"Christmas Oranges & Lumps of Christmas Coal" Sermon / Luke 2:22-40 / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday December 30th 2018: Season Of Christmas / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / December 30th 2018: Season of Christmas & the 6th Day of Christmas, Luke 2:22-40 "Christmas Oranges & Lumps of Christmas Coal"
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
for my eyes have seen Your Salvation
that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a Light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to Your people Israel.”
And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of God was upon Him.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all are hearts be acceptable in Your sight O, Lord. Amen.
Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: Good Christian Friends. Merry Christmas, Did you get everything you expected this Christmas or did you receive a surprise? Did you get a sweet Christmas orange or a black lump of coal in your stocking? Today think about expectations; think about waiting; think about contentment.
Last Sunday, just before Christmas, we heard about the pregnant Virgin Mary and her visit into the countryside to stay with her elderly aunt Elizabeth, who in her old age was likewise pregnant albeit less surprisingly so as she was not a virgin, and if you keep reading a bit further in the Gospel of Luke you will come across the words of Mary’s uncle Zechariah, the equally elderly husband of Elizabeth, who after his nine month, and a bit, wait for the birth of his son John the baptizer, on the day of John’s naming and circumcision, Zechariah, said with great joy of his unexpected son, “you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.” And in this week’s Gospel we hear the words of Old Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem who on the day of Jesus’ naming and circumcision upon seeing the long expected child says with great joy and relief, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”
Zechariah “was filled with the Holy Spirit” when he prophesied about John the baptizer, and saint Luke tells us that Old Simeon had had it “revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” Both of these men waited for God to make good on His promise to them. One, Zechariah, waited for a short time (although just over 9 months unable to speak may feel like a long time, you may remember he was struck mute by the Angel Gabriel when he had refused at first to believe the message being sent to him by God through the angle), while the other, Old Simeon, it seems truly waited a very long time, maybe even a lifetime, for God’s promise to him to be fulfilled. God gave them both great gifts, where the gifts they received what they expected?
Now there’s a modern proverb (not directly a Biblical proverb but a paraphrase based on a Scriptural passage), that you’ve heard and likely said before, it goes like this: “All things come to those who wait,” or maybe now they say, “Good things come to those who wait” one poet used the phrase like this,
'Ah, all things come to those who wait,'
(I say these words to make me glad),
But something answers soft and sad,
'They come, but often come too late.'
Have you waited for something? Maybe you like the Virgin Mary waited for the birth of your first Child? Or maybe you waited for someone to get well who was sick, or for someone who was close to death to die, or for a promotion, or to finish school, or to be asked out on a date, or to be married, or to finally have your driver’s licence: what have you waited for? The Scriptural passage that is often pointed to as the inspiration for this modern proverb “Good things come to those who wait,” is found in the Old Testament, in Lamentations 3:25 where Scripture says, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” But people often don’t quote the next verse where the writer of Lamentation continues to say, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Old Simeon says, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word,” Simeon was waiting for the promised salvation of the LORD. And there is the infant Jesus, in His mother’s arms; Jesus’ guardian His earthly foster father Joseph right there beside Mary in the temple, the wait is over. Salvation has come.
Now once they’ve come, are the things you’ve waited for always the way you’d envisioned them while you waited? Zechariah was already an old man when his son John the Baptizer was born so he’d likely not have still been alive himself at the time of John’s death. Zechariah who’d long prayed for a son, Zechariah who’d served as a priest in the splendid temple in Jerusalem, would he have imagined that his son would be clothed in itchy camel hair, living wild in the wilderness, subsisting on a diet of locusts and honey, preaching repentance, and baptizing sinners? Or that his son John would so anger Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, that John would be imprisoned and eventually beheaded? How many of us look into the face of our children and foresee such things?
Joseph and the Virgin Mary marveled at what Old Simeon said about Jesus, but Simeon’s words were not all sunshine and light, he foreshadowed the harder reality of what awaited the baby Jesus as He grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. Simeon says to Mary “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
No one is particularly keen on having the thoughts of their heart revealed. The heart is a tricky thing: you have the rather beautiful image of Jesus’ mother Mary in Luke’s Gospel “[treasuring] up all these things [the events of the pregnancy and birth of Jesus and], pondering them in her heart.” And yet the grown Jesus says to us in the Gospel of Mark that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, [Jesus says] and they defile a person.” That this long waited for salvation of the LORD, this long waited for Saviour Jesus would expose and reveal the contents of your heart is frightening, and maybe not exactly what people had envisioned while they waited for His coming. This is no sweet Christmas orange! On the surface it looks to be a black lump of coal!
During His public ministry after being baptised by John the Baptiser Jesus likewise runs up against the difficulty of people expecting one thing from Him verses who He really was and why He really came. Saint Peter expected one thing when it came to Jesus and when Peter was presented with the Truth of who Jesus really was Peter didn’t much like it at first. Matthew’s Gospel tells us all about it, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke [Jesus], saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
This is our trouble while we wait for the LORD to act on our behalf, while we wait for our lives to unfold; while we wait for the important things in our lives, we are tempted to set our minds on the things of men and not on the things of God. As we contemplate the gift of Jesus for us let us think about the difference between what the World expects of Jesus and what God expects of Him.
