Sunday, December 31, 2017

Speaking of Simeon and Anna Luke 2:21-40

Speaking of Simeon and Anna

In todays reading there is a lot of law thrown about.  Literally Luke mentions the Law 5 times. “Luke shows his skill at creating atmosphere.  Five times it is mentioned that Jesus’ parents observe the law, and Simeon and Hanna, another couple straight out of the old testament, reinforce this picture.”[1]
Luke uses the old testament differently than Mathew does in the Christmas story. “He does not use a prediction-fulfillment formula. Indeed, he does not even quote a verse from the old testament. He does however, proclaim the continuity of Jesus with Israel and his fulfillment of Gods promise to Israel in more than one way.”[2]
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book the first week explain that “We see the theme of fulfillment with great clarity in the song of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon, the Canticles known by millions of Christians as the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis.  Although most scholars think of these as ancient Christians hymns, perhaps we should think of them as ‘chants’ – hymns sung repetitively.”[3]
So, these three different verses from the narrative of the Christmas stories may have been early hymns of the church. These were likely sung before the Gospel was even written.  Marcus Borg speaks about how they are used but first gives us a bit of history about these canticles.
“as early Christians hymns, they are neither reports about what Mary and Zechariah and Simeon said nor Luke’s free creation. Rather, they are a pre-Lukan Christian Canticles…it is intriguing to think that we are hearing ‘pregospel’ Christian communities at worship in these texts.  This is what gospel, ‘the good news,’ of Jesus meant to them.  And by including these in his Christmas story Luke affirms that this is what the gospel of Jesus meant to him.”[4]
What Luke does, as opposed to quoting old testament, he uses echoes of old testament.  He uses phrases that parallel familiar readings from the old testament to proclaim Jesus as fulfillment of the old testament.
“Both the tone and the specific language of these hymns express the theme of fulfillment.  The tone is Jubilant, ringing with the conviction that God’s promises are being fulfilled.”[5]
Listen to the words of the three canticles. The canticle of Mary also known as the Magnificat. States “My soul Magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
What joy abounds in that simple phrase.
In the song of Zachariah also known as the Benedictus we hear; “Blessed be the lord god of Israel for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a mighty savior.”
Again, great Joy and affirmation that the people have been redeemed by the savior.
And Finally, todays canticle the song of Simeon also known as Nunc Dimittis states; “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
Simeon proclaims a great peace in the fulfillment of a promise through witnessing the arrival of salvation in Jesus.
Earlier I mentioned much of this passage is about the law.  First Luke wants to show that Joseph and Mary are good Jewish law-abiding parents.
“the passage we see, it gives us a glimpse at what kind of parents God entrusted baby Jesus to. They were people who feared God. The angel told them to name him Jesus. They obeyed and name him Jesus. God’s word told them to circumcise him on the eighth day. They obeyed the law and had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day. In fact everything we see Joseph and Mary doing in verses 21-24 is written in God’s law found in Leviticus 12. According to God’s law a woman becomes ceremonially unclean for seven days after giving birth. If she gave birth to a boy she must wait 30 days to be purified from her bleeding. If she gave birth to a daughter she must wait 60 days to be purified. Mary and Joseph obeyed this law. Once the woman is purified, the Law of the Lord says the baby must be brought to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord. They are not to go empty handed. They are to present to the Lord a lamb. If they can’t afford a lamb they are to present a pair of doves or two young pigeons. According to God’s law the purpose of this sacrifice was to redeem the first-born son and to offer atonement for the woman’s uncleanness. … We see our great Savior Jesus was entrusted not to rich parents but to godly parents. “[6]
This again is all in accordance with fulfilling the law in order for Jesus to be that fulfillment we must also see that the law is fulfilled for him by his parents.
“Luke has apparently taken this old idea of the first-born son being dedicated to God’s service and made it fruitful for his narrative. The Torah contains no requirement that the first-born son be presented at the temple. However, Luke alludes to the story of Samuel. When Hannah, who had no children, prayed to God for a son, she vowed that, if she had a son, she would give him to God for all his days (1 Samuel 1:11). And indeed, after Samuel was born, Hannah brought him to the temple, and he was “lent” to the Lord for life (1 Samuel 1:24-28). It is clear that Mary in Luke takes the role of Hannah (cf. Luke 1:46-55 with 1 Samuel 1:11; 2:1-10) while Jesus takes the role of Samuel (cf. Luke 2:40, 52 with 1 Samuel 2:26). Thus when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to the Lord in Jerusalem, they are in effect dedicating his life to God (no redemption money is given). Jesus will be “holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). With these words Luke subtly alters the language of Exodus 13:2, 12 from a command to consecrate (hagiazein) the first-born to God to a declaration about Jesus. Luke’s wording is reminiscent of Luke 1:35, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be “holy” and will be called the “Son of God,” because he will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Luke’s wording is perhaps also (though more distantly) reminiscent of other stories that speak of Jesus as a “holy one” with a special relationship to God (e.g., Mark 1:24). The story thus sets the stage for Jesus’ life dedicated fully to his heavenly Father (Luke 2:49).”[7]
