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Simeon and Anna. (December 2023/January 24)

Photo of Minister, Reverend Neil Thorogood. Dear Friends

The Christmas story contains many elements. It is a familiar cast who gather onto the fronts of cards and step into some of our carols. We can tick them off in our imaginations as the season unfolds. Mary and Joseph have a baby Jesus in their arms. There will be shepherds and the strange magi from the distant east. The inn keeper of Bethlehem will make an appearance. So will King Herod as he broods and breathes murder from his palace in Jerusalem. There will be soldiers. Angels will come as divine messengers and a heavenly choir. Way in the background might be the Roman Emperor calling for a census.

Two characters appear very briefly in just one of our four gospels, but their connection with the story makes for a powerful moment for us to reflect upon. Only Luke tells us about two of the very first witnesses to the Incarnation as God becomes one of us; Simeon and Anna (2: 25-38). They are located at the very heart of Judaism, constant in their devotion as they dwell in the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke ensures that their religious credentials are clear. Simeon is: “…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.” It is the Spirit who directs him into the Temple’s precincts on the day that he’ll meet Jesus. Anna is described as a prophet (one of few women given that title in scripture). Luke tells us that she: “…never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Mary and Joseph, having already had Jesus circumcised when he was eight days old (presumably in Bethlehem?) now bring him to Jerusalem to fulfil more of what the law required.

Texts such as Exodus 13: 2 and 12 and Leviticus 12: 6 established the idea that mother’s first-born son (and the first-born male offspring of animals) were to be dedicated to God.

Like so much of Jewish practice, this was a recognition that life is God’s gift. And, we notice, it also enshrined and served to reinforce something of the patriarchy that shapes so much in our Bibles.

First Simeon, and then Anna, interrupt things by adding their commentaries to what is happening. They seem to see far more than Mary and Joseph can see at the time. Their vision spreads wide to take in much more than this little human family. They see, in the baby these human parents treasure, God’s salvation. They see this one tiny life reworking all of human history so that salvation is not simply for the Jews, but a revelation to all people. Simeon also sees the cost; the opposition this baby will inspire as much as the love. He warns Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

What might we notice as we dwell upon Anna and Simeon? God honours those who faithfully wait for God’s will to unfold upon earth even when the years are passing and the wait is long. But also, that in our waiting we are rewarded with signs and wonders, with revelations of the divine being woven into the fabric of the ordinary. And both of these witnesses have things to share with others with whom God is busy. We learn from and with one another as we journey these lives of ours.

Advent is a season of waiting. It is our little moment to enter in to the experiences of Anna and Simeon. We join them as we await God’s Messiah, our Saviour. We wait to add our songs to their voices. We wait with them to reach that moment when our own eyes behold salvation and our own hearts leap with joy as we celebrate that God is born amongst us to save us. How we need their faithful patience! How we and our world need that salvation!

Yours in Christ,