by Rev. Antony W. Ball
Can you name all the people in this little sketch? There’s Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, of course, but how about the other two?
It happened forty days after Jesus’ birth, when Jewish parents of a newborn son were supposed to visit the temple to ‘redeem’ their baby boy by offering for sacrifice a ram or, if they were poor, two turtle-doves or pigeons. There had been a custom among some ancient, pagan tribes of sacrificing their first-born (animal or child) to their idols but God had told the Israelites that, although the first-born still ‘belonged to Him’1, rather than being sacrificed, children should be ‘redeemed’ or ‘bought back’ from God by a suitable offering2. When Joseph and Mary went to the temple to do this (if the printing’s good enough, you can even see Joseph is carrying the cage with the two pigeons) they were met in the temple by a man (Simeon, possibly a priest) and a woman (Anna, a prophetess) – they’re the other two people in the above sketch.
Simeon gets a very good write-up in Luke’s Gospel:
This man was upright and devout, one who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel,
and the holy spirit was upon him. (Lk ii 26b NEB)
God had already promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen for himself God’s Messiah, and Simeon appears to have recognized the Baby Jesus as the fulfilment of that promise…
…for I have seen with my own eyes the deliverance which Thou hast made ready in full view of all the nations.’ (Lk ii 30,31 NEB)
Simeon blessed Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus (which is what suggests, but doesn’t prove, that Simeon was a priest) and then he told Mary…
This child is destined to be a sign which men reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart… (Lk ii 35 NEB) …which is often taken to foretell the pain Mary would have experienced while watching the crucifixion.
Anna was also highly commended by Luke who says…
…She never left the temple, but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying… (Lk ii 37b NEB)
…and, more importantly, that…
…she talked about the Child to all who were looking for the liberation of Jerusalem. (Lk ii 38b NEB)
So Luke has introduced us to two characters who do not appear anywhere else in the Bible, but they remind us that there are countless good, faithful people who never become well-known, never do anything especially remarkable or outstanding, but who just serve our Lord quietly and faithfully. Do we count ourselves among them ?
1 Num xviii 14ff 2 Lev xii 6-8