When Advent, the twelve days of Christmas, and Epiphany have all passed, but I’m not yet ready to let go of the season, I turn to the story of Simeon and Anna to hold on to the mystery and joy of Jesus’ birth for just a little longer. Found in Luke 2:21-38, the often-overlooked story of Simeon and Anna tells of two faithful servants who recognized a Savior in a tiny baby.
The story starts with Joseph and Mary following Israelite law and observing the expected post-birth rituals. They circumcise their son when he is eight days old. Then, after Mary’s purification days (a requirement after giving birth, see Lev. 12:1-8), they arrive at the temple to make a sacrifice to cleanse Mary. While at the temple, they also pay the redemption price for Jesus, as Jewish law states that all firstborn sons must be redeemed at the temple when they are a month old (Num. 18:14-16). This was a reminder of God’s saving work, rescuing the Israelites from the Egyptians and passing over the Israelite homes during the final plague in the Exodus account (Ex. 13:14-16).
Mary and Joseph’s strict obedience to Jewish law reminds us that Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish, the law. As the Dwell curriculum’s teacher devotional for this story observes, “Luke wants us to know that Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abraham, of which circumcision was a sign and seal. He is the firstborn Son who died and rose again for the redemption of the world. He is the one who will take away our uncleanness and make us pure.”
All of this obedience to law and tradition sets the scene for the arrival of Simeon, a righteous and devout man, filled with the Holy Spirit, who was awaiting the consolation of Israel and had been promised he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. It’s particularly significant that Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit. Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling was much more limited. It was usually reserved for specific individuals to equip them for particular tasks.
The Holy Spirit was there to equip Simeon for this task: recognizing and proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah. The text makes this clear, stating, “It had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (26-27) In the temple courts, Simeon encounters Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, immediately recognizing this tiny baby as the Savior of the world. He takes the baby in his arms, and blesses him, proclaiming:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Did you take the time to really read and absorb those words? Read them again as you imagine an elderly man, holding a month-old baby, probably as his astonished parents stand by in awe. Perhaps he has tears of joy in his eyes or he shakes a bit from excitement. He holds the Savior of the world in his arms and proclaims that his eyes have seen God’s salvation. And when Jesus is just a tiny baby, already, Simeon points to the hope that this child will be for both Jews and Gentiles. He reveals that Jesus has come to save the world.
Joseph and Mary marvel at this, and Simeon gives Mary an additional blessing, and then, just as they must think the big moment is over, Anna appears. Anna was a prophetess who remained at the temple day and night, worshiping with fasting and praying. This female prophet confirms all that Simeon has just proclaimed. This tiny baby, Jesus, is the Savior. She gives thanks to God and proclaims the identity of the child to all those waiting for redemption.
These are the actual words used in the text: “ [she] spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” In this way, Anna and Simeon speak to us today, just as they spoke to those in the temple years ago. We, like them, are waiting for redemption. We live in the joy of Christ’s birth, work, death, and resurrection, while also looking forward to and waiting for his return and the full restoration of all things. The end of the Christmas season may have arrived, but this hope of Christmas is what we must carry with us, seeing it through the eyes of Simeon and Anna. Like them, let us remember the joy and hope held in a tiny baby that came to save the world.
This story appears in the Play, Imagine, Wonder, and Dive levels of the Dwell curriculum. To read more reflections on this passage, check out the Dwell teacher devotional, available to anyone for free through our new Dwell Digital website.