Sermon / Dec 27, 2015 / Luke 2:25-26 / A Gift for Simeon & Anna / Pastor Terry Defoe
Our sermon text on this first Sunday after Christmas is found in Luke's gospel, chapter 2. I’m reading verses 25 and 26:
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (N.I.V.)
The best of the season to you and yours this morning! Well, Christmas has come and gone for another year. The wrappings and the gift boxes will soon be put out to the curb. The long build-up to Christmas is over. The Christmas rush, mercifully, is over for another year. Thankfully, the church, in its wisdom, has set aside a few days after Christmas to ponder the events that have just taken place. Christmas may be over in the world around us, but, in the church, we want to savor these things just a little while longer. So this morning, we return to the book of Luke. This morning, we move from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. We move from the stable to the Temple. We move from the Christmas shepherds to two very special people – Simeon and Anna. The events we’re looking at this morning happened in the days following the birth of Jesus. May God the Holy Spirit enable us to hear these words, to understand them, and to put their truths into practise in our lives today.
On the eighth day after a male child's birth in Israel, that child was taken to the temple or local synagogue for the rite of circumcision. That rite made that little boy a member of God's covenant people. At that time, the child was officially given a name. The name for Mary and Joseph's child was Jesus, which means "The One Who Saves." Mary and Joseph travelled six miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They did as the law required. About five weeks later, Mary and Joseph again headed to Jerusalem and to the Temple. The time for Mary's purification had come. Jewish women followed the requirements of the Law and went through a time of purification after the birth of a child. After that, they were required to offer a sacrifice for purification. So Mary and Joseph purchased two doves to be offered as a sacrifice to God. They couldn't afford a lamb. In addition to the purification ritual, Mary and Joseph were at the temple to dedicate their son to the Lord. It was required that a firstborn son be offered in service to the Lord. Mary and Joseph were new parents. They wanted the best for their child. And they wanted to do what God required. They raised Jesus as an orthodox Jew.
Simeon was a man Mary and Joseph had never met. According to St. Luke, Simeon had three distinguishing characteristics. He was righteous. He was devout. And he was patient. Simeon as I say, was first of all righteous. He was saved by faith alone, just as we are today. He had taken hold of the blessings of God, and he held on to those blessings tightly. Secondly, Simeon was devout. His actions matched his words. He was a God-fearing man. He let God influence all the aspects of his life. At a time when many in Israel had drifted from faith, and at a time when the religious leaders had gone off the tracks, Simeon was one of those special individuals who remained faithful to God and to His Word.
Simeon’s third characteristic, as I say, was his patience. He was righteous by virtue of his faith in God. He was devout in living out his faith. And he was patient in waiting for the Messiah. You know, patience is a rare commodity in this world of ours. If you don't believe me, just head out for a drive this afternoon. Watch for people who don't have time to stop at stop signs. Watch for people who turn left in front of cars coming toward them when it's not really safe to do so. Watch for the lane-changers who weave in and out of traffic to get a car or two ahead at the next red light. Simeon was a man whose patience never ran out. He had been waiting all his life to see the Messiah God had promised. He was waiting for what Luke calls the "consolation of Israel." He was waiting for the comfort the Messiah would bring to people who were alienated from God because of their sins. Simeon knew these words from Isaiah, chapter 40 (vs. 1 & 2) and his hope was based on them:
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for… (N.I.V.)
Simeon knew that God would keep his word.
Simeon was guided by God's Holy Spirit. He was a man "under the influence," not of a harmful power, but of God's most holy will. One day, Simeon was led into the Temple courts. There, in an area called the Court of Women, he encountered a young couple with a baby. Simeon approached Mary and Joseph, took the child from Mary's arms, and began to praise God. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph "marvelled" at what Simeon had to say about this child. How could this man – a stranger – have known all these things? Surely God was at work, confirming to Mary and Joseph that their child was indeed the promised Messiah. While Simeon held that precious little one in his arms, he spoke words that have become very well known in the Christian church. We call Simeon's words the "NUNC DIMITTIS," from the Latin translation of the words, "NOW DISMISS." We hear them as part of our worship service on Communion Sundays. Simeon said these words as he held the newborn Messiah into his arms. We sing them after Holy Communion, after we have had the privilege of receiving the Lord's Body and Blood for our nourishment and strength. That very moment, holding the child, was the high point of Simeon's life. Now he could die in peace. Nothing else could match this holy moment for him. Now he could be "dismissed" to the next life in peace. Peace is what Christ had come to bring; peace among men and peace with God.
Simeon had a word blessing for Mary and Joseph. But it was a mixed blessing. It contained words of hope and also words of warning. Simeon's blessing was directed to Mary more than to Joseph. Joseph is not heard from in the scriptures after Jesus reaches 12 years of age. Simeon spoke of the very different ways people would respond to the child he held in his arms at that very moment. Some, of course, would believe. They would "rise" to new spiritual life. The word actually means "to be resurrected." Some would be resurrected from a life of sin to a life of forgiveness. Because of this child, some would be able to come into the presence of God with their sins forgiven. Some would hear God's call to faith in His Son, and would allow Christ to save and forgive them. We see people like this all the way through Jesus' ministry -- people like the woman at the well and the blind beggar and Nicodemus, and many others.
