Luke 2:22-38

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 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon 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 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

One of the underlying themes of these first chapters of Luke’s Gospel is a movement from God’s covenant with Israel through the law to God’s covenant with the whole world through Jesus. For this reason, several of the characters in these early chapters seemed to be pulled right from the pages of the story of Israel, what Christians call the Old Testament.

First we had Zechariah, a priest of the Temple, and Elizabeth, his childless wife who miraculously conceives in her old age. Now we meet Simeon and Anna, a righteous man and prophetess, who all but carry the dust of the previous age of the law and prophets with them into this new chapter of God’s story.

While we will listen more closely to Simeon’s words shortly, for now it is important to notice that they stand as representatives of the people of the covenant who, blessed by the Holy Spirit, recognize in Jesus God’s activity to keep the promises God made to Israel.

Which matters a great deal, not only to Luke but also to the early church in general. God was doing something new in Jesus, they confessed, but at the same time was keeping God’s promises to Israel. God, that is, is not abandoning Israel but rather is keeping faith in an unexpected way that extends God’s favor and promise to all peoples.

This matters because at various times across history Christians have interpreted the gospel stories as portraying God’s judgment on Israel and abandonment of the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah and all their descendants. This, in turn, has led to prejudice, discrimination, and sometimes violence against Jews justified by a poor reading of the New Testament.

But here, notice again that Luke takes care to demonstrate that Mary and Joseph obey Jewish law, and that Simeon and Anna, righteous representatives of Israel, see God’s faithfulness to Israel and all the world in the presence and person of Jesus. Jesus, Luke is clear, is the Jewish Messiah destined to bring all people into the knowledge of God’s favor.

Prayer: Dear God, when we look at persons of different faiths, let us remember that you love us all, sent Jesus to announce your love to us all, and desire that we live together in peace and good will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.