Two lovely stories in the lectionary today. The author of the gospel writes of two older people — Simeon and Anna— who waited for the birth of a saviour (Luke 2: 22-40).
The story talks of Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple as required by the law. They had two significant encounters. They met Simeon and they met Anna who both confirmed that this child was indeed the promised Messiah.
Simeon, who was described as righteous, devout and one on whom the Holy Spirit rested had been told that he would not die until he saw the birth of the Messiah. As he saw the baby he praised and prophesied saying he was now content to depart the world.
Simeon also added a word to Mary — that “a sword would pierce her soul” (35). I often wonder how it would feel for Mary to be told these things. A bit like saying your child will do great things, but it will be a rough ride and all end in heart break. How hard must that be for any parent to hear?
Anna was 84 years old. She had resided in the temple since being widowed seven years after her marriage. I calculate that must be about 60 years. She too praised and prophesied about the child.
I can’t resist interjecting a feminist thought here — note the ways the two prophets are described. Simeon is described through his character — righteous, devout, Holy Spirit on him (25). Anna is described through her relationship to men — her father, her husband and her late ancestor. Yesterday we shared a cup of tea with our neighbour. The conversation drifted to a book she had been reading for her book club. The club was meeting the author that week for questions and she was planning to ask why a character had been described the way he was. This led to further discussion about how often people (who are not straight, white, protestant males) are described by a reference to their sexuality, gender, colour or ethnic background. I think the conversation was still in my mind as I noted the way Anna was described. I think this is very important to ponder on — consider and notice how people are described.
But today I want to dwell briefly on two aspects of both these people which I noticed as I read the passage. The first thing I noticed was the patience both Simeon and Anna exercised. We have often talked about how we live in the “microwave generation” where we expect everything to be ready instantly. I confess I do it with my computer. I press a key and usually get an instant response. If I don’t, I’ll say, “Come on, come on, hurry up and download …”. Andy will often look at me and say, “Patience!”
Simeon and Anna waited for years to see the fulfillment of their dreams. I think there is an important lesson in that. The passage doesn’t give any sense that their lives had been wasted through the waiting time. Hopefully they lived full and meaningful lives while they waited — the passage certainly hints at that.
The second thing I noticed was that they were elderly. Anna was documented as 84 and although Simeon’s age is not documented it is a fair assumption to say he must be elderly as he was expecting to depart the world soon.
In our contemporary times there is sometimes a disdain for the elderly and society is poorer for it. Wisdom and experience are lost. Youth can be arrogant brushing aside the experience and wisdom of those who are older. Yet, youth are often brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. Both the contributions of the young and the old have value. Ideally the ideas and enthusiasm of youth needs to be tempered with the wisdom and experience of those who are older.
What a good thing Mary and Joseph took time to listen to the words of the elderly. What a blessing would have been missed if they had ignored Simeon and Anna because of their ages.
(Photo: Grandma and Child, Forbidden City, Beijing, China, December 2017)