Simeon And Anna: No Songs Like The Old Songs
You know what they say—“There are no songs like the old songs.”
I think maybe one of the reasons we love Christmas so much is because at Christmas we sing the Christmas Carols — those old songs we have known and loved for all of our lives. Well today I want to focus on one of those old songs, in fact it’s one of the oldest Christmas Carols of them all. Though it is not a carol which is widely known or commonly sung these days, nevertheless it is a wonderful old song. Not only that, but interestingly enough this old song was first sung by two old people. I don’t know how it is with you at Christmas time but for me, Christmas is the time when I tend to think about those older people who have had such a significant impact upon my life. Many of them have now gone on to their heavenly home. Especially at Christmas, I remember them with love and gratitude.
For example, always at Christmas time I remember my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, an incredible mixture of indomitable toughness and embracing tenderness. We called her “Maman.” She was the great matriarch in our family. Now Maman believed that Christmas existed for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that was to celebrate the birth of her Savior. Therefore, Christmas at her house was always celebrated with great flourish. It seems to me now, as I think back across all of those Christmases with her, that every single one of them was a new and great adventure. I remember one in particular. I remember how four nuclear families gathered together as one “extended family”—all of us gathered about the long dining-room table that stood in Maman’s house. We were prepared for a great Christmas feast, and Maman then decreed that we were going to do something a little different that particular year. She said that in order to celebrate the birth of the Savior, we were going to stand up around the dining-room table and light sparklers. We were going to hold them aloft, and then we were going to sing, “Joy to the World.” Well it turned out to be much more spectacular than she ever imagined. You see apparently, the sparklers were defective so that when we lighted the sparklers and held them aloft, the sparklers began to drop little balls of flame on the dining-room table igniting the red net material on the tablecloth and the table decorations. I shall never forget the sight of us children, wide-eyed with fear, watching while our parents tried to hammer out the flames with their napkins. All the while Maman stood at the head of the table, her sparkler held high, her eyes closed in emotion and devotion, a beatific look across her sainted face, and she was singing at the top of her glorious voice, “Joy to the World” blissfully unaware of the total chaos around her. What a Christmas!
Yes, I think it’s good sometimes to remember at Christmas the “good old days,” the “good old people,” and the “good old songs.” So I want us to remember one of those old songs today, and I want us to remember the two old people who sang that song.
First, I want you to look with me at those who sang the song.
Their names were Simeon and Anna. We know something about them. We know, for example, they were both advanced in years. Simeon’s age is not given to us precisely, but we do know from the passage of Scripture in Luke 2, that Simeon was the priest in the temple at Jerusalem. That was a position which was granted on the basis of seniority. We know that he was the priest there because we are told that Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple to do what was customary under the Law. The Jewish Law decreed that the first-born son in a Jewish family had to be presented to the priest in the temple of Jerusalem within 40 days after birth. So that’s what Mary and Joseph were doing. They took Jesus to the temple to present Him to the priest. When we are told that Simeon took the child into his arms, that’s the clue we need to know that Simeon was the priest in the temple. Therefore, we can certainly assume that Simeon was well along in years. Anna, the other person who sang this song, has her age revealed to us quite specifically in Scripture. The Bible says, “She was very old. She had lived with her husband 7 years after her marriage and then was a widow until she was 84.” So it is clear that Simeon and Anna were quite advanced in years.
Now, we know something else about them as well. We know something of their character. You know, I’ve always found it interesting that the Bible manages to capture the character of a person in just a few words—no long descriptive paragraphs, just a phrase or two. It’s amazing how the Bible does this. For example, what does the Bible say of Anna. The Bible says, “She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” That’s all the Bible tells us about Anna, but that tells us all we need to know about her, doesn’t it?
