Two rather obscure figures — Simeon and Anna — are brought forward by Luke as witnesses in the Jerusalem temple to the significance of Jesus’ birth. In the case of Anna Luke gives considerable biographical detail –- prophet, Jewish pedigree, fasting and praying continually in the temple. What is most astonishing is her age – probably 105 (7 years of marriage + 84 years as a widow = 91 years since she was married, probably around the age of 14). She must have been a noted figure in the temple court because of her constant worship, her piety, her age and her prophetic wisdom.
At the precise time when Jesus’ parents were giving the offering for their firstborn son in the temple, Luke tells us that Anna stood up and praised God. The word Luke uses (2:28) to describe her action (anthomologeito) incorporates ideas of praise, thanksgiving and proclamation. Perhaps after the pattern of Mary’s Song (1:46-55) and Zechariah’s prophecy (1:67-80), Anna praises God for His gift of the Messiah, giving thanks for His action, and explaining the implications of the Messiah’s presence for all peoples. Luke continues his story by saying that Anna “kept speaking about him to those awaiting the deliverance of Jerusalem”.
Two uses of this verb in the Greek Old Testament provide us with a clear sense of its connotation. Psalm 79 laments the destruction of Jerusalem, pleads for reconciliation with God, and petitions God to avenge Israel for the hostility of its neighbours. At the conclusion of this psalm (vs.13) the poet promises that if God acts, “then we your people, the flock of your pasture will thankfully praise (anthomologesometha) you forever, from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” The tone of the entire introduction to Luke’s Gospel reflects praise to God because He has acted in sending Jesus to restore His people, exactly the hope expressed in Psalm 79.
The second occurrence of note is expressed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Because of his arrogance God punishes Nebuchadnezzar with a madness that makes him act like a beast. He loses everything for the space of perhaps seven years (Daniel 4:19-33). At the time of his recovery Nebuchadnezzar offers praise (anthomologoumai) to the most high God (vs. 37) and confesses that He is “God of gods and Lord of lords and King of kings” (Greek text). His ways are sovereign and unstoppable.1
Luke uses this same kind of language to describe Anna’s response to Jesus. She sees in him the answer from God to all of Israel’s problems and so she responds with prophetic praise, thanksgiving and proclamation. Jesus represents deliverance for Jerusalem, if the people and their leaders will accept him as God’s Messiah.2
When we proclaim the birth of Jesus this Advent season, we should take note of this significant integration of praise, thanksgiving and eschatological announcement that marks the words of Anna, as well as Simeon, Mary and Zechariah. The joy and thanksgiving we feel arises from the fact that God is responding to His promises. Our bondage to sin and evil can be broken and we can participate right now in the inauguration of God’s kingdom work. Although these people may not have understood everything that God was intending to do, they knew that God was acting in a fresh and wonderful way for human salvation.
What voice will you use to prophetically and thankfully proclaim Jesus’ birth? How will your personal experience of God’s deliverance shape the way you praise and worship God this season? Does excitement at God’s astonishing acts in sending Jesus still grip your heart? If we need to recover a deep sense of wonder at Jesus’ first advent and anticipation for his second, perhaps we might consider the practice of Anna who dedicated her life to God’s service, fasting, praying and worshipping with God’s people. What will you say “about this child”?
- 1. This wording reflects the language of the Greek translation of Daniel.
- 2. I. H. Marshall suggests that Luke might be echoing the language of Isaiah 52:9 in which the prophet foretells that God “has rescued Jerusalem” (Commentary on Luke NIGNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 124.