Good morning, Friends!
I hope you all had a great time over the holidays. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve service here, with 100 people, and then a much smaller group here for worship on Christmas Day.
I know we all feel like Christmas is pretty much over by now. We’ve had our pageants and our presents and parties. We’ve finished up our fruitcake, and some of us are trying to live up to our New Year’s resolutions to eat less and get more exercise
Today’s Scripture reading is a part of the Christmas story which we don’t usually pay much attention to. I looked it up, I don’t think I’ve ever read this passage here at worship during my time here at Springfield.
That’s pretty embarrassing. I feel like I should be indicted for Bible neglect. But it’s an important part of the Christmas story, and I want us to look at it again this morning.
On the eighth day [after Jesus was born], when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. As it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”. They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
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.”
Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about their baby. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet named Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. Anna never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
Coming up to them at that very moment, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.Luke 2:21-40
Jesus’ parents took him to the Temple to be circumcised, to become the newest member of the people of the Covenant. And they offered a sacrifice of two doves, which is what it says to do in the Law of Moses.
It’s almost as if the story is designed to show people that Jesus is a real Jew, born in Israel, and that his parents did everything right to make sure that Jesus was a good Jewish boy.
You almost wonder if there must have been some birth denier in the background back then, people who refused to believe that Jesus was authentic and real. I guess that was a problem.
But the other part of today’s story, the part I find so interesting, is the people who met Jesus in the Temple, the folks who welcomed him and greeted him and prayed over him.
The first person was an old man named Simeon. It says that Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. . .”
We have to remember that at this time, there were lots of different parties and movements in Israel. The country was deeply divided.
First there were the Pharisees, the purists, the people who wanted to make Israel great again by being strict in observing the law. They drew lines to keep people out, rather than opening doors to let people in.
Then there were the Sadducees, the party of big business and old money, the religious and political establishment. Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees saw themselves as the guardians of tradition, the protectors of the way things are.
And then there was another group, the Zealots. They were the revolutionaries, who wanted to kick the Romans out, no matter who got in the way. They were both religious and ruthless. The Zealots used assassination to get rid of people they didn’t like. In their zeal for the Lord, some of them became terrorists.
Some things haven’t changed.
And then there were people like Simeon. They’re often called “the quiet in the land.” They wanted God to come, but they weren’t interested in power for themselves.
They wanted redemption and restoration, not revolution. They wanted the kind of healing peace that God could give, where everyone could live under their own vine and fig tree, and no one would make them afraid.
The “quiet in the land” are often overlooked and forgotten. Think about the Shakers, the Mennonites, the Amish, the Brethren, the Quakers, and many others in the world, who hope and pray for the goodness of God to come and rule.
It doesn’t say how old Simeon was. We guess that he was an older person, but all it really says is that “the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Messiah. . .”
There’s a time in the lives of most people, and a time in the lives of many congregations, when they give up. They decide that their day is done. Their lives are basically over.
When they were young, they may have thought they were going to change the world. The may have thought that God was going to come in their generation. But they reach a point where they figure that’s just not going to happen.
It happens to individuals. It happens to movements. It happens to congregations.
We get discouraged. We get burned out. We may not actually quit believing, but we quit believing that good things are going to happen to us. We quit believing that it’s going to happen in our day, in our generation. Maybe it’ll happen some place else, some day, but not in our day.
Simeon wasn’t like that. He may have been getting old, but he didn’t stop believing. He said, “I’m not going to die, before the good things that God has promised are going to start happening.” He said, “I know that I will see the Christ we’ve all been waiting for.”
Simeon didn’t know when it was going to happen. But every time he went to worship, he went with a sense of hope and expectation.
Simeon hadn’t met Jesus yet, but every day he prayed, “Lord, may your kingdom come! May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!”
He never gave up hoping. He never stopped praying. Because he believed, as the Holy Spirit promised, that it would happen during his lifetime.