But others, said Simeon, would not believe. Some would reject Jesus, even to the point of taking him to a cross. And a day would come, said Simeon, when Mary would have a sword pierce her soul. Up to this point, Mary had heard only of the glory associated with being the mother of our Lord. But now, just a few weeks after his birth, she is confronted with the dark side of being the mother of this child. Imagine Mary, if you will, 33 years later, standing at the foot of the cross, looking up at her son, and hearing these words from Simeon echo through her memory: "AND A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO."
The second major character in our text this morning is Anna. Anna was a lady-in-waiting. She was 84 years old, and, like Simeon, she had waited all her life for a chance to see the Messiah. Luke tells us that Anna was a "prophetess." In other words, Anna was a woman who spoke for the Lord. She knew God's word and she shared it with others. Anna, by the way isn't the only "prophetess" mentioned in the Bible. The Old Testament speaks of Deborah, and Huldah. And the New Testament tells us about the daughters of Philip as women who spoke for the Lord. Anna was well along in years. She was well respected in the community – a woman of strong faith. She was a fixture in the Temple in Jerusalem. Many people there probably knew her by name. She spent her days in worship. She fasted and prayed for the coming of the Messiah. Her belief in his coming gave her purpose and meaning.
Along with Simeon, Anna met the baby Jesus that day. Anna, too, was led by the Holy Spirit to the place where the baby could be found. She, too, encountered that small group in the Temple. Simeon was probably still there, holding the child. Like Simeon, Anna offered words of praise to God when she saw the child. She gave thanks for God's Christmas Gift to the nation of Israel, and through Israel, to the world. She spoke to onlookers about the child. She talked about the "redemption" he would bring. "Redemption" has to do with release from bondage by the payment of a price. A similar word would be "ransom." Jesus had come to pay the ransom for his people, Israel. He had come to pay the ransom for all the people of the world. The price he was willing to pay was the sacrifice of his own life; the shedding of his own precious blood. A while back, we received a Christmas card from some Christian friends. On the front cover, it said, "HE PAID A DEBT HE DID NOT OWE -- BECAUSE WE OWED A DEBT WE COULD NOT PAY." That's what "redemption" is all about!
You know, it's one thing to UNDERSTAND the Bible. But it's something quite different to APPLY what we’ve learned. So how can we apply the truths we find in our text this morning? Let me suggest a few. First, what seem to be chance encounters in life may turn out to be God at work in our lives. I believe that the Holy Spirit is far more active in the lives of Christian people than most of us are aware. Most Christian people can look back at certain incidents in their lives and say that those were times when God was at work. Maybe it was a person they met. Maybe it was a sermon they heard. Maybe it was a time in the hospital. God touches our lives in many ways and through many experiences. Chance encounters may very well be the hand of God at work in our lives. God was definitely at work in the lives of Simeon and Anna the day Mary and Joseph went to the Temple.
The second application I find here is that God works through the "common" things in life, and through "common" people as well. In the months before Jesus was born, during the time she visited her relative Elizabeth, Mary spoke words, inspired by the Holy Spirit we now call the Magnificat. She spoke of God's mercy being extended to those who fear him. She spoke of God scattering the proud. She spoke of the way God brings down proud rulers from their thrones and lifts up the humble. She spoke of how God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away. In Luke chapter 2, God used two common people, Simeon and Anna, to tell Israel that her Messiah had arrived. He used two common people, rich in faith and trust.
This morning, as I say, we’ve come to the first Sunday after Christmas. Already, with the baby Jesus only days old, the shadow of the cross looms large. This Child was born to be our Savior from sin. And for him to do that, he would have to confront the cross. There’s a cost to discipleship. Mary would learn that. Jesus definitely learned it. And we learn that lesson, too. But our God is always there. And his strength is always available to us. Humanity’s basic problem is sin and selfishness. Sin has the ability to tear apart any relationship. Sin brings with it a sense of guilt and shame. Sin destroys trust. Sin keeps us from reaching our full potential. And sin alienates us from God so that we are excluded from his presence. The little child that Simeon and Anna encountered that day is God's answer to our sin problem. That little child came to live, to care for people, to teach God's truth, and to pay the sin-debt they owed. Jesus Christ puts the joy back in Christmas. He puts the joy back in life as a whole. Jesus Christ came to cure what ails us. And his blessings are free for the taking.
The high point in the lives of Simeon and Anna came when they met Jesus Christ. The high point of our lives is the day we come to faith. Sins are forgiven. Alienation is gone. We are set free to live a full and abundant life with our God at our side. Simeon and Anna met Christ in the Temple. We meet him in God's Word, the Bible. We meet him in Baptism. We meet him in the Lord's Supper. It's true. Christmas has come and gone for another year. The wrappings and the gift boxes are on their way to the curb. May God bless us with a faith that embraces Christ as Savior and Lord, not just at Christmastime, but every day of the year. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Bring us face to face with your Son. Place his gifts in our hands. Put your Spirit into our hearts and walk with us on the road of life. Be with us in life's good times. And be with us when things go wrong. Make us a living example of what Christ can do in a life fully dedicated to him. In His name we pray. Amen.