Simeon waited. Some days, he felt like it was the only thing he was still good at.
As his eyes opened in his home in the early morning hours, he saw his surroundings becoming brighter. At one point in his life, he would have jumped out of bed at first light, and scurried around his home, working his way down a list of tasks to accomplish. Running from one job to another, from one person to another. But now, the days of jumping anywhere were long gone. He heard his knees and ankles crack as he started to move. Like most mornings, everything hurt. His task list was much shorter than it was when he was younger, but it felt like it took longer to accomplish day after day. No, Simeon wasn’t jumping these days. Instead, when his eyes opened to the day, Simeon waited.
He waited on a word from the Lord. For as long as he could remember, Simeon had been a scholar of the ways of God. Not like the scribes in their robes. Or the priests with their titles and positions. No, Simeon thought as he smiled, it seems that they were ironically some of the farthest from the actual ways of God. They knew about the ways of establishment and religion, about local custom and national politics. But so often the ways of the Lord seemed far from them.
The ways of the Lord were something different entirely. Ways of justice. Ways of salvation. Ways of restoration for all of God’s people. Like so many faithful followers, Simeon was attentive to the potential for Messiah. The one who would come and restore the fortunes of Israel. But it seemed like everyone you talked to had a different definition of what that restoration looked like. Many were hoping for a mighty warrior. Others a wise scholar in robes. Yet others a political power who would remove the Roman oppressors and establish the throne of King David once again. Some thought that the Messiah would be all three, wrapped into one. But as Simeon studied the Torah, the Prophets, the stories of what salvation had looked like for generations, he saw a different Messiah. He saw the coming of a humble sage, a healing balm, one who would raise up those who found themselves discarded and disposable by the establishment. Of course, he knew that when one like this Messiah ever did show up, he would be simultaneously loved and hated. Those at the bottom would cheer their savior. Those at the top would sharpen their swords. And yet, as Simeon studied the ways of the Lord, he felt more and more confident that such a Messiah would come. God always keeps God’s promises. With that confidence, Simeon waited.
“Now.” It was as if he heard the word audibly. His eyes snapped open. Without understanding why, he knew he had to go to the Temple immediately. All at once, the Spirit of the Lord was on Simeon, and he knew he had to go. And for the first time in a long time, he jumped. He jumped out of bed, and into his clothes, and out the door, on the way to the Temple mount, as fast as his old legs could take him.
Anna waited. Some days, he felt like it was the only thing she was still good at.
Anna was a widow. As were most widows in her time and place, she was vulnerable. She had no one to care for her needs, advocate for her rights. She lived in the Temple and was dependent on the justice of the community, on their hospitality and care. For years, it had been enough to keep her alive. But not much more. There were other widows in the capital of Jerusalem who were well-cared-for. They had been married to those who were well-placed, and wanted for little. Anna smiled gently as she caught a reflection of herself in the shiny décor of the Temple. A wrinkle for every time she wondered where the next meal would come from. And yet, the next meal always came. Due to God’s faithfulness, all her needs had been met, and she was cared for beyond her expectation. It was only when she chose to fast as an act of prayer that she would be hungry. But even then, she worshipped.
In fact, instead of complaining that she did not have enough, Anna had the reputation for quite the opposite. She was known around the Temple as “Anna the Prophet.” She was faithful, and devout, and was never shy about proclaiming the love of God. Proclaiming the way he had rescued her and cared for her. Proclaiming the imminent coming of the Messiah. And proclaiming such things to each and every person that she met. She would sing aloud when a group of pilgrims entered the gates. She would worship God at the sight of the scribes and teachers entering in their regalia…
But her favorite were the babies. Every day, they came: young families reporting to the Temple in order to declare themselves clean after childbirth, in order to circumcise the boys, and to dedicate the firstborn. They came with their offerings. A lamb and a turtledove for most of the families. For the poorest of the poor, the law of Moses was clear: they could bring two turtledoves as an alternative. It was these families that Anna felt for the most. Like her, they didn’t have power or riches. But like her, they were faithful and committed to the ways of God. When they brought their babies, Anna would coo and giggle. She would place her wrinkled face next to their smooth skin and smell their cleaned scent. And she would sing the prophet’s song, declaring once again the goodness of God’s love and provision. Every once and a while, a family or worshipper would roll their eyes at Anna. “Crazy old woman,” they would mutter under their breath. But most of them received her blessing and prophetic words for what they were: the utterances of a prophet of God to the people of God.
