The Expected Yet Unexpected Gift: First Sunday After Christmas - Luke 2:22-40
The Expected Yet Unexpected Gift - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / December 28th, 20014, First Sunday After Christmas - Luke 2:22-40
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 favor of God was upon Him.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our 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. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you expect them to happen. For instance we know that we will die as all people die, unless Christ should return in our lifetime, and yet we don't know exactly how that will come to pass for us and we don't know what our last days will be like. Some people live active lives up until the time of their death, some find themselves in long term care facilities unable to do all the things they had done in their earlier life. One person who lived out her last days in a care home was Alvena Korfman she lived from 1915 to 2008, that means she was 93 years old when she died. Those last years of her life were not what she'd expected and on one of the last visits I had with Alvena in Moose Jaw, as I was about to leave, Alvena asked me a fairly common question, “Why am I still here? Why hasn’t Jesus taken me home?” I answered her like this, “Well Alvena, Jesus still has things for you to do, God puts good works before us to walk in.” --- “What can I do?” She replied, “I’m old and I don’t get out of the home here, I can't even get out of this bed without help,” I told her, “You can pray. Praying is one of the most powerful thing we can do as Christians, you don't have to be able to run a marathon to pray, you can pray from your bed.”
Both Simeon and Anna, who we hear about in our Gospel this morning, are very old and in Simeon’s case the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes, and in Anna’s case it was said that “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” In some ways they were like Alvena in other ways they were different. They were like her, in that they were both greatly advanced in years but they were different because they knew why they were still alive. Simeon knew he would see the Christ and Anna knew the power of prayer.
St. Paul in Ephesians chapter 2 sheds some light on this, and this is the spot from which I started to answer Alvena’s question, saint Paul writes to the Ephesians saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That part you have heard many times, the next part is the part often left out, Paul continues writing these words, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Today’s Gospel reading is an example of this very thing: When the Virgin Mary and Joseph brought the Baby Jesus to the temple something was unfolding, God the Father had prepared a good work for Simeon and Anna to walk in. All this was set in motion without their knowledge. Each of them praised God and spoke to others of this thing that had been shown to them.
We don’t often think that praising the LORD is a good work, or that God had prepared the opportunity for you to do such a good work in advance of you doing it; but praising God is a good work and He has prepared the opportunity for you to do so.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to talk about ‘good works’ because so many have messed up the understanding of good works in the past. But if you take your personal, God pleasing, good works out of the equation of how you are saved and look at them as a byproduct of being saved – then we can talk about them rightly. Good works don't add to your salvation, you can't expect them to add anything to your eternal life; what good works are doing - in your doing of them - when you do them, is to provide dignity, stability, kindness and love to the daily, earthly, life of your neighbour. Our good works don't add to God's work, our good works sprout into fruit because of Jesus' personal works for us.
Let’s look at it this way: Did God the Father send Jesus into the world in the flesh because Anna prayed and fasted in the temple? Did He send Jesus into the world as its Saviour because Simeon was faithful to God? No, God the Father didn’t require Simeon or Anna to do anything in order for this great gift to happen. He didn’t even require Simeon to work at staying healthy so that he would be alive to see the Christ. God didn’t set limits of good and bad cholesterol, He didn’t give Simeon a strict exercise régime to follow and if Simeon followed it to a “T” then and only then would God the Father reward Simeon with the gift of staying alive long enough to see the Baby Jesus. God doesn’t work like that.
If staying alive to see the Christ Child was dependant on Simeon’s sinlessness or the quality of Anna’s fasting or prayers as measured by the Holiness of God the Father then they would never have lived long enough to see the Baby Jesus. What God gave them that day was a gift in the truest sense, just as it is a gift to you. Your knowing who the Christ is comes as a gift, if God had not made the incarnation known, if He had not sent messengers, angels to tell the good news, if that news had not been passed down generation to generation then you would not have come to faith. This is a gift.
And seeing as it is the Christmas season it would be fitting to talk about gifts and the nature of gifts because the gift that Simeon is given is a little strange, it’s not unexpected, in that Simeon was expecting to see the Savior, but it is unusual, in the way it was given; when you step back and think of it.
If God made it known to you by the power of the Holy Spirit that you would not die until you saw the greatest Hockey player of all time you might expect to be in Edmonton in 1980’s in a hockey arena full of people, the puck zipping down the ice on the stick, then it’s behind the net on the stick of an amazing player who suddenly everyone would agree was ‘the great one.’ What you wouldn’t expect is for someone to hand you a baby in a church and for you to suddenly realize that that baby would become the greatest Hockey player of all time ... and then for you to die before he laced up his skates and picked up a stick. We expect to see results before we believe something – we like the phrase “I won’t believe it until I see it.” This is why Simeon’s reaction is so strange to us: Simeon is not like the Roman Soldier, the centurion at the foot of the cross who looks up at Jesus and the events taking place around him and overwhelmed by the evidence says, “Truly this was the son of God.”
To most people the Virgin Mary and Joseph holding a baby in their arms at the temple would look like nothing had happened yet. This is a truly "Now not Yet" moment: The very presence of Jesus alone began the saving work of God: As a fetus, as a baby in the womb, as the babe in Bethlehem, as the baby at the temple with Simeon and Anna, as the child visited by Magi, as the child whisked away to Egypt out of the clutches of a murderous king, as a boy in the temple, on the banks of the Jordan baptized by John the baptizer, as a Man in the wilderness tempted by Satan and so on and so forth until on Good Friday Jesus does the mighty work of Salvation giving His body and blood for you as He hangs on the Cross dying for your sin, and then Three Days later as Jesus leaves behind Him an Empty Tomb, forty days latter still as His feet leave the ground as He ascends into heaven – in all these things Jesus is working out our salvation but the road had to start somewhere. So it's on the early part of that road of the incarnation of our Lord, that Simeon sees Jesus, the little baby working His way, even then, towards the cross.
Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us what Simeon expected to see as he waited to see the messiah, and while it looked like nothing had happened yet, Simeon knew that something miraculous had already taken place, God had taken on Human flesh and was now True God and True Man simultaneously, He was dwelling amongst us, this One called Jesus was the long expected Messiah – in and of its self this was stupendous, amazing.
The Bible doesn’t tell us when Simeon died after seeing Jesus, the Bible doesn’t tell us what other good works God the Father had in store for Simeon or for Anna, and this leaves us with a question: After all that you have been shown, after God’s work in revealing to you (by the power of the Holy Spirit His Son Jesus the Messiah, the savior) what sort of good works has He prepared in advance for you to do? What sort of praise, what sort of proclamation of the Truth? Not that these future works could win you salvation, that was won by Christ alone upon the Cross, but rather what will God have you do? What sort of unexpected gift will you now give to others? Does Jesus still have things for you to do? Remember, sometimes things don’t happen the way you expect them to happen.
At the interment of Alvena the first thing that was read was the song of Simeon, I say these words at the grave side of all our departed saint who have finally been taken to be with Christ Jesus, you know these words well,
“Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace,
Your word has been fulfilled;
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which You have prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal You to the nations,
and the glory of Your people Israel.”
These words are the hope of all Christians, that Jesus Christ would have His church filled full of faithful servants who walk in the good works placed before them to the betterment of their neighbour in love, that in knowing Christ Jesus we too will see Him in the End, that in knowing Christ we may help others know Him. Does Jesus still have things for you to do? Remember, sometimes things don’t happen the way you expect them to happen. Expect the unexpected. Merry Christmas. Amen.
Let us pray:
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.”
 Ephesians 2:8-10
 Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Publishing House 1986, pg 19-20.
 Matthew 27:54