My children grew up with an Advent book that told the story of Jesus’ birth. The book itself taught the art of waiting. Each night, they got to read one new page. As adults, they can still recite the book from memory. I have only one quibble with it: Its retelling of Jesus being dedicated at the temple features Simeon but leaves out Anna the Prophetess.
Deuteronomy 19:15 decrees that “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses,” a theme that can be traced throughout the Bible. We need both Simeon and Anna in our Advent imaginations because they are placed there to establish a credible witness. Together, they testify to the fulfillment of God’s promise, a promise given thousands of years earlier to another man and woman.
Consider the pair who greet the Christ child 40 days after his birth, when Mary and Joseph present him at the temple. In Luke 2, Simeon is described as “righteous and devout … waiting for the consolation of Israel,” having been told by the Holy Spirit that “he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Anna, “a prophet, the daughter of Penuel,” has reached the advanced age of 84.
Her age equals seven twelves, signifying divine completeness. We begin to see that something has happened at just the right time. Her father’s name is aptly drawn from the location where Jacob beheld God face to face yet lived (Gen. 32:30). A man and a woman, waiting expectantly in God’s temple to see God face to face.
Now think back to that earliest of temples, the Garden of Eden. Face to face with God, a man and a woman bore witness to the prophecy of a son who would crush the Serpent’s head. Adam heard and gave a prophetic name to the woman: Eve, mother of all living. Eve heard and, after the travail of childbirth, proclaimed, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Gen. 4:1).
Eve’s exclamation reveals that we have never been good at waiting, that Advent has always taken longer than we expect. Her words communicate less the idea of Look, I have a son! and more Here he is! As James Montgomery Boice notes in his commentary, it’s a proclamation of a deliverer. Though you and I know the wait would be millennia, Eve did not. She expected that Cain was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead of a life-giver, Cain was a life-taker. In the wake of Abel’s murder, Cain sneered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). A question wrongly asked and wrongly answered—not just by Cain, but by all of us.
The wait for the Messiah continued, amplified by the sorrow of amplifying sin. Adam and Eve grew old and died. They did not live to witness the fulfillment of the promise. Another generation took up the wait.
For centuries, in the travail of childbirth, Hebrew mothers who bore sons would have wondered, Is this the one? Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, mothers in Egypt, mothers in the wilderness, mothers in Canaan, mothers in exile, mothers in the 400 years of silence, mothers under the fist of Roman rule. Hebrew mothers whispering, Is this the one? Hebrew fathers praying, Send us the consolation of Israel.
Until, at last. At just the right time. And two witnesses appear in the temple of the Lord, male and female, not to hear prophecy but to utter it. Here stands Simeon, lips filled with acclamation. He has lived to see the day. There stands aged Anna the Prophetess, proclaiming, Here he is! She couldn’t have been more right.
Here is the one who is not life-taker but life-giver. Here is the one who asks rightly, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and answers with “I AM.” The wait is over. Though Adam and Eve could not live to see the Messiah, Simeon and Anna could not die until they had. In Simeon’s old age, God gave him consolation. In Anna’s old age, God gave her pleasure.
Comfort. And joy.
The Advent witness of Simeon and Anna exhorts us to wait in expectant hope. He who promises is faithful. He is coming again. And on that day, every nation, tribe, and tongue will bear witness. A multitude will see the face of God and proclaim, “Here he is!”
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