Luke 2:21-40 — Signs and Prophecies

One thing I enjoy about the prologue of Luke is how much it reminds me of the Old Testament. Luke begins with births that are announced by angels, two women getting pregnant who shouldn’t, and two men destined for great things. Luke begins with the promise of restoration that has been with Hebrew people since the Babylonian captivity. Not only is there the promise of restoration, but there is a kind of good news for the poor that makes Shepherds into the first prophets to announce Christ. Luke tells the story in such a way that we are reminded of Abraham and Sarah — and the birth of Isaac; we are reminded of Hannah and the birth of the prophet Samuel, and Manoah and the birth of Sampson. The prologue makes it clear that this Jesus fellow is going to be somebody who changes everything.

Today is the day that Catholics celebrate the “Feast of the Holy name,” which used to be called the “feast of the circumcision.” On January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, Catholics observe what is written in Luke 2:21: “After 8 days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

It is at this point that we meet to prophets, Simeon and Anna. Simeon received God’s promise that he would live to see the messiah — and he identified Jesus as this Messiah, and he made a prediction of the child’s life to the parents. It must have been rather shocking to see an old man take the baby and say: “God, I can die now, because I’ve seen the salvation of all, and Your revelation to the gentiles.” It must have been somewhat difficult for Mary to listen to him prophecy that Jesus would show the truth about people, causing many to fall — that His sign would be opposed, and that Mary’s soul would be pierced. After Simon, we meet the prophet 84 year old prophet Anna who praised God and spoke to everybody who was looking for the redemption of Israel about the child.

The first few chapters of Luke are absolutely amazing. Angels appear to Mary, her cousin Elizabeth, and to shepherds. Elizabeth, a woman thought to be barren becomes pregnant with a child that is prophesied by an angel — and, as a further sign, the child’s father becomes mute until the child is born. This child, who is to be named John, recognizes Jesus even before he is born.

While Luke does not go through the history of Israel, it does give Anna’s age. At 84 years old, the prophet Anna would have seen quite a bit. When she was born, Israel was an independent kingdom, ruled by a priest-king. Hanukkah was a celebration of the retaking and re-dedication of the temple, however these events lead to driving out the Greeks and becoming an independent kingdom. This independent kingdom fell apart as Judah fell into a civil war over which brother would sit on the throne next in 63 AD. Not surprisingly, one of the brothers asked Rome for help, and Judah became a client-state to Rome. As her life continued, she saw Rome replace the Priest-king with Herod the Great, and saw Herod kill the whole family, except for a princess that he married; and then she’d see Herod making a great effort to complete and expand the temple, so that it would be as great as the first temple… and she would see Jerusalem become something much greater than it was when she was a girl, although it would be ruled by foreigners.
While Luke dose not tell us when she was married, it tells us that she was married 7 years before her husband died, and she lived as a widow. Considering her age, it is very possible that she became a widow about the time that Judah lost it’s status as an independent state. Rome attacked and conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC — and it is easy to imagine that the prophet Anna was a war-widow.

This woman was not only a prophet, but she was a person who saw a couple brothers destroy the nation due to their own sibling rivalry. She watched the great leaders, who represented not only the government, but God’s will — and who’s line seemed to be established by God, destroy the nation. She watched as the person who made Jerusalem great, and the Temple a worthy structure was also cruel, petty, murderous, and insecure in his position — perhaps this is partially because Herod was an Edomite from a God-fearing family — who was only made king to reward his loyalty to Rome in a past war. Remember in Matthew, we see Herod slaughtering all the infants in Bethlehem: maybe 20 babies, because one of these babies was from David’s line, and called “king” by the magi — Herod also killed the dynasty that ruled before him, and even his adult children when he felt threatened because they had a better claim to the throne than he did due to their mother being a princess.

Whatever the reason, this woman had seen quite a bit: independence, civil war, occupation, and petty tyranny. When Jesus came to the temple, Anna recognized him as being something great and new, she saw him as being the redemption of Jerusalem. It is clear she saw that Jerusalem needed more than to be a great city, with a beautiful temple.

This is what is great about the “prologue” of Luke — it gives us a lot of hints about what is needed in the new Messiah. Many are looking for a new king that will drive out the Romans, and by extension drive out the current local government that collaborates with Rome — but the truth is that there were people alive who saw what happens with political Messiah’s — they die, and things change. Jesus did not come to save the government, but to bring salvation to the people. He did not come to bring good news to those who would become the new elite at the expense of the old elite, but instead to bring good news to the poor. The truth of the gospel is found in the name Jesus — which, is how Joshua comes back to us when it goes through the Greek language first; God is our salvation.

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