Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you said. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you prepared before all people. It is a light for the non-Jewish people to see and an honor for your people, the Israelites. [Luke 2:29-32 (NCV)]
It’s February 2 and forty days since Christmas. For many of us, today is just Groundhog Day but, for others, today is a holy day. Some may call it Candlemas, the Presentation of our Lord or the Purification of Mary. In Mary’s day, a Hebrew mother remained in seclusion for forty days after the birth of a son. Considered ceremonially unclean, she could not enter the Temple during that time. After forty days, she was to enter the temple and offer up a sacrifice of a lamb plus a dove or a pigeon. If the family was poor, a pair of turtledoves or pigeons could be offered, which is what Mary and Joseph did over 2,000 years ago.
In the temple that day were the elderly Simeon and Anna. Unlike many of the rest of his countrymen, Simeon was still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. In fact, Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had actually seen him. As soon as Simeon saw Jesus, he recognized him for what he was. After taking the baby in his arms, Simeon told God he could now die in peace and praised God in what is often called the Nunc Dimittis. This old man holds the honor of being the first Jew to recognize the promised Messiah and the first to realize that salvation was being brought to Jews and Gentiles alike.
The aged Anna was a prophetess who stayed in the temple night and day worshipping God with fasting and prayer. Like Simeon, as soon as she saw Jesus, Anna knew he was no ordinary baby and started praising God. Prayer and praise, however, were not enough; she immediately went out to tell everyone the good news. Anna holds the honor of being the first missionary for Christ!
Both Simeon and Anna had dedicated their lives to God and lived to see the Messiah before they died. It will work a bit in the reverse for us—after dedicating our lives to God, we’ll have to die before we actually see our Savior’s face. Nevertheless, there is much to learn from the patience and dedication of these old folks. Understanding that God’s timeline was not theirs, they never gave up hope. Luke tells us that the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple that day. What if he hadn’t listened to and obeyed that quiet voice? Once in the temple, can you imagine his surprise when he saw the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms, a woman who couldn’t even afford a proper offering? Simeon, however, didn’t let prejudice keep him from seeing the truth. Anna, who had been a childless widow for decades, didn’t bury her hope when she buried her husband. It would have been easy for her to have become a bitter old woman instead of a devout worshipper of God. Anna, however, prayed and praised and then proclaimed the good news. Like Simeon and Anna, we must never lose hope and always recognize that amazing things can come in very small packages!
LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel. [Nunc dimittis. St. Luke ii. 29. (1928 Book of Common Prayer)]
Anna never left the Temple but worshiped God, going without food and praying day and night. Standing there at that time, she thanked God and spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for God to free Jerusalem. [Luke 2:37b-38 (NCV)]
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