Simeon is described in even fewer words. His character is summed up like this, “Simeon was righteous and devout.” When the Bible refers to him as righteous, that meant that Simeon knew himself to be a sinner made righteous only by the grace of God. When the Bible says that Simeon was devout that meant he let his righteousness show through. His character mirrored his belief. His actions demonstrated his allegiance to God. Simeon, then, was righteous and devout. In addition, we are told in the passage that Simeon has been informed by the Spirit of God that he would not die until he had seen with his own eyes the Lord’s Christ. It was that hope which then became the driving force in Simeon’s life compelling him through all the decades that he lived. Understand, please, he lived in a terribly difficult time. He lived at a time when his nation was divided with civil unrest. The temple was fighting the palace and the palace was fighting the temple, and the people were fighting each other. In the midst of it all, the Romans swept in, and with cold and brutal force, they occupied the land. Temple priests were being assassinated. Worshippers were being slain as they knelt to pray. Common people were being arrested on the streets for no good or just cause. Jerusalem, the beloved city, had been pillaged and plundered. Yet in the midst of all of that upheaval and distress, Simeon, great, old Simeon, held fast to the hope which had been planted in him by the Spirit of God. So Simeon belonged to the Lord, and he let it show in his life. Simeon was righteous and devout.
I love to take note of the inscriptions on tombstones. Some of them are humorous. I remember once seeing the tombstone of a dentist which read:
Here lies Dr. Emmet Williams, DDS
Filling his last cavity.
Some of them are inspiring. There is a little cemetery in Zermatt, Switzerland where there are buried those who have died on the slopes of the Matterhorn. Four Cambridge University students died together in an avalanche on that mountain, and their parents buried them together in a single grave under a single cross. On that cross you will find inscribed these words:
They died climbing.
Some are majestic. My grandfather was a judge, the chief judge of the Alabama state court. On his tombstone are carved these words:
A judge whose justice came from a heart of mercy.
Some are touching. There’s one of those in one of our military cemeteries near Bonn, Germany where there is buried one of our young, American soldiers. On the cross which marks his burial spot, his wife had carved these words:
To the world, he was but one,
but to me, this one was the world.
Well you know as I think about what I might like to have inscribed on my tombstone, I can think of nothing better, nothing I would love more, than the words which Scripture uses to describe great, old Simeon. The words are:
Righteous and devout.
Now I’d like to look at the song Simeon and Anna sang.
As I said, it’s one of the oldest Christmas carols of them all, and so it is. For you see, at the moment Mary and Joseph put the baby Jesus into Simeon’s arms, the Bible says, “Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God saying, ‘Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in Peace for my eyes have seen Your salvation.’” What an incredible word. Simeon was declaring that the promise God had made to him now had been fulfilled. The hope he had been holding fast for all of these years had come true. In the Baby he held in his arms he could see and say, “The Savior of the world is born.” Therefore, he says that he can face death or anything else in life serene and unafraid. Why? Because the Savior had come. By the same token, I believe that you and I can stand in the face of this world, a world which is tense, tough, and trying—we can stand in the face of anything that comes our way in this life, if we will simply repeat over and over again the phrase “Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born!” That, dear friends, makes all the difference in the world.
Some years ago now, the noted actress, Julie Harris, appeared in a Broadway play called “Member of the Wedding.” She was the star. One of the other featured performers in the play was the African-American actress, Ethel Waters. One night after a performance, Ethel Waters went backstage, and there she found Julie Harris slumped over and weeping. Ethel Waters said, “What’s a matter with ya chile? Why are you crying?” Through her tears, Julie Harris stammered out the answer, “Because I’m so filled with fears, doubts, and worries that I just don’t think that I can go on any longer.” Great, old Ethel Waters then said, “Honey, the heart of your problem is the problem in your heart. You got your heart in the wrong place. You need to give your heart to Jesus. You need to give Jesus all of those worries and troubles of yours. You do know Jesus, don’t you, child? You do know Jesus, don’t you?”
That’s the question I want us to answer this Christmas. “You do know Jesus, don’t you”? I want you to know Him. I want you to know Him this Christmas. I want you to make a home for Him in your heart this Christmas, because, you see, once Jesus Christ is born in the manger of the human heart, He never leaves …