The following is the transcript from the December 27, 2015 service at Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa.
It is regrettable, I believe, that Simeon and Anna do not usually receive much attention among most Christians. But today the Bible reading speaks to us of two people – one man and one woman – who were able to see God’s saving work in the world. They had waited all their lives but they were still ready to see Jesus when he came.
Before we continue can I ask to you to make sure you are able to see a Bible as we go through today’s reading. Please look at the references from Luke’s Gospel as we go and later we will turn briefly to the text of our first reading from Isaiah, chapter 52. This morning I just want to look at how Simeon and Anna are described in the Bible and then to ask the question: Are we ready to see what they saw?
Luke begins by telling us that, "There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout" (v. 25). Simeon is described as "righteous" and "devout" – both words used for people who faithfully kept the commandments of God (for example, read Acts 8:2 and 22:12). And it is also said that " the Holy Spirit rested upon him" (v. 26). In fact, Luke mentions the Holy Spirit three times in verses 25-27: "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit..." in v. 26 and we are told that Simeon was "Guided by the Holy Spirit" in v. 27.
Then Luke tells us that, "There was also a prophet, Anna… She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day" (vv. 36-37). Anna was worthy of special mention for many reasons. One of them is that she was one of a small number of women prophets recorded in the Bible. We are also told that she was "a great age". 84 years was a very great age in the ancient world without our modern health care. But what’s the point of this information? Isn’t it that that age is no barrier to serving God? It is no barrier to seeing God at work in the world and being a part of it!
It is also worth noting that in the books of Acts, his sequel to this Gospel, Luke describes the life of the early Christian communities in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42, 46) and later in Antioch in Syria (Acts 13:2) in very similar terms to his description of Anna, who never leaves the temple courts and who worships God day and night in prayer and fasting (Raymond E. Brown). Let’s compare Anna’s life with the first description of the life of the early church in Acts 2:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God…" (Acts 2:42, 46)
Luke tells us that both Simeon and Anna were not just people who kept God’s commandments. Luke says of Simeon that "this man … was looking forward to the consolation of Israel" (v. 25). And he tells us that when Anna saw Jesus "She began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (v. 38). Both Anna and Simeon were people who were actively looking for the fulfillment of God’s saving work in the world.
Can I ask you know to turn in your Bibles to Isaiah chapter 52 and to verse 9. What do you notice in this verse? This not a rhetorical question! Yes. In the same verse we find side-by-side the events which Simeon and Anna were looking for.
Isaiah 52:9: "The Lord has consoled his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem"
Both the language and the ideas here were taken from the Old Testament, Simeon and Anna’s Bible. You can find several other references to the "consolation of Israel" and the "redemption of Jerusalem" in Isaiah (for instance, in Isaiah 40:1-2; 51:3; 52:9; 66:10-13). And this verse also suggests that both of these ideas refer to the fulfillment of God’s saving work. If there was any doubt it is confirmed by the following verse.
Isaiah 52:10: "The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."
Both these ideas refer to the messianic deliverance of God’s people. It was because Anna and Simeon knew their Bible well that they were able to recognize the coming of the Messiah. And they didn’t just know some memory verses – although that is a good thing – but they understood the big picture of the Bible. They understood what God had done with his people and what was doing with his people in their day.
There were a lot of people in Jerusalem around the birth of Jesus, probably between 50,000 to 100,000 residents and numerous visitors. Why was Jesus’ identity revealed to Simeon and Anna in particular? I think the following comment made about Simeon can be applied equally to both:
Simeon saw God’s salvation not because he happened to live at the right moment in history but because his devotion and the work of the Spirit in him had led him to understand that God’s had was at work in Jesus.
So for me Simeon and Anna are people who call us to live lives focused upon God from beginning to end. We know already, don’t we, that this is a time when the church desperately needs to be attuned to what God’s Spirit is saying and doing in the world. The lives of Simeon and Anna make it clear that it is only through regular study of God’s word, consistent prayer and fasting – giving up things in order to maintain our focus upon God – that we are able to understand the big picture of what God is doing. Are we ready to see in our time as Simeon and Anna were in their time?
I know it’s just after Christmas and the New Year is around the corner, but on the strength of our reading on Anna and Simeon can I be so bold as to suggest some Bible reading homework? Can I suggest that if you really want to know what Christmas is about then try reading Isaiah chapters 40-66, or 40-55 if you think that’s too much reading. Then also read the birth histories of Jesus (Matthew chapters 1-2; and Luke 1-2) and compare them to the text of Isaiah. This is also a great exercise to help us understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Let me tell you you’ll be giving yourself a Christmas present!
I want to close out this year as I came into on November 1st. Are you ready to See?