Staunton Mennonite Church
22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
A father was out shopping one December evening when he came across a train set in a department store. The train set was assembled all around the store complete with tunnels, loading stations, miniature water towers, switches, and a little town to drive through.
The father looked at the sales associate with excitement in his eyes and said, “This is great! Wrap one up for me, please.”
“Yeah,” said the sales associate, “your son is going to love this!”
“Oh, if that’s the case,” said the father, “you better get me two.”
We all love getting gifts, don’t we? And as much as I hate the commercialization of Christmas, I still enjoy the giving and receiving of gifts. I remember as a child the anticipation that would build up to the big day. I remember the waiting and the excitement. And I remember the joy of receiving the perfect gift and how much I looked forward to telling my friends all about it.
Today we are going to talk about the anticipation that Simeon and Anna had to endure as they awaited the perfect gift over 2000 years ago. And I hope to show us all how that gift is still the perfect gift today.
Our scripture for today begins with the new parents, Mary and Joseph, taking their young son to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord. This is similar to the practice that we have today of dedicating a baby at a church service. And as a part of the dedication process, Mary and Joseph offer either a pair of turtledoves or a pair of pigeons. And this is a little insight for us to see just how poor these two were. They couldn’t afford a sheep or goat, a cow or any other large animal. They offered birds and everyone would have seen their offering and known that this young couple was pretty poor.
So Mary and Joseph take their son Jesus to the temple and there they meet up with a righteous and devout man named Simeon. This man Simeon had received a message from the Lord that he would not die until he met the Lord’s Messiah. Our Scripture says that Simeon had been guided to the temple that day by the Holy Spirit and based on the Scripture it sounds like Simeon saw this baby and he went up and scooped him up in his arms, knowing very well that this was the one that he and all of Israel had been waiting for. This was the Lord’s Messiah; this was the one.
So here we continue to see the upside down nature of Jesus’ rule as king. There isn’t a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding this child. His parents are poor and can only afford a small sacrifice. Simeon would surely have been able to see that. But he knew that this little one was the one he was expecting.
But what was Simeon expecting from this child? Our scripture teaches us that Simeon was expecting the Messiah as the one who would console Israel. Remember that Israel was once again under captivity; this time by the Romans. And the Romans were able to force the Israelites to do things that they didn’t want to do, give up land and housing, carry their packs, and so on. They were under the rule of a foreign nation that cared less about the well being of the captive Israelites and more about Pax Romana, peace by way of Roman domination. And as Simeon held this young redeemer in his arms, he prayed out to God, (v. 29-32) “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
My eyes have seen your salvation. That which Simeon had been waiting for had now arrived. Or perhaps a better way to say this is the event that Simeon had been anticipating was now being initiated. God was once again acting on behalf of his people; their salvation had come.
Now it is really difficult for us to know what Simeon’s understanding of “salvation” would have been, but I think we would be wrong to read back into this scripture our modern understanding of “salvation from the pits of hell” as what Simeon is referring to. Remember that the paradigm for salvation in the Hebrew Bible was the Exodus event where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. But regardless of what Simeon’s understanding of Salvation might have been, we can see clearly that he understood Jesus as the one that would bring this salvation to the people. The one he had been waiting on had arrived.
Furthermore, we don’t know how long Simeon had been waiting on the Lord’s Messiah. We don’t know when he received the message that he would not die until after the Messiah had come and we don’t know how much time had passed since he received that message. But Simeon is not the only person in the temple that had been waiting for the one that we know as Jesus. There was someone else there that we know had been waiting for a long time.
In the temple we find the Prophetess Anna. In fact, it sounds like it would have been difficult to find Anna anywhere but at the temple for some time now. She had been married for 7 years before her husband passed away, and since then she had been in the temple, day and night, fasting, worshiping, praying and waiting. She would have likely married at a young age, maybe around 13-14 years old like was common in those days. And now she was 84 years old. That’s a lot of time in the temple…that’s a lot of time fasting, worshipping, praying, and waiting. But as the old saying goes, all good things are worth waiting for. Again, we don’t know exactly what Simeon and Anna were expecting from this child named Jesus, but we know that he is the one that they had been waiting for. They knew right away that this was the one. And when their waiting was over, they celebrated the coming of the Messiah.
Last week we celebrated Christmas. Growing up, I remember anticipating the big day because of, what else, the presents. For months leading up to Christmas I would drop hints as to what I wanted for Christmas. A new video game, a remote control car, a tent, and of course teenage mutant ninja turtle action figures (oh yes, I came of age in the 90’s). As Christmas got closer and closer, I anticipated the day when I would open up those gifts. We would string together loops of paper, tearing off a loop each day as a way to visualize the coming of the big day when I would be able to open these gifts. Then when the big day came we would tear open the presents that didn’t look like clothes and search for batteries to try out the new gifts that we had been waiting for. Christmas was indeed a time for celebration. It was a time for new toys.
It is hard for us to say what Simeon and Anna were anticipating with the coming of the Messiah, just as it is difficult for us to anticipate what is coming to us in the form of a gift for Christmas. Sure we might think we know what is coming our way. We might even peak from time to time. And perhaps when the big day comes we find that we were able to guess correctly; or perhaps we did not get what we were anticipating. But the thing that is so much different about the gift of Jesus that Simeon and Anna were anticipating is that regardless of whether or not it was what they were expecting, it was the right gift.
