Looking Forward in Hope

Whenever I read Luke’s account of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:25-38), I always picture a late afternoon in winter. Nature has slowed down. The day is dying. Things are slowing down in the temple, but Simeon and Anna—two faithful old people—are there.

Their long lives are drawing to a close. Maybe they are still physically robust, or maybe their bodies are trembly and their joints creaky; Luke doesn’t tell us. We know, though, that their spirits are strong and their faith is powerful. We know that their priorities are clear: They are looking forward in hope, not backward in bitterness and despair.

Luke’s story is a grandparent story. This is a story of the coming together of the great thresholds—birth and approaching death, beginnings and endings. Endings that are, in truth, new beginnings. Simeon and Anna—do they know each other? Maybe it’s a first time at the temple for Simeon, righteous and devout. Luke tells us that he has been waiting for a bittersweet message: looking forward to the consolation of Israel and the promise that he will not die until he has seen the Lord’s messiah. Even as he yearns for the good news, he knows that it presages the end of his earthly life. So now he has come in response to the message.

Anna, on the other hand, has been around seemingly forever—a fixture in the temple. She’s not just a pious old lady—she is a prophet. I have to wonder: Who conferred that identity upon her? Female prophets in the Bible are few and far between. Of course, there was Miriam, Moses’ sister, who saved her infant brother by a timely deception. Years later she joined him in a song of triumph. Spunky, she argued with the menfolk and was stricken with leprosy as a divinely ordained punishment. Anna is no Miriam, but she is spunky in her own distinctive way: Decades of faithful presence in the temple, a patriarchal place par excellence, cannot have been easy.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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