31 December 2017

Luke 2:22-40

“When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” (vv. 39-40)

Psalm: Psalm 148



One of the first ritual duties for Jewish parents, after circumcision, was to dedicate their firstborn son to God. This tradition looked back to the exodus from Egypt and the years in the wilderness, when the tribe of Levi was dedicated to the service of God, specifically in exchange for firstborn Israelite sons, who belonged to God:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘I hereby accept the Levites from among the Israelites as substitutes for all the firstborn that open the womb among the Israelites. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord.” (Numbers 3:11-13; see also Exodus 13:2)

At the same time, Mary offered a sacrifice for purification, having been made ritually unclean by childbirth (verses 22, 24; see also Leviticus 12:2-8). So the whole family ensured that its relationship with God was on the right footing, and could carry on with life as good, observant Jews.

Another good, observant Jew, according to Luke’s Gospel, was Simeon, who came to the temple, guided by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is active already in these early chapters of the Gospel, not least through Zechariah and Mary. God’s work through the Holy Spirit is a key concern of Luke’s Gospel. The first part of Simeon’s prophecy has entered the liturgical tradition of the Church, often used during evening prayers, and known by its Latin name, Nunc dimittis.

We are told that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (v. 40). This is the first time that Jesus appears as an active agent in the story, rather than a passive baby. Up to now, he had been announced, born, visited, and marvelled over. Now, he grew in strength and wisdom. Note how a similar expression summarises his adolescence, at the end of the chapter (Luke 2:52).

To Ponder

  • Simeon is not, of course, the only prophet in this passage. In fact, it is Anna, not Simeon, who is explicitly identified as a prophet. And yet she, as a woman and an ageing widow, may not be the most likely candidate for that title. Who, in your church or wider community, has prophetic wisdom to share, but might easily be overlooked?
  • The child, Jesus, “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom” (v. 40). How can you help to ensure that the children in your community do likewise? When and how have you learnt from their wisdom?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.