Now that we’ve talked about Simeon’s words of salvation to all and the cost of salvation let’s talk about Simeon’s age. He was old, but how old? This moment for Simeon comes at the climax of his life. He has seen the fulfillment of something promised, but how long did Simeon wait?
The beauty of age and wisdom shines through this story.
We can’t talk about Simeon’s long wait unless we also bring in the other witness in this story, Anna.
Luke 2:22-40 tells the story of two people who held out hope that God would fulfill promises. Both Anna and Simeon were old. The text itself tells us that Anna was either 84 years young or she had been a widow for 84 years, which would put her in her 100s. Orthodox Church Tradition tells us that Simeon had waited faithfully for over 300 years.
This Friday, February 2 churches will be celebrating this moment where Simeon saw the promise of God fulfilled at The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.
A Quick History Lesson
If he were 360 years old, Simeon would have been born during the Persian Period when the Jews were returning to Palestine from the exile. During his early adult years, Alexander the Great took possession of Palestine and ushered in the Greek Period. It was during this period that scholars in sacred writings arose. “Scribes replaced priests as the interpreters of the law, and in the absence of prophetic revelation, scribal interpretation become the authority.” (from Backgrounds of Early Christianity pg 401). The Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus wished to include the Jewish Scriptures in the famous library at Alexandria. It is believed Simeon was one of the seventy scholars who came to Alexandria to translate the scriptures into Greek. It was while Simeon was translating Isaiah 7:14 “behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb and shall bring forth a Son” he thought “virgin” was inaccurate and wanted to correct the text to read woman but an angel appeared to him and said, “You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin.”
Simeon had seen exile and restoration, oppression, rebellions rise and fall, hope, and long periods of God’s silence. And yet he held on! (Bible Timeline) Even if he was no older then the prophet Anna who stood beside him, he had seen a better time for Israel. They had both witnessed life outside of Roman oppression.
Simeon gives the patience of the saints a whole new meaning.
No Matter How Long It Takes, Trust God
As we head into the new year, as a culture, we’ve got our heads wrapped around the idea of New Year Resolutions. But did you know that statistically, 80% of New Year Resolutions fail by February? If church tradition is to be believed that Simeon was 360 years old than he was faithfully holding on to a promise much longer then the one month it takes us to let go of ours.
Through his patience and perseverance to see God’s promises fulfilled, through his actions alone Simeon Says, to all of us, TRUST IN THE PROMISES OF GOD. No matter how long it takes. Trust God.
Old Age Brings Wise Words
Simeon’s faithfulness, perseverance of belief, and his words of wisdom echo the life he had witnessed. Simeon had already seen the rise and fall of many in Israel. He most likely longed for his youth where there was relative peace and freedom as opposed to the rule of the Romans he had lived under for the last 60 years. Perhaps he longed for a time he once saw as great, or perhaps he longed for something better. He was not alone in his longing. Anna, a prophetess, would have been a young woman when Pompey took Jerusalem and the occupation of the Romans began. For the last 40 years of her life, Herod the Great had ruled over the Jews, the same Herod who had killed his own sons out of jealousy and would soon order the death of the male babies of Bethlehem in the hopes to end any chance of a future king of the Jews.
Anna’s life in the temple is seen as a time of mourning, not for her husband, but for her people living under the oppression of the Roman Empire. While Simeon is described as righteous and devout, Anna is given the title of a prophetess. When she saw Jesus, she began to give thanks and speak of the redemption of Jerusalem. She saw hope where moments before there had been mourning and grief.
It is easy in the aftermath of 2017 with its earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, racial tension, injustice, and political unease for us to understand Anna’s mourning for her people and yet we are not called to stay there. We can become captive to the emotions, we fall into doubt that God’s goodness can save us or redeem our people. We trust the promises of politicians and people with power, but have trouble believing the promises God has made.
Both Simeon and Anna are wise from lives well lived. Multiple times throughout his writing Luke pairs men and women giving immense value to all of their voices, here he intermixes the ending of two stories with the beginning of a new story.
The wisdom of age and faithfulness is passed down to these young parents and child about to embark on their new story. The wisdom of old age speaks into the future of this child destined to redeem mankind. Man and woman, old and young, Jew and Gentile are all given a place in this story. Salvation has come for them all.
Simeon and Anna, and the crowd that witnesses them are all saying to each of us the story has just begun.
We have waited faithfully,
we have trusted God and He is faithful,
we have witnessed the rise and fall of many,
we’ve seen good days and bad,
we have lived in freedom and in oppression,
and while we look to the promises of the past it is the future that holds hope.
Something wonderful is happening and something even better awaits us all.