And when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the Temple, to do what was customary according to the Law, it says that Simeon took the child in his arms and he lifted up his eyes, and he praised God.
He said, “Lord, let your servant go in peace now, according to your word. For my own eyes have seen your salvation! You prepared it. You promised it. You said that all people, everywhere, would see it. You said there would be light, even for people who don’t belong to Israel, to reveal what You are doing. You said it would be glory – glory, and now I’ve seen it, here in this little baby I’m holding.”
Jesus’ parents were amazed. And Simeon reached out, and pulled them into his arms, and he blessed them, too. And Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he said, “Because of this child, many people in Israel will fall, and many will rise. . .”
And that was the truth. Because of Jesus, some people lost their power, and lost their influence.
And because of Jesus, other people rose. They became teachers, and apostles. They became healers and peacemakers. People who were bound were set free. People who were poor became rich in spirit. People who had grieved for a lifetime learned all about joy.
Jesus overturned a lot of things. He changed the world. He turned things upside-down.
And Simeon said, “He will be a sign that will be opposed,” which was also true of Jesus. Not everybody agreed with him. Not everybody welcomed him. Simeon saw forward, to a time when people would oppose Jesus, his message and his mission, and even try to kill him.
Simeon said that “people’s inner thoughts would be revealed” by Jesus, and that “a sword will pierce your own soul, too. . .”
That’s not a very popular prophecy. But Simeon saw clearly that the way people respond to Jesus would show what they really believed about God. Some people loved Jesus, and followed him. Other people said they loved God, but they hated Jesus and what Jesus said and did.
And it’s not just other people whose hearts are revealed this way. Our hearts are revealed. Our priorities are laid wide open. We can’t just complain with satisfaction about the speck in someone else’s eye. Jesus shows us the log in our own eye first. What we do, every day, shows what we really believe.
While Simeon was still talking, another old person came up to see Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Her name was Anna, and she was eighty-four years old. She had loved God, all her life. It says she never left the temple, but stayed there night and day, worshiping and praying and fasting.
Anna didn’t give up. She didn’t get up in the morning and say, “Well, God, I know you said you’re going to do great things some day, but I guess you’ve decided to skip me over, because it hasn’t happened yet. I’m so old, I guess it’s never going to happen.”
That’s not what Anna said. It says she never quit praying. She kept her lamp filled with oil, and she kept her hope burning bright. It doesn’t say this, but I think she looked at every person who walked into the Temple, and she asked herself, “Is this the one who God has promised?” She looked to see the face of Christ in everyone who came to worship.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to see Christ in every person’s face. Everyone who walks in our door. Everyone who needs our help. Every person who is hurt, or who suffers injustice, every person who is hungry and thirsty. Every person who is seeking. Every person who has been cast out.
And who did Anna finally see Christ in, the Christ she’d been waiting for? The face of a little baby. It took a lot of faith to make that call. All those years she’d waited, 84 years, and here he was, at last.
And just like Simeon, Anna praised God. She said, “The city where I’ve been living in all this time, this occupied territory, will be redeemed. God loves the world, and now at last I’ve seen it! I prayed all those years, and thank God, it’s here at last!”
She never gave up hope. She never stopped her prayers.
That’s what I want to say this morning. I wish we were all more like Simeon and Anna. Most of us aren’t revolutionaries. I think we tend to be more like the “quiet in the land”.
But being quiet doesn’t mean giving up. It doesn’t mean we stop hoping and dreaming and praying. Waiting for a long time for change doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. Being mature or even being old doesn’t mean we give up hope.
I wish we had a whole lot of people in our meeting like Simeon to be leaders and elders. I wish we had a whole lot more people like Anna to be greeters and nurturers.
We need to pray and believe that the good things God has promised will happen in our generation, not a hundred years from now. We don’t give up, and we don’t despair.
In one of the Psalms, it says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
I think that was the prayer that Simeon and Anna prayed. I believe that Christ is within us and beside us and in front of us. I believe that God’s promises are fresh and new, every day.