Here again Luke doesn’t make a direct reference to the old testament however he is creating a narrative that alludes to it in order to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old testament and has a unique relation to God.
The next scene does hit me as funny, you see here we have Luke speaking of the law, his parents are fulfilling the law.  But as visitors to the temple suddenly a strange man takes their child and starts proclaiming thanks and fulfillment. If that were to happen today Mary would be screaming Joseph would be yelling a crowd would be gathering and soon Simeon would find himself arrested.
All we know about the life of Simeon is found in this verse. He was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for Israel’s Comfort: and the Holy spirit was on him. And it was revealed by the holy spirit that he would not die till he saw the coming of the Christ.
Upon entering the temple, he is with the Holy spirit takes the child and Blessing God affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies.  But Simeon is not alone in this. We are also introduced to Anna.
One commentator writes;
“Luke introduces us to Anna the Prophetess. She, like the Shepherds, the Magi, and Simeon, confessed Jesus as the Christ, our Incarnate Lord, even before He celebrated His first birthday on earth. And yet, even though she is an invaluable witness to Jesus Christ, we cannot really recount her actual encounter with Jesus.
Luke gives us valuable information about the scene. We can read the very detailed account of Simeon confessing Jesus as the Christ. Then Anna arrives in the Temple while this is happening, but Luke decides not to explain any further details. Simeon appears in 11 verses, 9 of which describe His encounter with Jesus in the Temple that day. We know Simeon held Jesus in his arms, we can pray the same prayer he prayed, we know how Mary and Joseph reacted and what Simeon says directly to Mary. In contrast, Anna gets only three verses, and only 1 verse alludes to her being in the Temple at the same time as Jesus. What exactly happened? We cannot say. The specific information we do have about Anna and the silence about her encounter with Jesus are both startling, and intentionally so. There is barely a description of her encounter with Jesus. Just where she meets Jesus, Luke decides to fall silent.”[8]
It is interesting that we know of anna’s history a bit.  We know she is in the temple always.  We know she encountered Jesus, then she stands, praises God and speaks about Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Affirming that Jesus is the redemption.
“Based on the information Luke does give us, we can spell out a lot of the significance of Anna. Luke provides specific details about who Anna is, and they teach us how to think about Anna. Following Luke’s lead, we can fill out the meaning of his thought-provoking silence.
Luke mentions two people who bear witness to Him in the Temple: Simeon and Anna. The Bible advises, and for specific cases in the Old Covenant Law even requires, the evidence of two witnesses to establish an important legal charge (Deuteronomy 17; 19). Simeon and Anna are the two witnesses here, a complimentary pair. Both are pious and patiently waiting for Israel’s redemption. They represent the whole human race, male and female. Simeon is the male witness, and Anna the female witness. The man comes first, but it is not good for him to be alone, so the woman comes second, joins to the work of the man, and together they complete their service to the Lord.
Simeon is a prophet, because God includes him in divine council, and Anna is the prophetess, because God blesses her with this grace. Both confess Jesus is the Christ. Their combined evidence is greater than if only one confessed this truth. Simeon confesses Jesus as the Lord’s Christ, and Anna confesses Jesus as the Redeemer of Israel. They both hoped he was the one to redeem Israel, and they were both on target. Jesus grew up to redeem God’s people.”[9]
The commentator goes on about all the innuendos and possible double meanings one can read into who anna is where she is from and who her father is I believe some were a stretch but two are often referred to one is anna also sometimes called Hanna the commentator states;
“Anna is the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.  The meaning of each name is important.      The name Anna, or as some translations render it, Hannah, reminds us of the other famous Hannah in the Bible. Hannah presented her son Samuel in the temple as a boy before God, so also, now, Mary is presenting Jesus in the temple as a boy before God. …
Why does it matter that Anna is from the tribe of Asher? Asher was a northern tribe of Israel conquered by Assyria. Asher became known as one of the ten lost tribes. What once was lost is now back
