It was about forty days or so since the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph packed up what little they had brought with them to Bethlehem, and set out on the six-mile journey to Jerusalem. As a momma of littles, I am trying to fathom not being home recovering and settling into life with my new baby, so let’s just agree here that Joseph and Mary were amazing. A. Maz. Ing.
A six-mile walk shouldn’t take more than two hours, but we all know that with littles time is relative, right? They arrive at the temple in Jerusalem (after diaper changes and feedings 🙂 ), and make their way to the courts where the purification rites and consecration of the first born take place.
This faithful couple, in obedience to the law in Leviticus 12, had arrived at a moment in Jesus’ life that I wonder if they recognized the weight of in that moment. This ceremony was about consecrating the first born, and offering a sacrifice in keeping with what the Law of the Lord required. Imagine them securing the two young pigeons required for this sacrifice- a window into the meager economic situation of this young family. This sacrifice and ceremony declared this first born child was dedicated, set apart for a divine purpose.
Can you picture it? There, in the filled courts of the temple, they make their way to present baby Jesus to a priest… to declare the very Son of God as set apart. Another person was moved to be in the temple courts that day, too.
Simeon, Luke tells us, was righteous, devout, and waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” Luke also tells us that the Holy Spirit was “on him.” The Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. That morning, as Simeon went into the temple courts, I wish we could have known what was stirring in him. I imagine it being something in the same vein as the moments leading up to when I saw my husband at the other end of the aisle on our wedding day… so much anticipation I could have burst.
Picture it- they come face-to-face with each other, and Mary carefully (as every new mother would) hands off baby Jesus to Simeon. A righteous, aged, devout follower of God who longed to see the Rescuer was now finally looking into the beautiful eyes of God- the Messiah- in his very arms! How his soul must have swelled to HOLD the glory of God’s people, Israel, with his hands! His response? Praise.
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
These were not the typical words spoken at one of these ceremonies. Mary and Joseph marveled at Simeon’s response to his encounter with Jesus. Simeon was putting a stake in the ground- he was repeating prophecies from Isaiah (52:10, 42:6-7, 49:6) and stating they had been fulfilled in this babe in his arms.
This wise man turns his gaze to Mary and Joseph. I can see the tenderness and compassion in his eyes, can’t you? He locks eyes with Mary, and delivers a reminder of the purpose of the child she desperately loves.
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
Because the Holy Spirit rested on Simeon, he was compelled to remind Mary about the truth of her son’s destiny. This speaks so much to the loving heart of God- to prepare the heart of His daughter for the road ahead. He is more than familiar with a mother’s love for her children.
As Mary soaked in this reminder from Simeon, a prophetess came up at that very moment and began to praise the Lord! Her name was Anna.
Anna had been married for seven years before she was widowed. Her father was Penual, and she was from the tribe of Asher. We don’t know much more except that at the time of this encounter, she was very old, and never left the temple. She worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
Anna sees the baby and responds with thankfulness, and immediately begins to talk about the child to those she knows are looking forward to the redemption of Israel. For years, this strong and faith-filled woman had been eagerly looking – hoping, praying, fasting – day in and day out for the Messiah! Her response to seeing him falls in line with everyone who encountered Jesus and recognized Him for Who He is- praise and spreading the word.
As I take in this scene, my eyes rest on the four gathered around this baby. A young couple in the early days of caring for an infant, and two faithful, elderly followers of the Lord. I see years of waiting for a promise, and I see it fulfilled. I see a setting, and I see a dawning. And friend, it’s all happening in the temple courts built for the worship of the very One they’re all gathered around.
This is the moment when the fulfillment of all their hopes is mingled with the reality of what is ahead. I imagine that Simeon’s words of praise to the Lord and his reminder of the destiny of the child was hanging in the air.
In this encounter with Jesus, Simeon and Anna respond with praise and worship in His own courts. Yet, in the midst of their praise was a grasp of the extent Love would have to go to secure salvation for the nations. The eyes of this beautiful baby looking up at them would be the same eyes looking out on the crowd with tears as He would say, “Father, forgive them… for they know not what they do.”
In this season of Lent, may we linger long enough on this scene to let it overwhelm us. May we be willing to gaze long enough at the beauty and pain of it. If we allow ourselves to sit in the tension of this moment of setting and dawning, we’ll recognize that praise is a sacrifice because it is a reminder that costs us our ignorance. Praise is a mirror that we are not enough. It is a reminder that He is the Messiah, and we are the ones He had to come for.
Friend, I don’t know what this past week has held for you. My hope is that it was filled with life and joy and rest, but I’ve talked to several of you… So, I know that there are those who are dealing with trials so thick that you’re struggling to breathe. Here’s the thing- whether we are on the mountain, or in the valley, or somewhere in between, praise is never based on our circumstances. It simply IS the response to encountering Jesus. I know what it feels like to have to whisper out a song of worship because my hurting heart is in my throat. By responding in praise, we join a long line of men and women who recognized Him for Who He is- Messiah, the consolation and glory of Israel, the light of the nations… the One who took my place, your place.
I invite you to enter His courts, bow, and praise the name of Jesus this week. He is worthy.
We put together a Spotify playlist for the Encounters Lent Devotional series. Pause and listen to this as you reflect on the Scripture passages today.