The Spirit led Simeon to the Temple. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple to do what the law said they must do, Simeon took the baby in his arms and thanked God: “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 2:27-32 (NCV)]
To some people, today is known as Groundhog Day but, because it is the fortieth day after Christmas, many Christians know it as Candlemas, the Presentation of our Lord, or the Purification of Mary. According to Mosaic law, the mother of a boy child was considered “unclean” for seven days following the birth of her child. She then had to wait another 33 days to be purified from her bleeding before she could enter the Temple. (If she bore a girl child, her purification time was doubled.) Once a woman’s time of purification was over, she was to come to the Temple and offer up a sacrifice of both a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. If the family couldn’t afford the lamb, a turtledove or pigeon could be substituted. Forty days after Jesus’ birth, in fulfillment of this law, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to make their offering and present their son to the Lord.
The elderly Simeon was in the temple that day. Scripture doesn’t tell us that he was a priest or a learned scribe and there’s no reason to think he was. It does tell us that he was righteous and devout. Unlike many of the rest of his countrymen, Simeon still eagerly awaited the arrival of the Messiah and the Holy Spirit had revealed that Simeon would not die before seeing Him. As soon as the old man saw Jesus, he recognized the child for whom he was waiting. After taking the baby in his arms, Simeon praised God and said that he’d seen God’s promised salvation, a light for all people, and now could die in peace. He then prophesized the Messiah’s suffering (a suffering that would pierce Mary’s heart, as well). This man of faith holds the honor of being the first Jew to recognize the promised Messiah and the first one to realize that Jesus brought salvation to Jew and Gentiles alike.
Simeon’s beautiful words live on in many liturgical churches with what’s called the “Song of Simeon” or the Nunc Dimittis (from the Latin translation and meaning “Now let us depart”). It often is sung or said following communion, at evensong or compline, and at the Burial of the Dead.
Also in the Temple that day was the aged Anna. Described as a prophetess, the old woman 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!
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 could only afford an offering of two birds? Simeon, however, didn’t let presumption or prejudice keep him from seeing the truth. Anna, who had been a widow for eighty-four years, 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.
Both Simeon and Anna dedicated their lives to God and lived to see the Messiah before they died. It will be different for us because, 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 and neither must we. Because Jesus brought His light into the world, like Simeon, we are able to depart in peace!
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)]