Well, here we are in the second week in January and like me you may feel a little flat…. Christmas has come and gone ….. like me you probably spent days if not weeks preparing for Christmas .. E and I had put up the Christmas tree, we had the Christmas wreath on the front door, we had Friends over for mince pies, work mates/colleagues over for a meal … but now its gone, and it is a faint memory! Then again on Friday a week ago we celebrated the coming of the Gregorian new year Friday but now a week down the track we have moved on… the celebrations, the giving and receiving of presents…
I’m not sure but it sometime feels like we have missed something, … we have seen many Christmases come and go ….. many New Year celebrations come and go …… there is a lot of excitement leading up to the event but the event itself is somehow disappointing ….. it is not fulfilling. We have the sense that there should be something more …. something doesn’t feel quite right …., it feels as if we have missed something!
There is a story about Joshua Bell, who is one of the world’s most famous violinist; A few years ago a news outlet put him up to an experiment. ….would people recognise beautiful music, or extraordinary talent, or an extraordinary violin…if it was put right in front of them. He was in Washington for a concert, and so the day after they had him go down anonymously into the Metro station in DC during rush hour, his $3.5 million Stradivarius in hand, and he played for an hour with his hat out to collect tips. Keep in mind, thousands of people had just paid hundreds of dollars a ticket to hear this guy play the night before. Over the 43 minutes he stood there playing Bach and Brahms in the station, no more than 6 people stopped, and he made a grand total of $32.15 in donations. ……… Is it possible to miss some of the greatest things in our life? Yes and we wouldn’t even know we had missed it…
Well this is one of the big themes in Luke’s Gospel, as he tells us about that first Christmas. It came and went …. and most people were unaware that anything had even happened.
God’s gift to us at that first Christmas was unexpected! Yes, the OT prophets had been telling Israel that God was going to do something extraordinary… but somehow when it happened, it was still unexpected …… the passing crowds knew nothing of what was happening.
Luke 2:22–38 Tells us that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, to present him to the Lord, because he was the first born. …… They also planned to offer a sacrifice (turtle doves or pigeons) This was nothing special it was what every new family was expected to do, so they were there with hundreds of other mums and dads presenting their babies …. They were following the religious regulations and rules required…..
But what happens when they get to the temple was not what they were expecting …… Simeon suddenly runs up to them, grabs their baby, and starts singing.
29 Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised.
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.
Consider: How many things did we do in preparation for Christmas without thinking them through? Without asking whether our Lord is really being honoured by purchasing a tree, or having the special Christmas music…As we began this new year many of us have just done what we have always done, perhaps we have new year’s resolution …. It’s become a process and I’m sure that for many of us there has been very little reflection on or even wonder over Jesus, or how as Christians God wants us to live in 2022.
We need the Spirit of God to open our eyes to the majesty of Jesus. Left to our own plans it is impossible … only the Holy Spirit can take our rituals and traditions and turn them into true blessings
The good news is that this is the Spirit’s mission on earth: it’s why he came, John 16: the Spirit was sent to help people recognize Jesus, vs 12 says the Spirit will guide you into all the truth. He gives the Spirit without measure to all who seek.
The passage Luke goes on …
33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed—
35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”.
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers.
38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
So now we have two people … they are both advanced in years, and they are in the Temple, praying and waiting, longing for something….. praying for God to act…
● Simeon, we are told was waiting for “the consolation (comfort, the relief) of Israel.”
● For most Jews, this meant ‘political deliverance’. For nearly 700 years, Israel had been subject to oppression by foreign powers. It had started with the exiles to Assyria and Babylon; but after that came subjugation by the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans, under whose rule they were now, and who were the worst of all of them. So Israel was waiting—waiting for deliverance, waiting for justice, waiting for restoration to promised glory. Simeon, being old, represents that image of long waiting.
● And then we have Anna, whom it tells us has been a widow until she was 84-years having been married for 7 she spent the remainder of her life in the temple. She is not so much yearning for political deliverance; she yearns for personal relief, personal comfort, and yearns for Jerusalem.
Important to note in this passage is that they were both praying and both waiting:
We all know that prayer & waiting are a key factors in the Christian life?
● Sometimes we talk about the Christian life as if it is instant fulfillment, immediate answers to prayer requests--if you do A, God will give B. And although we say with our mouths that we deserve nothing, but with our minds we sort of expect that God will answer our prayers quickly….
● Many of you find yourselves in a position of waiting as this new year begins. A time that feels dark. A time of confusion. Maybe you even feel abandoned.
● It’s also a season of longing: longing for something to be set right. Injustice seems to reign all around you; maybe you yourself have been the victim of it.
● Maybe you, like Anna, are yearning for some need to be fulfilled. Life just hasn’t turned out the way you’d always expected.
God Is in the Manger! Christmas reminds us that while we have a lot to be thankful for, we are also all waiting for the second coming of Christ, for the new heaven and the new earth; for Jesus to come and make things right and for all the sad things in our lives to come untrue. Whether you have a specific need or just a yearning for heaven, Simeon and Anna show us that God answers prayer. The joy and the comfort of Christmas is for you and me, for all of us.
