Among the delightful aspects of the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is this incident involving Simeon and Anna, two elderly people in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38).
They were part of a group of people earnestly waiting the coming of the Messiah — the One who God had promised would secure eternal salvation for all God’s people.
Simeon was a great man in every way. God was real to him. He enjoyed a very close relationship with God and lived an upright life before everyone. And he was special in one particular way: the Holy Spirit had made it clear to him that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. For that day he waited and prayed.
In his lifestyle and values he is a challenge and example to us all of what godliness really looks like, and especially an example to those in later life. He was frequently in the Temple worshipping God and always waiting to see that young couple with a baby who would be the longed-for child.
Anna was an elderly widow, probably 84 years old. She was the sort of person that many people would ignore, but she truly was a great woman.
Luke tells us that she was a prophetess. Clearly she knew the ways of God. That is why she was given to prayer and fasting. No doubt, because of being a widow and having little resources, she lived in the Temple precincts. In fact, her whole life was given to serving God in whatever way she could, and all the time longing for the Messiah to come.
We see in Anna another example of what godly old age can look like. Devotion to prayer and looking for the Lord to come is undoubtedly the way we are to use our last days.
Then the long-awaited day came. Simeon knew that morning that this would be the day he would see the Messiah. He went into the Temple courts with eagerness. There before him were a great number of young couples with their babies, all come to present their child to the Lord.
He was not daunted. He knew God would take him to the right couple. And then he saw them. They were evidently poor because their offering was what the poorest would bring. But that was of no consequence to this man of God. It was the child that he fixed his eyes on — God’s Christ.
He walked over to them and took the child in his arms, much to the parents’ surprise. But their surprise was to turn to shock and amazement when they heard what he had to say.
What godliness we see in Simeon! Such profound sensitivity to the leading of God; such closeness of fellowship with the Lord; such happy dependence on God. Should not these spiritual attainments be the things we earnestly seek too?
Simeon had some stirring things to say to Mary and Joseph. His words, recorded in Luke 2:34-35, are a profound statement of the gospel. Through Jesus many would be humbled, convicted of sin and brought to repentance, and so lifted up to a new relationship with God.
His words were also an early announcement of the cross to come, that would feature not only in the baby’s life but grieve his mother in a profound way. But it was Simeon’s insight into who this child actually was that caused the parents the greatest amazement (Luke 2:30-34).
The salvation of sinners long promised and spoken about throughout the Old Testament era was now coming into glorious fulfilment in this baby. And through him there would be worldwide blessing for both Gentile and Jew. Here is the crowning glory for Israel.
This was why Simeon was now ready to die. The Saviour had come. Infinite and eternal hope was born into the world. All Simeon longed for was present in his arms. This child was the embodiment of all that really mattered.
That was the secret of Simeon’s contentment and confidence. That was the basis of his eminent godliness. He was wholly taken up with Christ Jesus. No wonder we can see him as an example for all believers, and indeed for all who would know true joy and deep contentment in this life, and confidence for the life to come.
As Simeon spoke his prophetic words, Anna joined the group. Her joy was unbounded. She broke out into praise. Then she departed from the parents and Simeon, and sought out those she knew would cherish this news.
What a message of hope and glory she brought to people! How her face would shine and her voice tremble with unrestrained delight! How many people she blessed with the news of the Saviour!
What a rebuke to the danger of self-obsession that can haunt us in our last years! What a contradiction of the ‘grumpy old soul’ syndrome that we see in a lot of older people in our world!
The older we get, and the more we see of the fulfilment of God’s promises in Christ, the more we should know joy and elation; the more encouraging things we have to tell to others. Our circumstances may be constrained and increasingly limited, but salvation in Christ is infinite and full of glory.
These two old people were extremely significant in the history of the world. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul quoted Deuteronomy 19:16 to show that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1).
Here were God’s two witnesses to the true identity of the baby Jesus. God used two elderly people to publicly confirm that the Saviour had come. Older people had something important to say then — and they still do!
The author was pastor of East Leake Evangelical Church, near Loughborough, for 15 years, and previously worked for 23 years in the field of social welfare, with particular emphasis on older people. He continues with that area of interest through writing and speaking.