January Reading from The Message
You’re familiar with the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. But here is the end of Luke 2, where Scripture highlights two faithful believers as they encounter the child at the temple…
In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:
God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.
33-35 Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, A figure misunderstood and contradicted— the pain of a sword-thrust through you— But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are.
36-38 Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.
39-40 When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.
God Gets the First and Last Word
Simeon’s prayer is a prayer of completion. What he has been praying for all his life is now present in this infant. Simeon takes the child in his arms and blesses him; he also blesses the parents. Simeon holds the purpose and meaning of his life in his arms. He’s now ready to die. After a long life of hopeful prayer and faithful witness, he steps aside and gives place to Jesus—a letting go, a relinquishment. His prayer is similar to what Mary prayed.
Mary and Simeon, the first and last pray-ers in this company, are a complementary pair: the young girl starting out in submission to God’s word; the old man ending in submission to God’s word. God’s word not only initiates all prayer; it provides the grammar and vocabulary of prayer and brings all prayer to wholeness, to completion. God gets the first word in prayer; he also gets the last word. Mary and Simeon between them mark off the bounds and primary content for the language of the community, the language we name prayer, spoken submissively and believingly (Luke 1:38).