Now days you can get a box of mandarin orange just about any time during the year, they may cost a bit more out of season but you can mostly get them when you like. There was a time when an orange at Christmas was truly an exotic thing, a real spectacular treat to have. And this is why it was considered a great gift to slip into the toe of a Christmas stocking on Christmas Eve. In the reverse it’s not all that easy to find a lump of black coal today as our houses are run on natural gas and electricity: but years and years ago everything was run on oil and coal. Lots of houses even had coal shoots, where the delivery man or your dad would dump a load of coal down into the basement to be used for fuel in the boiler or in a stove. Coal was both common and industrial; the hard working, dirty down to earth substance that made the world turn: but it wasn’t as tasty as an orange (nobody would eat coal – but somehow it was put together that if you were good you’d get an exotic and juicy sweet Christmas orange from far far-away and it you’re bad you’d get a dirty old lump of common coal from the basement) Everyone wanted the orange, no one wanted the coal.
Saint Peter wanted a Saviour who would rule the World with power and might; Peter didn’t want One Who would die a common death upon a cross made for criminals. Yet the surprise of Jesus is that in His earthly ministry He didn’t come primarily as king to be put on a pedestal and adored, Jesus came to serve the creation He made. For some this desire to serve made Jesus too common. Jesus’ power and might was found in His forgiveness it was not found at the tip of a sword as had been expected. And because forgiveness was not expected of the promised Messiah, the promised Christ, there were a number of times in Scripture when Jesus’ disciples were asked by “the scribes of the Pharisees ... “Why does He [Jesus] eat with tax collectors and sinners?” It was thought that such a thing should be below one such as Jesus. Basically if this Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, He should be about consolidating and building up His military might and not about dinning with those undesirables who were unable to help Him gain political power, yet spending time with the weak and the poor and the troubled wasn’t above Jesus, Jesus in fact came for the nobodies and the messed up folks too. Jesus dashed expectations at every turn.
So even though Jesus did miraculous sweet Christmas orange like things in the lives of some people, His main task was to work out our salvation, a job that at the time was as thankless and dirty, as hard and simple, as the work a black lump of coal would do in a furnace or boiler. God expected Jesus to be perfect in this grimy, dirty, hard work; and yet the World was often more interested in the results of the flashy side of Jesus’ ministry. For example at the feeding of the five thousand Jesus took the five barley loaves and two fish that a small boy had brought with him, “and when [Jesus] had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. [From what was left after they had eaten Jesus commanded] His disciples “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” [They gathered twelve baskets full]. When the people saw the sign that [Jesus] had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet Who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.”
While the Virgin Mary and Joseph walked up to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after Jesus’ birth, when they wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a Manger – Even though they’d heard the stories of Angels and had personally seen and heard Angels could they have truly apart from the Holy Spirit foreseen what Old Simeon would say to them? Jesus Who was to be both sweet Christmas orange and black lump of coal to the people: Glory to the people of Israel and a light for revelation to the Gentiles. One who would both expose sin and forgive sin.
This leads us to the last thing to think about today, as we think about this gift of Jesus that God the Father gives to us. The song of Old Simeon that we sing today, as we often do on Communion Sundays, for years and years when the service was still sung in the Latin language picked up a nick name by which the church calls this song even to this day, the Nunc Dimittis. The words Nunc and Dimittis are the first two words in the Latin language version of the Song of Simeon and translate into 'Now dismiss.’ “O Lord, now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace” we sing! We sing it after Holy Communion, after we have received Jesus in the meal He gives to us. To you Jesus comes physically present in the bread and the wine, to Simeon Jesus came physically present in the arms of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Simeon was blessed to see the salvation of Israel, with his own eyes, and you this day are blessed to receive Jesus also.
In Holy Communion Jesus exposes your sin to you, He puts it into sharp focus, revealing the contents of your heart and then with mercy He forgives you of that same sin. The Good Friday black lump of coal like work of the cross is in found in the Lord’s Supper right alongside the sweet Christmas orange like Easter resurrection of Jesus and His empty tomb of forgiveness. It may not have been the Christmas gift that the people expected from this baby Jesus, but it is the best gift of all; Be then content it the fact that Jesus is both active in revealing the contents of your heart and providing you the forgiveness that you so need. As 1 John chapter one says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Remember, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Today the wait is over, Christ has come, and you are blessed to receive Him in His Supper, both for the strengthening of your soul and for the forgiveness of your sins. Merry Christmas, I pray that in this life your stocking is filled with all the black lumps of coal and sweet Christmas oranges that you require to keep you steadfast in The Faith until you are given to depart in peace and enter with Old Simeon into your blessed rest in Christ Jesus, the Lord. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 Violet Fane (1843-1905) in her poem Tout vient ß qui sait attendre.
 Lamentations 3:25
 Lamentations 3:26
 Luke 2:19
 Mark 7:21-23
 Matthew 16:21-23
 Mark 2:16
 John 6:9-15
 1 John 1:8-10