Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, the Jewish Feast of Dedication. (To learn a bit more about the holiday, click here, here or here.) The miracle of the oil spoke of a greater reality. The Temple was once again dedicated to proclaiming the glory of God on the earth in 165 B.C. after it had been desecrated in the hands of pagan kings for generations.
It is also the first week of Advent**, the four week-long time of spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas. Though we typically focus on the big players during this time (Mary, Joseph, Innkeeper, Shepherds, Wisemen – and most important of all, the Baby), there are two other important voices that play a key role in the incarnation: Simeon and Anna.
The location where these two each prophesied over the Baby is inextricably tied to the miracle wrought at the hands of Yehuda HaMakabi (Judah Maccabee) and his family, the warrior-priests who led the Maccabean Revolt 165 years before Jesus was born. Because of the supernatural heroism of Judah and his men, the Temple was again restored to its role as the center of worship for the Jewish people, the “command center” from where they were to be light to the nations.
Anna, a widow in her eighties, spent her life at the Temple, pouring her life out before God worshipping, fasting and praying. A devout man, Simeon, lived nearby. At the Spirit’s leading, he arrived on the premises as Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of Moses for Mary’s postpartum purification and to consecrate their little One to the Lord. No doubt they were not the only young parents there that day performing these rites. And most likely, neither Simeon nor Anna had ever never met the couple before.
But in that place of worship like no other spot on earth, rescued and restored by Judah Maccabee and his fiery army of worshippers, these two older people were drawn to and prophesied over that tiny child. Simeon and Anna’s words each captured a lifetime of longing for the promise of a Messiah. Scripture describes them both as holy people. The Temple shaped each one’s life practice and caused them to pray daily their desire for the Messiah to come. The aroma of sacrifice and the incense of generations of prayer for the revelation of the Messiah surrounded them as they both were drawn to that Child on his consecration day.
I believe Anna and Simeon’s rhema words were possible in the Temple because more than a century and a half earlier, the Maccabees had been shaped by the same longing. Some frame the story of the Maccabees in purely nationalistic terms, but I believe these priests primarily were driven by their desire for the glory of God. Their warfare was their prayer, and their worship in the rededicated temple rekindled a hope for a Deliverer to come and finish what they’d started.
And I believe as Simeon and Anna were the great-grandchildren of the prayers and worship of the Maccabees.
Simeon’s words take my breath away every time I read them: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)
Tonight is a night to kindle the first of eight lights, and to thank God for the deliverance wrought with the hands of Judah Maccabee, and the Deliverer who would come 165 or so years later as glory of Israel and light to the world.
**Though Simeon and Anna aren’t typically Advent characters because they don’t play their part until shortly after the birth occurs, I am pondering them today because they are a part of the season, and because I’m thinking about the Temple and Chanukah.