel’s announcement of the birth of their son John — whom we know as John the Baptist. Next, we looked at Mary’s story of how the same angel visited her and told her that she would have a son, and told her to name him Jesus. Next, we looked at the story of the shepherds who also were told of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. After hearing the message, the shepherds went to see Jesus themselves and left worshiping and praising God.
Luke’s final Christmas story is found in today’s text. It takes place in the temple in Jerusalem forty days after Jesus’ birth. We first learn of two rituals at the temple (22-24), then we learn of two prophets that Joseph and Mary meet at the temple (25-38) and then we learn that the two parents leave the temple (39-40).
The first ritual under the old covenant that involved Jesus was his circumcision. That took place when he was eight days old, and it took place in Bethlehem where he was born. That was when Jesus was officially named. Mary names him Jesus because that was the name they were instructed to give him. They had been told to name him Jesus because the name means Yahveh saves. Through Jesus Yahveh God will save his people from their sins.
Today’s passage does not mention circumcision. There are two other old covenant rituals that Joseph and Mary performed forty days after Jesus was born.
Two rituals at the Temple (22-24)
22 Now when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be set apart to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is specified in the law of the Lord, a pair of doves or two young pigeons.
Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to participate in two rituals according to the Mosaic law. First, there was the ritual of purification. Here is how the scriptures describe that ritual:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Tell the Israelites, ‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. 3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. 4 Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity. She must not touch anything holy and she must not enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. 5 If she bears a female child, she will be impure fourteen days as during her menstrual flow, and she will remain sixty-six days in blood purity. 6 “‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. 7 The priest is to present it before the LORD and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law of the one who bears a child, for the male or the female child. 8 If she cannot afford a sheep, then she must take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, and the priest is to make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean.'” (Leviticus 12:1-8).
Jesus had already been circumcised according to this law on the eighth day. Now it had been forty days and it was time to declare Mary’s purification. The fact that Joseph and Mary presented the birds indicates that they were not rich enough to afford sheep. Even the animals that shared their space at Jesus’ birth were not theirs.
When we told the Christmas story during our Christmas program on the 11th, we were not quite accurate. One of the ways we were inaccurate is that we had the wise men join Mary and Joseph at the stable. That’s not how it happened. Even the Christmas carols we sing and the cards we send each other this time of year get it wrong. The star did not appear until later. The shepherds didn’t follow the star. And the wise men did not show up until much later. One of the reasons we know this is that if Joseph and Mary had been given gold on the night of Jesus’ birth, they would have offered sheep for Mary’s purification ritual.
The second ritual that Mary and Joseph performed at the temple that day was the ritual of presentation. Not every child is involved in this ritual. It only applies to the firstborn male. Here is how the law describes that ritual:
12 … you must give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have — the males will be the LORD’s. 13 Every firstling of a donkey you must redeem with a lamb, and if you do not redeem it, then you must break its neck. Every firstborn of your sons you must redeem. 14 In the future, when your son asks you ‘What is this?’ you are to tell him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery. (Exodus 13:12-14).
Because Jesus was the firstborn male of Joseph and Mary’s family, he was to be formally presented to the Lord and redeemed according to this law. The ritual celebrated God’s deliverance of all the firstborn males from the destroying angel in Egypt. When the destroying angel saw the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Hebrew slaves, he did not enter those houses and take the lives of the firstborn males within them. The ritual celebrated that deliverance.
What Mary and Joseph did that day was to ritually redeem the Redeemer. They paid the price for their son, who would one day pay the price for everyone’s sons and daughters. The angels in heaven were watching.
Oh, and there were two others in the temple that day who were watching. From the two rituals in the temple, we move to the two prophets in the temple.
Two prophets at the temple (25-38)
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying, 29 “Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: 32 a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. 35 Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. 37 She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke had begun his Christmas stories with the story of two old people — Zechariah and Elizabeth. He concludes his Christmas stories by mentioning two more old people. Simeon and Anna. Note how Luke describes the character of these two prophets. Simeon is righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit is upon him. Anna is a 91-year-old widow who never leaves the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.
It just so happens by God’s miraculous plan that these two old prophets meet up with this young couple and their newborn child that day. Both of them are in tune with what the Holy Spirit is doing, and both recognize that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Both of them give thanks to God and speak about the child Jesus, sharing what God had revealed to them with the others present in the temple that day. Both had been waiting for God to act, and this day was going to be the most important day in both their lives. In fact, Simeon’s prayer told the Lord that he was ready to depart in peace. He has seen the Savior as a child. The next time he sees him it will be at the resurrection.
But it’s not all good news. Simeon reveals to Mary that Jesus would not be accepted by all. The newborn king will bring peace on earth — but not to everyone. In fact, there will be terrible sorrow for Mary herself. No doubt Simeon was prophesying of the horrible day on which Mary watched her son die on the cross.
But the events of this day at the temple ended, and so the two parents got ready to go home.
Two parents leave the temple (39-40).
39 So when Joseph and Mary had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.
Luke does not tell us of the wise men’s visit, the star, or the gifts. He fast-forwards to Jesus being raised in Nazareth because the next story he wants to tell is of Jesus as a twelve-year-old returning to the same temple. But Luke’s message about Mary and Joseph is that they remained faithful to God and they got to be witnesses of their son — God’s Son — growing and becoming strong and wise. The same favor that God had blessed Mary with, he now imparts to her son.
As parents, that is what we want of our children. They won’t grow up to be the savior of the world — that job is taken. We only need one. But every parent wants to see their children blessed with wisdom and strength. It is also important that we end the Christmas story here. Christ is no longer a babe in a manger. He is now — and will forever be — God’s Son and our Savior and coming king.
We should all be thankful that God gave us his Son in such a precious and peaceful way. But we should also never forget that the next time we see him, it will not be as a helpless child, but as a warrior on a white horse, doing battle against all God’s enemies, and restoring order to his universe. The road that started in Bethlehem led to the cross in Jerusalem, but it didn’t stop there. He rose from the dead victorious and glorious. The glorious King is coming, and he is going to make all things new.
That’s when we will sing as we never have before – “Joy to the World, The Lord is Come.”