Sermon by Bill Chadwick | December 29, 2019
This is one of my favorite passages of scripture for several reasons. It’s not well known. Second, it features two very old people; and finally, the very old people have been waiting a very long time, and they GET what they’ve been waiting for!
Luke chapter 2, beginning with the 22nd verse. There are three acts in this passage. First, Mary and Joseph come to the Temple. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, (that would be when Jesus was 40 days old) they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord. “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Actually, according to Leviticus the proper offering for the cleansing ceremony is a pigeon and a lamb. But there is provision made for the poor, who are allowed to bring two pigeons. What do Mary and Joseph bring? Two pigeons. Immediately an identification with the poor, which Luke emphasizes again and again throughout his gospel.
Note that Luke is careful to say that all this is “according to the Law of Moses (vs. 22b). He makes it very clear that Jesus, from the very beginning, is a good Jew, (generally) obedient to the Law of Moses.
So, the first act is the foundation, Mary and Joseph bringing the child to the Temple.
Second act begins with verse 25: 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 upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, …we’ll stop there for a moment.
Luke emphasizes Simeon’s special qualifications: (1) he is righteous and devout, (2) he has spent a lifetime “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” and (3) the Holy Spirit rests on him, and has revealed to him that he will not die until he has seen the Messiah.
Wow! Imagine that. Imagine that the Holy Spirit had revealed to you that before you die you will see the Second Coming. How would that knowledge affect your life? I think it would permeate every hour of every day. Among other things, I would be constantly on the lookout, ever-vigilant for the Messiah. At least for the first few years…
“Surely, over the years, (Simeon) has prayed a thousand prayers, hoped a thousand hopes, and suffered a thousand disappointments.” (Dick Donovan) Some of us can identify with that. Long, long waiting and praying and hoping. Some of us have prayed for a loved one—a spouse or a child or a sibling or a parent—to return from the far country, speaking symbolically, to be freed from drugs or alcohol or crime. Or we’ve prayed for physical healing for ourselves or a loved one. Or for healing of a marriage. Or we’ve prayed for peace in the world. I have prayed for peace in the Middle East for day after day, and week after week, and year after year, and decade after decade. Sometimes my hope…I was going to say “falters,” but “falters” is about the best it gets these days. Sometimes my hope for peace in the Middle East dies entirely.
Listen to words from Dick Donovan. When our dreams don’t come true in a day, we need to keep in mind that God is still at work—still wrapping the package—still preparing the gift to fit our needs and preparing us for the gift. We need to pray, not just for the gift, but also for patience to wait for God’s unveiling.
In verses 29-32 Simeon takes the baby in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Two things to note here: This is the first time in the gospel of Luke that the Gentiles are mentioned. Simeon declares that Jesus will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Remember that Luke wrote another book in the Bible. Anyone know which one? Acts. And Acts is the story of the church expanding beyond its Jewish beginnings to the Gentile world as well. In fact, within a hundred years the vast majority of Christians are gentiles like us, they do not have Jewish backgrounds. Luke is most likely a Gentile himself, writing primarily for a Gentile audience.
Second: This is confirmation of the fact that this is no ordinary baby. Gabriel has told both Mary and Joseph this. The shepherds relayed to them what the angel had proclaimed. But you never know if you can trust a shepherd. But now this holy man adds his prophecy.
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 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, 35 so that the thoughts of many
hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Oof! I’m sure it felt like a sword piercing both of their souls right then. They didn’t know the details yet, but it couldn’t have been worse: a prediction of the unimaginable pain of watching your son being nailed to a Cross.
Third act. There was also a prophet Anna
Vs 37 Anna is old, either 84 or, as the gospel literally says, “widowed for 84 years after being married for seven” making her at least 105, maybe older. Presumably, Simeon was also old. When he says, “Now let your servant depart in peace,” the picture is of one who has been clinging to life until he receives the promise of seeing the Messiah.”
So we have old people who have been waiting. As I mentioned in the children’s sermon, in that culture it’s not an embarrassment to be old. It’s a position of great honor.
Continuing with vs 37, She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. So while waiting they are worshiping in the Temple, going about their business faithfully. They are great examples. We all know people like that: worshiping, praying, faithfully but quietly working at church, doing good in the community, praying and working for justice.
Simeon and Anna are great witnesses that Jesus is the Messiah. They are people who would have credibility. They are very old in a society that does not mock the aged, but reveres them. They have long track records of faithfulness. So if you are a Jew and you need convincing that Jesus is the Messiah, you don’t get any better witnesses than these two.
But for the rest of us, “Simeon has another reason for being there, because Simeon announces that there has been a change in plan.” (Mark Trotter) People had expected the Messiah to change things “Shazzam!” ushering in a whole new age where all of a sudden everything is perfect. (But instead here is a baby…a baby! (and the Holy Spirit confirmed that THIS was the Messiah for whom Simeon had longed). Whoa, there has been a change in plan….People had been expecting a warrior on a white charger to take the place by storm. But look who has come to the Temple. A baby. God is going to change the world not with force, but with love…
Like Simeon and Anna, let us be faithful in our waiting and working, our longing and hoping. The world is going to be won over by true power, the power of love.