She noticed one such family making their way toward the altar. The offering too small to be a lamb. Another poor family. They looked lost and a bit confused in the scurry of the Temple. Anna had seen it before: likely from a small town where the pace was slower. Then, from across the plaza, her old eyes could still see what they strained to see. They carried with them…a child! Anna made her way through the bustle toward the family, praising God as she went.
Simeon rushed into the busy-ness of the street, and was forced to slow down as the crowd at the Temple became tighter. He could hardly contain his excitement. “Now.” He knew he had to be there and he had to be there now. Now, his knees really ached as they banged into pilgrims and fellow worshippers on their way into the Temple. It hurt and he wished he could sit down and catch his breath, but he knew he had no time to waste. “Now.”
Finally, he made it in with the crowd to the Temple. He panicked for a minute, as he realized that he really had no idea what or who he was looking for. But instead of rushing or asking or worrying, Simeon stopped. He listened. He waited. There was a tradition of the elder that suggested that one could not study the Torah of God in a room without windows, for one must always open their eyes to the world around them. This teaching had served Simeon well, as he learned to more profoundly understand the ways of the Lord, he learned how to open his eyes beyond what he could see. He had learned what it meant to look and listen and allow himself to be guided by the power of the Spirit. The devout and pious women and men who were younger had not mastered this awareness yet. They hurried with their eyes and their mouths and their hands and feet. But Simeon, relying on his wisdom and his age, closed his eyes to the world around him and opened them to the Spirit. And that’s when he heard it: the soft cry of a child.
Simeon knew that his waiting had come to fruition. As he hobbled on sore knees toward the sound of the child, he felt a rush of energy and excitement that he had not felt in decades. There was something that told him that this was the one. This was the Messiah that he was waiting for. As he saw the young family, he knew he was right. They were not haughty, but carried a humble spirit about them. They were not well-positioned in society, but they came from the margins where only God could raise a Messiah. They were not pushy or impatient, but their eyes showed a devotion, a purpose. This, Simeon knew, was the family of a Savior.
As he got close, he cried out loud, startling the baby and his parents. He scooped the child from their stunned arms, and held him aloft. But instead of getting angry or crying out in fear, the three of them responded with trust. They trusted this old man, and the Spirit who guided him. They trusted him as he cradled their child of promise. And they smiled as he began to sing…
It was the strangest sight that Anna had seen in her 84 years on this earth. As she made her way across the crowded plaza, making a beeline to this baby and family, she saw a man as old as she was glide into view. With the agility of a man half his age, he intercepted the family, grabbed the baby, and began to sing. His voice was not what you would call angelic, but it was clear and joyful. He sang of the coming of the Messiah, of the promise of God to welcome all peoples—Jews and Gentiles—and of the joy that he was given by God to see this child with his own eyes. “I may now depart in peace.”
For Anna the Prophet, she was glad to see someone else around here get the picture for once! She sang as she moved closer to the family, as she saw the look of shock and joy on the mother and father. Anna had sung the song of the Lord…again and again and again. But today, the song she sang was louder and stronger and wilder and more hopeful than ever before! This was the day that she had waited for her whole life.
And to think, she would have missed it, if she had not been faithful. If she had not lived her life with the confidence that God keeps God’s promises. If she had not spent her life on God, eyes wide open, in hopeful anticipation. Her life of prayer, of commitment, of anticipation brought her to this moment. She, too, was ready to depart in peace.
The two of them sang together as if they were dancers on the final day of a wedding celebration. Up and down and around and around. The whole Temple stopped to look. Years later, many would remember this day and talk about it as the day that they had seen a miracle. Some remembered the sight of the old couple dancing in the crowd. But those who were wiser and more thoughtful talked about the baby that they celebrated. The child of promise. The Messiah who had come.
But for Simeon and Anna, there was no tomorrow. This was the day that both of them had been waiting for decades. But as they entered another round of song and dance, they both found a new energy from deep within. For both knew that they were waiting no more!