Epiphanies can ‘mirror’ one another. Both parties to an event can be astonished by the revelation. The gospel for today (Luke 2:22-40) is one of these Epiphanies. The opening verses of the gospel create the setting.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they (Mary and Joseph) brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Leviticus 12:1 spelled out the law of purification.

If a woman … bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean for seven days… On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised…When the days of her purification are completed …she shall bring to the priest … a lamb in its first year for a burnt-offering, and a pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin-offering…If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtle-doves or two pigeons

Mary and Joseph were devout, poor Jews, as indicated by their observance of the law and the use of two turtle-doves. Since Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, nine kilometers south of Jerusalem, they had to travel up to the temple. It was only eight days after Jesus’ birth, January 2nd on our calendars. 


Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel*, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

 ‘Master, now you can dismiss your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Joseph and Mary may have imagined a quiet, private ceremony with themselves and a priest. 

For his part, Simeon was more than a ‘greeter’ welcoming people to the temple. Luke does not say how long Simeon waited but the verb, was waiting, suggests an extended period of time, perhaps decades. Patient expectation that something amazing would happen and that he could witness became a defining discipline of Simeon’s life. Guided by the Spirit, he may have approached Jesus’ parents with a mix of recognition, joy, relief and realization that this was a turning point in his life. It was an Epiphany. His words reflect those of Israel when he saw his son, Joseph, whom he had thought to be dead: ‘I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.’ (Genesis 46:30)

‘Taking the child Jesus in his arms’ was a remarkably bold and impulsive move on the part of someone who had never met the parents of this young child. It may have alarmed Mary and Joseph. It may have even surprised Simeon. 

On the other hand, since Simeon was guided by the Spirit, reaching out to embrace the child may have felt like the most natural thing to do, a fulfillment. The same Spirit may have assured Mary and Joseph that Simeon was holy, even if his words and action were ‘amazing’. 

Only eight days earlier the shepherds had found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger… They made known what the angel had told them…(‘I am bringing good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord’)… Mary treasured these words and pondered them in her heart. There had already been much to be amazed at around his birth. 


There was also a prophet, Anna … a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The prophet Anna, joined generations of prophets of the Lord. She had waited, prepared with fasting and prayer, hoped for and anticipated the Messiah, but she was different. God gave her the privilege and joy of recognizing him in the form of the infant Jesus. Looking decades into the future she saw him as the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem Jerusalem.

A ‘proof-point’ of the Spirit’s guidance is that Simeon and Anna looked for the Lord’s Messiah among the poor who came to the temple. Conventional wisdom might have suggested that they look for him among those who were more conspicuously blessed.


Following the annunciation that she was to be the mother of the Messiah(Luke 1:26-38), the inspired greeting by her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:41-45) and the shepherd’s visit (Luke 2:8-20), Mary may have heard this blessing by Simeon and Anna’s words as part of an astonishing, but recognizable pattern. 

Nevertheless, the meeting of Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna reads like a breakthrough for the two who had waited so long and a(nother) moment of epiphany for the parents of Jesus. 


  • What did Simeon and Anna do or think while they waited at the temple? What was their holy waiting like? Did they stare at each person who came? Were they looking for an adult or a child? Did they reflect on the history of the temple? Did they pray the psalms or recall the prophecies of a Messiah? Were they certain that they would see the Messiah or did they wonder if they were deluding themselves about the Holy Spirit's communications? 
  • Was Mary alarmed when Simeon ‘took Jesus in his arms”? Had she become accustomed to extraordinary events around this child? Did the Holy Spirit assure Mary that Simeon was there to bless the child, her and Joseph?
  • What did Simeon and Anna ‘see’ in the eight-day old Jesus? Did the priest also ‘see’ something special? What about others in the temple? Did Simeon’s life of ‘holy waiting’ and looking forward to the consolation of Israeland Anna’s fasting and prayer enable them to recognize Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us? Is there a lesson for us?


*The prophet Jeremiah had urged the people of Israel to go beyond ritual changes to embody the Spirit of reform as a way of life when the Babylonian exile ended. On God’s behalf he spoke to the soon-to-return captive Israelites, saying:

Thus says the Lord…:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you…
Once again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Once again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit…
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.’
… I am going to bring …the blind and the lame,
    those with child and those in labour, together;
    a great company, they shall return here.…   
 and with consolations I will lead them back…
for I have become a father to Israel (Jeremiah 31:2-9)