The next step after Jesus’ birth would be to present him for circumcision in the Temple eight days later according to Genesis 17:12. Circumcision was one of the constitutive elements of the covenant made between Abraham and Yahweh. After forty days were completed Mary and Joseph were to go to the Temple with their child for their purification and their son’s presentation. This was the law, according to Leviticus 12:4, because Jesus was the firstborn male. Each firstborn male was to be redeemed by the Lord, offered completely to him. The mission of Jesus’ life was to redeem (buy us back from sin). From the beginning, we see that this child is born so that God would be with us, but also so that he might die for us.
Mary and Joseph arrive and encounter two important and often overlooked characters in the life of Christ: Simeon and Anna. Both of them make it their life’s business to be in and around the Temple (God’s Presence with Israel). The Temple was everything for the Jewish people. This was the only place on the planet where God was really and truly tangible to some degree while they traveled on their earthly pilgrimage. Yahweh’s home was the Temple, not in some empty and cute way, but in a powerful and even fearful manner. Only the high priest on certain feast days was permitted to step foot in the Holy of Holies (the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept way back when) to offer sacrifice. The Temple shouts God’s presence, and at the Presentation God comes home.
The descriptions of these two figures contain the key to their importance. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). Simeon stayed in Jerusalem and around the Temple because it was revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before his death. Therefore, like the magi and the shepherds, he is a person of vigilance.
He was “righteous” meaning he was well aware of what the Law and the Prophets said about the correct way to live and act towards God and others. Simeon is a just man like Joseph (Matthew 1:19) and he is righteous like Noah (Genesis 6:9). Above and beyond this, he is also devout: defined by prayer and devotion to the Lord. Simeon is only concerned with Israel being consoled. He is desperately searching and seeking the Messiah. Therefore, we are told that, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” God had come to him because the Spirit was given to him and poured out on him when he was given his unique promise. Simeon is granted the most gracious gift because Mary, Joseph and Jesus are the ones who make their way towards his embrace. He can finally be consoled by the one who has come to seek and save what was lost (Luke 19:10).
Anna had been a widow for the majority of her life and she “never left the Temple,” (Luke 2:37). She spent her days and nights in prayer and fasting. The intensity of Anna’s faith drove her to never accept the absence of God’s presence. Her deep devotion was one of heart, mind and sacrifice. Anna spent her days and nights fasting and praying which are two signs of vigilance and preparation for something important. Performing these holy deeds throughout the night meant she chose worship over everything, even sleep.
As soon as she was in front of the child she knew that he was the one that Israel had been waiting for, the Messiah had arrived. So Christ came to her, she saw who he was, she knew it, and then she instantly told others about him (Luke 2:38). Her joy had been made complete because the one she was waiting for had finally come. She then responded with conviction, confidence, and courage.
Simeon and Anna pave the way for future discipleship. They set the bar at an all time high from the very beginning. Those who desire contact with the Christ are called to lead Spirit-driven lives of devotion, sacrifice, and action. Our role is to prayerfully wait for him, to attentively watch him come close, and to be utterly amazed as he wraps us up in his glory. Then, and only then, will we know that the Presentation is truly about his presence.