So how did Simeon know? How did he know that baby was the one—out of all the little 40-day-old babies coming to the Temple, that this one was him, the Messiah he had been waiting for.
And how did Anna know? She had been waiting for a very, very long time. The story makes her sound almost unbelievably old—84 years is common now, but back then she had lived almost three times as long as most people.
Luke says it was the Holy Spirit who told Simeon, but unless the Holy Spirit operated differently back then, whispering in people’s ears, I think maybe it was a little more complicated. How did they know?
And what was it like for them to have to wait for so, so long? Was it a fun kind of waiting—like waiting for Santa Claus to come, or waiting for your birthday—the kind of waiting that is exciting, when a surprise is just around the corner?
Was it like being pregnant, an almost unbearable combination of hopefulness and joy and uncertainty that comes with knowing things are about to change big time, and will probably never be the same. The coming of Jesus has certainly changed things.
Or maybe it was the boring kind of waiting, like on a long car trip, or being a senior in high school, in February. I wonder if Anna ever said, “Are we there yet?” while she was fasting and praying in the Temple all those decades.
Was it like waiting for good news, like sitting by the phone expecting the job offer of your dreams? Or maybe like waiting for news not knowing if it will be good or bad—like being in the oncologist’s waiting room. Simeon says that Jesus is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, so while we might call him “good news,” he wasn’t good news for everyone.
Or was it the frustrating kind of waiting for a change that never seems to come, like peace in the Middle East, or an end to gun violence.
Maybe waiting all that time was like waiting with someone who is dying, that sad and hard and beautiful kind of waiting, or maybe it was like the waiting that comes with grief, when we are wondering when we might find our new normal after a loss, when things will be bearable again.
There are lots of kinds of waiting, and I imagine Simeon and Anna experienced a lot of them in their long lives of waiting for the Messiah. And even if it was at times unpleasant, or joyful, or boring, or uncertain, it was actually all that waiting that made Anna and Simeon ready to recognize the Messiah when he appeared. That’s how they knew.
The time of waiting was when the Holy Spirit was doing her work, making space in Simeon and Anna to receive Jesus, preparing their eyes to recognize him, their spirits to announce him.
Maybe Anna and Simeon knew Jesus when they saw him, because they had gotten very good at waiting for him. Jesus finally showing up on his presentation day was merely the climax for what God had been preparing Simeon and Anna for all along.
And preparing us as well. It might be easier to recognize God—at least it is for me—in the moments of the “big reveal,” when the baby is born, or that good news comes through, or even in the grace of a good death. What might be harder is recognizing God in the waiting, in both the excitement and the discomfort, in the anxiety and the expectation.
But surely in the waiting God is also present to us, the Holy Spirit is doing something in us, discovering and nurturing the gifts we need to face whatever life has in store for us, opening our eyes to how God works, or opening our ears to be ready to receive good news when it comes.
A good part of the Christian life is waiting, and part of the discipline of being Christian, or of just being human, is getting good at waiting. In all that waiting, God is making us ready to recognize Christ when he appears, so that we can say: There you are, I recognize you—I’ve been waiting for you. So that we can sing our own version of the Song of Simeon: “Now my eyes have seen your salvation for me, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, all light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”