There had been four centuries of divine silence in Israel. The God who had progressively revealed his plan and purpose in redemption through the pages of Holy Scripture, had added nothing to his revealed word throughout this time. Even though it was a period marked with major national and international crises that affected God’s people deeply, there was no fresh revelation. But for the remnant – like Simeon and Anna and the others simply alluded to by Luke – the existing revelation never went stale.
The very first Nancy Guthrie book my wife and I were given was Holding on to Hope. Before we had even turned a page, the title grabbed us because it resonated deeply with the needs we had been living with, at that stage of our life, for almost 16 years. Our daughter was born with severe disability and we were discovering that her needs were to bring fresh challenges year on year. At times our hopes had been shaken and at other times they were simply dashed, but what we knew we needed was the perspective from Scripture that allows us as God’s people to hold on to hope, even when it feels like it has gone.
Ever since receiving her little paperback, the title of Nancy’s book keeps popping into my head at Christmastime – always in relation to a little detail that Luke inserts into his record of the Nativity. It occurs in his account of Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple to do what was required for him according to the Law of Moses (Lk 2.22-24).
There in the Temple precincts the little family was met by two complete strangers: Simeon and Anna. Luke says of Simeon, ‘He was waiting for the consolation of Israel’ (Lk 2.25). He echoes this in what he remarks about Anna after she had seen the baby Jesus: ‘…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Lk 2.38).
Calvin and others point out that these two descriptions of Simeon and Anna are actually the same, but simply phrased in slightly different ways. Since Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, it is used with reference not merely to itself as a city, but for the entire nation of which it was the centre.
The language of ‘consolation’ and ‘redemption’ unmistakably pick up on the language that flows through the prophets in Old Testament times. As we follow the history of redemption through Israel’s history and in light of the God-given interpretation of that history in the prophets and the psalms, we see Israel still longing for both these aspects of God’s deliverance, even when their hope is at its lowest ebb.
This sacred yearning comes to light again at the pivotal moment when the promised Messiah entered the world at a time when Israel’s hope had all but disappeared.