There is something quite wonderful about experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a child. But Luke thought it important that we, likewise, experience Christmas through the eyes of old people, too. And so he tells the story of two old people – battered, refined, shaped by years of disappointment – who kept showing up and growing up, until one day all they had been promised took the form of an eight day old baby boy.
Simeon was waiting. You don’t get old and useful without, at the same time, getting good at waiting. God had given him a promise – and then, he had to live with it. The nature of faith is the nature of knowing more than you can see. Simeon, trained by years of doing the right thing, shaped by decades of devotion, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, was someone God thought trustworthy enough to carry the promise. I imagine that there were some difficult days when devotion was all that kept him going. But, when Mary and Joseph did bring Jesus to Temple, Simeon was on task – trained to faithfulness through disappointment. How else could it have been?
He wasn’t just waiting around – he was waiting with expectancy, with an undefined openness to what God might be up to, leaving the timing of things in God’s hands. Each day closer to death was a day closer to promise kept – so Simeon kept living every day, showing up in his own life, not letting disappointment sideline him in bitterness. So, when the time came – he was ready. Old people keep hope alive through difficult days – reminding of the character of the Promiser, living in the reality of the not yet.
But old people are nothing if not realists – especially when the lights of Christmas can overwhelm with fantasy. He made it clear to Mary that this boy was going to break her heart. That many in Israel, rather than welcoming Him, would reject Him. There is bad news in the good news – old people tell it like it is. Maybe she could hear it from Simeon because in his eyes she saw something of the pain that waiting had shaped in him.
Just then, Anna hobbles onto the scene – and immediately starts laughing and dancing like the little girl faith had shaped in her heart. A conservative calculation puts her waiting at right around sixty years. Sixty!! Sixty years formed by worship, fasting, and prayer enabled her usefulness in her eighty-fourth year! If we could have asked her, I think she might have said that she had nothing better to do. Really. Then the school girl’s worship gives way to the grandma’s authoritative witness to anyone who would listen – “this is the One!!”
Anna and Simeon didn’t get old and useful overnight. They didn’t get old and useful by accident. They didn’t get old and useful by simply passing the years. They grew into people whom God could trust with His great story by showing up every day in their own lives, by being devoted in worship, prayer, fasting, generosity of heart – by being filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is the gift of old people at Christmas.