Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Not dead yet!

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout... There was also a prophet, Anna... She was very old... She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying... Luke 2:25, 36-37

Thank God, I say, for Simeon and Anna!

Of course, all our focus over the last few days has been on the baby Jesus, on Joseph and Mary, on the shepherds and the wise men (with perhaps just a sad, frowning nod towards King Herod?). And quite right too. But now - here they come, these two, slowly and quietly bringing up the rear, so to speak, and beautifully rounding off the Christmas story.

An old man and an old woman. Where do they fit in? Well, why not read through the story again? - just those few verses in Luke 2:22-38.

The essence is this. After a baby boy was circumcised “on the eighth day”, there were various “purification rites” required by the Jewish law for both the baby and the mother. These might not be completed for over a month, so it seems as if Joseph and Mary were in the vicinity of Jerusalem for some time.

When they went up to the temple to do what the law required, Simeon and Anna were there to greet them (though not necessarily together - they weren’t a couple).

Various things are said about Simeon... 

He was “righteous and devout” - a godly man. He was “waiting for the consolation of Jerusalem” - which means he was eager to see God act in some very special way for his people Israel. “The Holy Spirit was on him”: that is, he was a man of deep spirituality. (He is never actually described as old, but his cheerful readiness to die suggests it - verse 29).

He took Jesus in his arms (can you picture him?) and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving over him, rejoicing in the fact that this baby was to be “a light for revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”. And he spoke a word of prophesy, focussing on Jesus’ history-making destiny - but also suggesting dark days to come, not least for Mary herself.

Anna too...

She was certainly very old indeed, and a widow. And she was a prophet. She was seen constantly around the temple precincts, always fasting, always praying, always worshipping. Like Simeon, she had things to say about Jesus, though we aren’t told what they were. And her words were for “all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel”, not just for Joseph and Mary. Yes, she had a prophetic, preaching ministry.

I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt when, whether together or separately, these two striking people approached them, did what they did and said what they said? 

My guess would be: massively encouraged. Remember, they have just come through a wonderful but bewildering few months. The whole thing must sometimes have seemed like a dream: and if the recent past was a roller-coaster, well, what about the immediate, not to mention the more distant, future...!  

How they must have valued these solemn, joyful, radiant, Spirit-filled encounters! How reassured they must have been by the manner and bearing of these two elderly saints. How stabilising, how strengthening, how calming, it must have been to have the mysterious events of recent months confirmed by two such people!

We can only imagine the conversation between Joseph and Mary later that day, as they sat together over Jesus’ bed and as dark fell outside. But it’s inconceivable, surely, that either of them can ever have forgotten this episode.

All sorts of ideas come spinning off the story like lights off a catherine wheel. But apart from anything else it says this: there is a place for old people in the purposes of God. And so two simple questions arise...

First, does the church you belong to value elderly men and women of God? Or are they shunted to one side as “past their use-by date”? In our very natural emphasis on children and young people, are we guilty of neglecting those who, over many years, have gathered the kind of wisdom and experience which come no other way?

And second, a word for those (including me!) who are in, or are getting towards, the Simeon-Anna stage. Are we guilty of writing ourselves off? Have we subconsciously decided that God has nothing more for us to do? Yes? Well, it’s time to think again!

The role of Simeon and Anna was every bit as important in the Christmas story as that of the shepherds and the wise men, though we hear so much more about them. As long as God gives us another day of life, he has work for us to do! So let’s grab hold of that - and keep our sleeves rolled up.

To work, old man! To work, old woman!

Lord God, thank you that you value every type of person - clever and simple, rich and poor, talented and ordinary, young and old. Show me the place you have for me in your unfolding plans, and help me, by your Spirit, to live it out to the full. Amen.

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