On this feast day of the Presentation, here is an excerpt from a sermon I preached several years ago on Luke 2:22-38.
Do you see that old man, sitting in the corner? He’s easy to miss. Shuffles into the temple most every day. Shrunken, bent with age. Wandering awkwardly among the crowds until the weariness overcomes him and he settles into some dark corner. He would melt right into the shadows if it weren’t for his startlingly white beard and the gleam in his cloudy eyes.
Do you see her in the shadows by the entrance? Wrinkled skin clinging tightly to her bones—nearly emaciated from years of fasting. Countenance tilted slightly upward from years of prayer. Eyes scanning, peering at the faces, all the faces that stream by. She is there every day. Maybe a couple of the priests know her name.
We often hear this story of Simeon and Anna within—or just on the heels of—the season of Advent. When our minds are in waiting mode. This story reflects the ethos of Advent, and so we often take for granted the waiting of this old man and woman at the temple. Mary is waiting, we are waiting, Simeon and Anna are waiting.
Yet the quality of the waiting seems very, very different.
Simeon and Anna have no candles to light. Their aged bodies do not tell them when their waiting will be completed. Their waiting is fueled only by the Holy Spirit; by the Spirit’s promise that they will see the Messiah. But when? Where? And how will they even know?
At first, probably, it is the priests who catch their eye. Holy men. Surely the Messiah was one of them. And each priest is considered, whatever is of God in him is appreciated, and yet . . .
Simeon and Anna eventually turn their gaze toward the strong, young men. If not a priest, then the Messiah will come with an entourage, walking proudly, bringing a rich sacrifice. And each handsome face is looked upon with expectation; rich brown eyes are explored as some spark of the Holy One is found, and yet . . .
Maybe a man not quite so strong, or so young. Someone unassuming, yet respectable. The Savior of the people need not stand out in a crowd.
Or could it possibly be one of the poor, wearing rags, begging for money rather than offering it? Or . . . surely not . . . a woman?
The long, long waiting leads Anna and Simeon to consider them all. To look into the faces of the rich and the poor, the respected and the powerless. Their Spirit-fueled waiting causes Simeon and Anna to look with expectation at those who were never looked upon with anything but disdain.
In their long waiting, Simeon learned, Anna learned: he could be the one; she might be our Savior. And in so many, so many faces they did not find the Messiah, but they surely found God.
Do you see her today? Flailing her arms; going on and on about some baby. About the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Seeming, to most, a little senile in her old, old age, in the loneliness of her widowhood.
Do you see the old man today? He’s holding a baby in his arms. His billowy beard resting on the infant’s tummy. His gnarled fingers caressing the soft brown face. His eyes staring into the child; his thin lips moving to the rhythm of his nodding head.
“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.”