But notice ……. God’s answer probably did not match their expectations. I think it’s safe to say that neither Simeon nor Anna were expecting a helpless baby born into a poor family as God’s answer to their longing. But he was! ….
● You see, what Israel thought they needed from God was different from what they needed MOST.
● What they thought they needed most was political deliverance, and restored fortunes. But what they MOST needed was restoration with God. Jesus said in John 17:3, This is eternal life, that they know and walk with the only true Father.
● We may think that what we most need is physical health or financial assistance or family reunion but what we most need, deep in our souls, is reunion with our heavenly Father.
● You see, you and I were created for God. Whether we know it or not.
● We were created for God; & therefore we need to be restored to him, and only this Messiah, the Christ, born as a baby to live the life we were supposed to live and then die the death we were condemned to die, in our place, can achieve that .
● The arms of comfort you search for, are his arms.
● The security you’ve look for in money is found in his presence and promises.
● The significance you’ve crave in the approval of others--from your parents, from your spouse, from likes on a Facebook post—well that is found in hearing him say, “well done good and faithful servant.”
I should also point out that God is good ….. and we are supposed to ask for that goodness to break into our lives and our families.
● We can and should pray for physical healing and an end to our loneliness and for political help. BUT…first and foremost Jesus came to lead us into fellowship with the Father—because that is eternal life, that is fullness of joy; that is life lived abundantly; and apart from that, any other fix would only be superficial anyway.
What God did was unexpected, but it was exactly what was needed. Can I ask: Are we ready for God to do the unexpected in our life this year? It doesn’t matter how spiritually mature we are or how much we feel certain that we know what we need most from God--sometimes we have to be ready for God to do the unexpected in our life.
Sometimes God answers our prayers by giving us what we would have asked for, if we knew ourselves better,….. as he knows us! And what he knows is that the deepest longings of our heart and the peace we are looking for are found in the knowledge of him.
So what are some applications we can draw from a passage like this?
Both of the people in this account were elderly. They had been waiting a very long time, but they had a relationship with the living God most of their lives ….. they were nearing the end of their lives ….. and it was then that God rewarded them … they were elevated to the status of a herald … the same status as the wise men from the East, the angels in heaven … and they proclaimed the arrival of the glory of God, the living gospel. They announced it …. not to a group of shepherds on a hill, or in a stable to his parents….no this announcement was in the temple…… the central point for the whole nation of Israel. Here is the one who is going to save the world! Not only the Jewish world but the gentile world as well.
Vs. 29, Simeon say “I can depart in peace…”
● Having had the Spirit of God open his eyes, he could depart in peace. But … Nothing had changed about his circumstances. Israel was still under Rome’s rule. He would still be a victim of injustice. But he was at peace.
● And nothing had changed with Anna’s circumstances either. She was still a widow. Yet she was at peace.
● My question: Can we be at peace today? What are we waiting for or what do we need before we can come to the end of this weekend in peace? A change in circumstances? Resolution of some injustice? Some kind of personal vindication? A partner? Your kids coming to faith? Perhaps an end to Covid-19 forever!
○ Only Jesus should hold the key to our peace. Only he is faithful with it. Only he can guarantee it.
● That’s what Simeon and Anna are telling us. They saw that Jesus held the key to their ‘peace’ and once they saw Jesus, they entrusted themselves to him, and then they could depart in peace.
● Is he, and he alone, the keeper of our peace today?
Secondly Vs. 34: “This child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many…”
● Simeon said, “This baby boy is bringing a dividing line.”
○ Vs. 35, Simeon said, he’ll cause offense. Because of him, Simeon said, “The thoughts of a lot of hearts are going to be exposed.” Because of his claims, the truth about them will be revealed.
○ This baby is going to grow up to preach that none of us are good enough to go to heaven--and he’s going to have to give us that knowledge as a gift. And we’re going to have to receive it humbly like beggars. Jesus did not come so that we can be better people, he came because we can’t be better people and we have to depend on him and him alone to save us.
○ And he’s going to demand absolute Lordship,
○ And he’s going to insist that there is much more than what we think that needs fixing in our lives …. we need him.
● This baby boy will draw a dividing line, and that dividing line will separate people for eternity! John 3: He who believes on the Son will have everlasting life and will belong to God for eternity, and those who don’t will perish without him. Rom: all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. The most important question we’ll ever consider: What side of that dividing line are we on? Have we surrendered to him, and given ourselves to him, or are we still without him?
Jesus did not come so that we could be a better person, he came because we can’t be a better person. Only he can save us. Has Christ arrived in your heart or are you still waiting?
So … Could we recognise a world-famous violinist busking at a railway station? ……. Not a chance!
Could we recognised God’s most valuable, most powerful, most loving gift to the world? Can we depart this weekend in peace and rejoice? Again, if we are left to our own devices, ………. not a chance,!
We need to plead that the Spirit of God will open our hearts and minds to what God is doing!
Heavenly Father, we thank you for Luke’s account of Jesus’ parents coming to the temple. We thank you for the faithful prayers of Simeon and Anna over many years.
We ask that, like them, your Spirit would open our eyes to your wondrous acts.