“Simeon and Anna appear as devout Jews who are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises of consolation and redemption for Israel. These sections of Luke’s story are drenched with the language of Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 40:1; 42:6; 49:6, 13; 52:9, 10). Simeon and Anna thus become spokesman and spokeswoman for the salvation and redemption that is to come through Jesus. Simeon gets a glimpse of the salvation that one-day the whole world (“all flesh”) will see (cf. Luke 3:6, Luke’s addition to Mark): forgiveness of sins and deliverance from eternal death (Acts 13:38-39, 46-47). That is the ultimate meaning of Christmas, the incarnation of the Son of God.”[10]
The incarnation of God, in other words God with us, Emmanuel.  This whole analysis of this part of Luke’s Gospel may lead one to say, so what or better yet, now what?  What do I do with this knowledge of the fulfillment of the Old testament as testified to by Simeon and Anna?  How does this relate to the here and now?
Many look at the Gospels and the life of Christ as leaving us waiting.  Many Christians spend their time looking for the time of Christ’s second coming. They look for signs and symbols and numbers and patterns in the sky. Actually, I do not know what they are looking for. I really am not concerned as it goes back to you shall neither know the time or place.
I want to live as Simeon’s canticle says;
“Master now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; For my eyes have seen your salvation.”
You see we have seen God’s salvation. We have seen and studied God’s salvation in Christ and now, and everyday, we are called to live into that salvation.  We are called to find better ways to spread the Good News that God became incarnate and taught a message of radically inclusive love for all.
Now we are called to live into that message and to be that message.  We look for God in the everyday and in every way. We seek out ways to find God in our lives in the hope that we may just be the message of God’s hope to others.
I recently read about a small church in a small town in Michigan.  It was a church of 35 members just a few years ago now their Sunday worship is around 135 they are literally bursting at the seams.  They even have a new church start a couple of towns over because people were driving quite a distance to be part of their community.
What did they suddenly start to do differently than they had done before?  For one they learned the history of the UCC as a denominational movement.  How we are a church of firsts and we have a radically strong rich history that we are a part of.
Then they started to get out in their community.  The pastor said they just started to go to everything.  I am not sure what everything included but they became visible.  They became a very visible part of their community. 
“’As we've been growing, people want to take our mission and bring it outside of the church. It's more than Sunday morning," Sapienza said. "We started a Steven Ministry program, partnering with a national organization and thousands of churches. Several members of the congregation have become trained to minister to others in our community. They meet with someone once a week, to sit and listen, be a presence. Others have decided to work with children at the elementary school, becoming volunteers in the school tutoring program. We've become a creation justice church, to care for the environment and have held recycling events and led beach cleanup on the shores of Lake Michigan.’
Church members also march in the Gay Pride Parade, have offered help in the Flint Water Crisis, and participate in Black Lives Matter events.
‘By dramatically increasing their footprint in the community, they have claimed their prophetic voice and embraced their diversity,’ said Gonzalez. ‘This is a story of engagement, vision and revitalization. The congregation has begun to own their ministry and believe in themselves. It’s been exciting to witness firsthand.’”[11]
I am not saying their way is your way, but it is a way.  To intentionally seek out places that have needs and be the church that feeds those needs.  As the new year is upon us I would like to hear from people who want to do something, try anything, who want to explore what it means to be the church in the 21st century.
It is your call as a congregation to listen for Gods still speaking voice and find ways to answer the call a call that means reengaging old connections or forging new connections I do not know what the answer is for you but just as the child grew and became strong so is the church called to grow be strong be filled with wisdom and seek the favor of God. We are called to continue to proclaim the Canticle of Simeon and the praises of Anna, for the redemption of the world has come and we are called to claim it, proclaim it and to live out that proclamation and share the good news with the world.

[1] Nicholas King, The Bible (Great Britain: Kevin Mayhew LTD, 2013), 1940.
[2] Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Birth (New York: Harper One, 2007).  Two authorities on the life of Jesus draw on the gospels of Matthew and Luke to tell the true story of Jesus's birth and to place its lessons in context with the modern world.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] University Bible Fellowship, Faith of Simeon and Anna, 2006, accessed December 30, 2017,
[7] Stephan Hultgren, Commentary on Luke 2:22-40, December 28, 2014, accessed December 30, 2017,
[8] Dave Shaw, “Anna Asher,” theopolis Institue, February 12, 2015, accessed December 30, 2017,
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Connie Larkman, “Small Michigan Church quadruples in size by ministering to its community,” united Church of Christ, December 20, 2017, accessed December 30, 2017,

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