There have been years when I expected a remote control car and instead got a board game. There have been years when I wanted a blue sweater and got a red one instead. There have been times when I needed a 34 inch waist pants and got a 32 inch by mistake. And maybe I was disappointed at first because I got the “wrong gift”. But with Jesus, even if he was or was not what Simeon and Anna were expecting, he was the correct gift. And he was worth waiting for.
Now if we return to our scripture for this morning, I think that it is interesting to look at the response of Anna when she found the one that she had been waiting for. Her first response was to celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecies; that the Messiah had come. Her second response was to tell all the others that were looking forward to the redemption of Israel of what she had just found. She had good news, and she wasn’t about to keep that to herself.
Last week Sonya and I had the opportunity to grab a bite to eat with some friends. I had spent the last three years in Seminary with the one fellow and we have grown to know each other’s spouses as our friendship has grown. And I enjoy spending time with this friend of mine, we’ll call him Tom. We get together and we discuss theology with one another, which usually involves discussing books we have read/are reading and popular theology that we see and hear on television and radio.
But after our evening was over, Sonya brought something to my attention. Most of our time spent in conversation with Tom is spent criticizing other people’s theology. We make sure to point out why our theology is right and someone else’s is wrong. We talk so much about what is wrong with the world, what is wrong with the church, what is wrong with a specific author or televangelist. And after a while, I believe the negativity started to annoy Sonya. And I believe that our negativity brought us down and anyone that was unfortunate enough to be listening to our conversation.
I could only guess as to how much of our time spent in that restaurant was spent complaining about other people’s theology and how much time was spent seeing the good, but I would guess that the proportion was very much in favor of the negative. And this was only four days before Christmas. Here we were, approaching the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, and all we wanted to talk about was the bad stuff. As Simeon and Anna found out, this is a time to celebrate and to share the good news. So why was our time spent focusing on what is wrong?
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t simply view the world through rose colored glasses. I know that there are a lot of reasons to be discouraged this year. The economic troubles, the ongoing war in Iraq, poverty, genocide. You know the normal list. And I don’t begin to pretend to agree with every soundbite and quote that I hear or see in print from every well-known preacher. But I think that rather than focusing so much on what is wrong with various theologies, we need to be focusing on what we believe is true, beautiful, and right. Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate and rejoice like Simeon and Anna because our redeemer has come. Our salvation from the oppressive empire has arrived. For unto us a child of hope is born.
Simeon and Anna were waiting on the coming of the one who had been promised to them. They were waiting on the Messiah. And when they found him, they celebrated his arrival. We have much reason to celebrate this Christmas because our salvation has come. Jesus came to console and save his people; to free them from the oppressive powers of evil; be that empire, poverty, sickness, or sin. The birth of Jesus marked the beginning of something new, something that we cannot keep secret. The birth of Jesus is good news and a reason to celebrate. Let’s not forget about all of the evil that exists in our world today, but let us remember that we have the antidote to that sickness. We have the good news. We have a king who has turned the Principalities and Powers upside down. For our eyes have seen God’s salvation. It is now our job to live out that salvation as people redeemed by Christ and to share that good news.
I have seen the face of the ugliness of this world in that last few weeks and I have seen the face of God through the same experience. I sat right here at the church one Monday and spent an hour in conversation with a woman who had been living with her husband and her dog in their truck for the last eight months. And I just listened to this woman as she told me her story and of course I was saddened by her experiences. And I asked her if she had any family in the area that she could turn to in this hard time. She told me that she had two siblings and two children that live in this area. They had lived with her daughter for a little while, but her daughter kicked them out. “Young people don’t want to be troubled with us old folks” she told me.
You better believe that this bothered me. That to me is an example of everything that is wrong with the world today; some people just don’t care about anyone but themselves. I can’t imagine allowing my parents to live in a truck when I have room to put them up, even if it is an inconvenience for me! I wouldn’t let any of you sleep in your vehicles. It was difficult for me to not invite this woman to come live with us, which as a Christian I probably should have done. So much of the world’s evil was present in this woman’s story; the evil of poverty and oppressive systems, the evil of the absence of love for family and other people created in the image of God. This is hard to deal with and it is hard to see.
So what would Jesus do? Give her a little money and tell her not to come back for at least six months, right? I gave this woman a little money to try to help her out, but I tried to give her more than some cash and coins. I gave her my undivided attention for close to an hour and I believe that meant more to her than any amount of money could have. I think I gave her hope in people and hope in the church. I gave her love. If only for an hour, that woman knew that someone cared about her. And I shared with her why I gave her those things. I told her that my actions were a manifestation of my faith. I told her that Jesus loves her and that I believe that when we reach out to people in need that we are feeding or clothing Jesus himself. We prayed together and parted ways, not knowing if we would ever see each other again or not.
When Simeon saw a poor child born to poor parents who could only afford a couple of dirty birds for a sacrifice, he recognized that this child was his savior. I couldn’t help but see my savior in this woman as well. I hope that through the love that I showed to her that she could see at least a glimpse of the image of God within me.
It is Christmas time, a time to be merry, a time to be filled with joy. We are not merry and joyful because the world is perfect and that everything is how it should be. We are merry and joyful because we have been given a gift that is the antidote to all of the world’s pains and sorrows. We have been given the one we have been anxiously awaiting since humanity first made the decision to disobey God. We have been given the gift of a savior, one who has redeemed his people and will one day set all of creation back to the way it was meant to be. Let us take the prophetess Anna as an example and tell all those that are awaiting this good news that their salvation has come and that they are invited to join in this movement.