Anna and Simeon – 5 Lessons for Those Who Wait
“There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him… and a prophet called Anna, who was very old. She never left the Temple, but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying” – Lk 2
We are all waiting for something.
The story of Anna and Simeon, the elderly prophets who meet the new-born Jesus in the Temple courts, is one of the most fascinating moments in the whole Christmas saga. It’s all about waiting, and specifically about waiting in hope.
Hope, as this story tells it, creates a certain kind of person who lives a certain kind of way.
There is far too much to say about this little story. Here, though, are 5 quick points – 5 key lessons for those who wait.
Know what you’re waiting for
We’re told at the start of this passage that Simeon was waiting for ‘the consolation of Israel’.
‘Consolation’, or more simply ‘comfort’, meant a remarkable set of things to someone like Simeon. Above all it refers to an enormous prophecy in Isaiah – a book packed with promises of hope and renewal for a nation broken down at the hands of an oppressive Babylonian regime.
Our challenge is to pray likewise– to dwell deep in Jesus’ promises of a renewed kosmos, and to strive hard for it to come about, in prayer and in deed. Just like Simeon, we are to seize on the promises of God, and to call him to fulfil them to completion.
The key themes of this meta-prophecy? Forgiveness – the forgiveness of God for a wayward people, flowing out in a powerful stream of reconciliation. Peace – the fruit of that reconciliation, a state of harmony not only between Israel and their God but also between humanity and the earth itself.
It is a message of justice – an economic rebalancing, a returning of power to those who’ve lost it. A renewal of the courts, so that the poor get their say and the wealthy get held to account. A powerful, embracing drive to a new kind of human community – one where the rejected and excluded form the centre of what God is doing in the world.
Yearn with God
Simeon and Anna’s waiting has strength and longevity because they wait with God.
Anna, at least 84 years old and with every reason to be furious at God since the death of her husband all those decades ago, in fact seems closer to him than most of us have even begun to taste! Her soul is wrapped in his:
“Anna never left the temple, but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying” (Lk 2:37)
Her life is to worship.
And Simeon? Well, we can tell he is an old friend of God’s. The two speak regularly, it seems: “It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s messiah”.
Why does this matter? Because waiting in God is different to waiting alone. Most important of all, to wait with God enables us to share in his sufferings. “Sehnsucht”, wrote CS Lewis, is the deep, powerful yearning right down in a person’s heart of hearts.
Waiting is not withdrawing
But what does all this waiting have to do with justice? If anything, all this fasting and praying seems like the opposite of justice, a pious detachment from a world in need.
To think like this, however, is to miss the point of Anna and Simeon’s lives. First and foremost, of course, is that fact that prayer works. In some marvellous and unfathomable way, the simplest prayers of human souls are one of the driving forces behind God’s activities on earth.
I think of my friend who knew the day of Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in Egypt a month before it happened – and prayed for it every day to join in with this move of God. I think of smaller moments in my own walk with God – of moments waking in the night to pray for far away faces and places, not quite knowing why but knowing I must. Feeling part of a global prayer movement that was somehow making waves, heralding the coming, inbreaking reign of God, calling down justice on the earth.
The responses to these prayers are at once so exciting and yet so partial. They are not enough – not yet at least. But we keep praying. Because in some way we can’t quite understand, Anna and Simeon’s prayers were part of the process that brought about Jesus’ coming down to earth.
Your waiting can create community
Even as they prayed, Anna and Simeon were creating around them a community of people who were looking forward to the coming of the King, who knew that God was up to something, even if the reality when it came was beyond anything they could ever have imagined:
“Coming up to Mary and Joseph at that very moment, Anna saw the new-born Jesus. She gave thanks to God, and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” – Lk 2:38
There was a community of hope in Jerusalem. Whoever this community was, we know that Anna was their friend, and that they considered her words worth listening to.
When you wait with God, others will listen to the hope you bring. Those who have staked their life on the future that is coming have a power to speak into the present as it is. Whether it is the fight against the modern-day slave trade, or the struggle for the restoration of trampled ecosystems, Just Love’s challenge is to break our peace with the status quo – with consumerism and oppression, with inequality and all its trappings – and to live as a hope-inspired prophetic window into a future that must come. To live and wait in hope is to create a community of change.
Tune your ears, train your eyes
Would you recognise a move of God if it happened right in front of you?
This is surely the most important question we can ask ourselves. Jesus, however, comes unexpected. He comes ‘in swaddling bands and in a manger laid’, so weak and obscure that almost everyone misses it, save a precious few.
Anna and Simeon know who Jesus is when they set eyes on him. They have already spent years cultivating relationship with him. They have passed their lives in the presence of God. We can practise God’s presence on the tube, on a football pitch, while making dinner, while serving in the local refugee centre.
God is willing, longing to be found. He will only be found for who he truly is. “I am who I am”. And that is so often in the most unexpected of places – in the quiet eyes of a child soon to become a refugee in Egypt, later to embark on a vague set of homeless wanderings around an occupied territory making bold pronouncements of love, forgiveness and a coming kingdom until those who once loved him payed to take his very breath away.
In warzones and battlefields, in somebody else’s political opinion, in wetlands being cleared for fossil fuel extraction, the Living God is there, forever looking for those who will seek him as he plods on in his unexpected mission to renew the very face of the earth.
This Christmas and New Year period let’s be like Anna and Simeon, and get to know this Voice, that when he asks of us our part we will know just what to do.