Simeon and Anna got old waiting for something exciting to happen. The story of how Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple shows how “counter-cultural” the Gospel is to the world we live in.
We don’t know what Simeon and Anna looked like. In fact the Bible is remarkably short on details of people’s appearance: David, as a boy, was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” But the explicit point the Bible makes is the opposite. The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”(1 Samuel 16) Unlike our Instagram generation God looks beyond appearance to the character within.
Anna and Simeon waited. The English are supposed to be polite. We say “I’m sorry” if we bump into someone or even if they bump into us. But this all goes out of the window as soon as we get behind the wheel of a car. We may be notorious for standing in queues but we are getting worse at waiting. When Marge tells Homer “Your meatloaf will be ready in eight seconds, Homer.” Homer exclaims “D’oh! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?” We are getting worse at waiting driven by our childish desires and our technology.
Mary and Joseph followed tradition in bringing Jesus to the Temple. Two more counter-cultural words: tradition and sacrifice. Many of our traditions have been dicarded as “just” traditions. But tradition forms part of our communal life and we are poorer without some of them. Mary and Joseph made sacrifices in thanksgiving for their first born son. The Presentation is not that of proud parents showing off their child to the world: even our pre-schools now have “graduation ceremonies” where the children in hats and gowns receive their certificates and applause. Sacrifice is a word that is not used much these days: but our lives depend on sacrifice just as much as the traditional economy of the Temple did.
Simeon’s words point us forward to the death of Christ on the Cross and the pain and loss of Jesus’ mother. In the middle of his rejoicing at seeing what he had so long waited for, Simeon’s song reminds of the reality of pain and loss in life.