21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Frederick Buechner one of the great writers and theologians of our time was writing about growing old in his book, Whistling in the Dark and this is what he had to say about old age.
“OLD AGE IS NOT, as the saying goes, for sissies. There are some lucky ones who little by little slow down to be sure, but otherwise go on to the end pretty much as usual. For the majority, however, it’s like living in a house that’s in increasing need of repairs. The plumbing doesn’t work right anymore. There are bats in the attic. Cracked and dusty, the windows are hard to see through, and there’s a lot of creaking and groaning in bad weather. The exterior could use a coat of paint. And so on. The odd thing is that the person living in the house may feel, humanly speaking, much as always. The eighty-year-old body can be in precarious shape, yet the spirit within as full of beans as ever.”
Growing old is rarely easy, and we often times look at older people and have preconceived notions about them right away. We wonder to ourselves are they all there or just “as full of beans as ever.” This week our Faces of Faith character is Anna. An 84 year old woman. The artist Lisle Gwynn Garrity said, “When drawing this photograph I referenced photographs of Mother Teresa, because I imagine her, like Anna a few centuries before, having eyes of the divine and devoting her entire life to pointing it out for others.”
When you look at this picture what is it that you notice first? For me, it was all the lines. The lines around her eyes, on her cheek, around the mouth, and then those hands. The hands that are not those of a fine lady who did not know a day’s work. The hands in this picture have been busy. The nails are not long and a little crooked. The thumb under the chin is bent back yet looks strong. The fingers have been bent and worked over and over. Then there are the lines on the back of the hand. Blood vessels that have been needed to bring supplies of oxygenated blood over and over because they were gripping and carrying, kneading bread and cleaning.
The lines in this picture represent a woman who has spent her life in service, working hard, and waiting to see God. Today’s story is the story of the dedication of Jesus. On the 8th day after their birth, all male babies were required to be presented before the priest in the synagogue to be dedicated to God. At this time, they would also be circumcised, the sign that was given to Abraham as an outward mark of being a child of God. Mary and Joseph did as was expected, they showed up and had the priest perform the rituals. Yet this would not be a normal Bris.
The priest on duty that day was a man named Simeon. He was an older guy as well and believed that the Holy Spirit had told him that he would see the Messiah before he died. Now when you think about it, there are a lot of people who believe that they will see the Second Coming before they die. Because really how cool is it if you believe in all the rapture theology to be taken away and not have to suffer and die. Just to be snatched away and go from this realm into heaven. But, Simeon just knew that one day he was going to meet the Messiah. When Mary and Joseph come into the temple that day, and Simeon sees Jesus, the infant child, he knows in his heart that this is the one. This is the true child of God. In praise to God as Simeon was cradling the baby Jesus, “29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Mary and Joseph looked at each other with that look like who is this crack pot and what is he saying about our kid? What is going on here, come on old man just get this over with we got a long walk still ahead of us and we have already had issues with room reservations.
The Simeon turns and says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Can you imagine what Joseph thought now, he puts his arm around his wife and gently begins to lead her to the door. The whole time looking over his shoulder making sure the creepy old man is not following them. What could Simeon be thinking, scaring them like that…Now this could have been the end of the story. It could all be over and the holy family would have been fine to sprint out the door. But Luke chooses to also record the presence of a woman named Anna.
Luke describes Anna as a prophet. Not many women prophets mentioned in history let alone the Bible. She was the daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher. Asher was one of Jacob’s sons that became the 12 tribes of Israel. Asher was known to be the happiest of the 12 tribes and the richest. They were given land that was bountiful and raised food that was fit for a king according to the Blessing that Jacob gave his son Asher. Now being the daughter of Phanuel and having this genealogy Anna could have been well off, but she wasn’t because she was a widow and had been that way for a long time. She was married for only seven years and now she was 84. She probably had no choice but to move into the temple when her husband died, and she had been there ever since, “fasting and praying.”
Anna would have been taken in if she did not eat too much and was valuable to the priests. She would have had to cook and clean, probably wash the robes and perform the ritual washings of the food, plates, cups and utensils. Her life would have been one in which she lived in the shadows, staying out of the way, pleasing to everyone, so she had a roof over head, and a few morsels of food that might have been left over. Yet Luke describes her as the prophet, one who also had visions just like Simeon. She was touched by the Holy Spirit and knew God in a way that many never would. Anna’s role in this prophecy of who Jesus was is important for our understanding of Jesus being the true Messiah.
The writer in Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was truly flesh and blood. The appearance of the Holy Family in the temple for the dedication reminds us that Jesus was like us all, that he went and did the rituals of the day, lived as ordinary a human life was we all do. Yet he is also our high priest. Jesus takes the sins of the world upon himself on the cross and dies so that we might live. Anna and Simeon are saying the same thing. This child will be the Christ, he will suffer, and he will die and Mary your heart will be pierced, but that is not the end of the story. God who has spoken to Anna will raise this Jesus from the dead and God will raise us also.
How many times do we overlook the old women that are on the margins of society. The nursing homes are full of them. The Wal-Mart aisles have them riding their scooters all over. They get in front of us on the road when we are in a hurry to get somewhere. We probably are pretty dismissive. I would imagine everyone dismissed Anna. I would imagine when Simeon saw her come out of the shadows and walk into the light and talk to the couple he probably cringed. Wondering to himself what this old lady was doing now? Yet this old lady was praising God for the gift of the Messiah. This old lady with lines of age all over her body was standing in the presence of God and she knew it, she was not going to let that moment pass.
The prophetess Anna has a lot to teach us. She is the one who knew that God spoke to her about the Son of Man. She is the one who served faithfully for over 80 years. She took care of others when no one would take care of her. She did not become bitter or angry, and in the end she was there when Jesus was welcome into the church at his dedication. Maybe we can all be a little like Anna, serving God and serving one another all the days of our lives. Amen.