V2 – Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas – January 1, 2012

Here’s draft number two. I did a little rearranging after reading part of The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry. Using the opening story to more clearly illustrate the homiletical bind of the stress of waiting revealing our fears, which indicts our faithfulness. And moving from there into deeper diagnosis, clarified with the Henri Nouwen passage. Or at least, that’s the theory….

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

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 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 turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now 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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided 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, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘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.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then 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 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There 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 for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At 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.

The Return to Nazareth

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Story of Simeon and Anna

Let’s play a little word association. I say a word, and you see what comes to mind. Ready? “Waiting”. What does “waiting” make you think of? Sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for your appointment, time stretches… on… and… on…? Maybe you’re waiting to renew your license at the BMV, and it’s like they just called number 3, but you’re number 99? But that kind of waiting is all about the inevitable. Not great. Not wonderful.

How about… waiting for a phone call when the kids or your spouse head off on a trip and get to where they’re going? They should be there by now…. Acceptance letters, job interviews, elections. Let’s stretch things out. Tense. Stressful. I bet you hate waiting as much as I do.

Now, how about… waiting on a pizza in the oven? Fresh bread. Apple pie with lots of cinnamon. I like that a *lot* better. You’re still waiting. But there’s something fabulous in the oven and you know how wonderful it’s going to be. The timer slowly ticks away, but we have that promise of deliciousness that bears us up.

Waiting can be hopeful, or it can be dreadful, but it’s unavoidable either way. What makes the difference? And it makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

A friend recently sent me an article by Henri Nouwen, a well-known priest and writer. In The Spirituality of Waiting, he writes that waiting is open-ended, and hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete. We set our minds to what we think will answer our hopes, our wishes. Like a way of controlling our future. And so, our wishes tend to be connected with fears. It seems that as we wait, our fears slowly come out, one way or another.

Today’s Gospel is a story of waiting. We hear the story of two people who have been waiting – Simeon and Anna. This is the only place in the Bible that we hear about them. And we don’t know a lot about them, aside from their waiting. What were they waiting for? The promised Messiah, who would be their deliverance. Now, that might be a little hard for us to relate to. What was that like for them?

It’s helpful to think about Jewish identity. Exodus, captivity, exile, rebuilding. This becomes your story. In Simeon and Anna’s world, you’re a Palestinian Jew, you’re living under Roman rule, but with a Jewish leader exercising control in the name of Rome. But Herod isn’t even a full-blooded Jew. And his family is pretty brutal – so brutal that Rome replaces one of the sons with a Roman governor (Pontius Pilate – maybe you’ve heard of him). This is a rough time. You’re either going to lose hope, or cling to the hope for Messiah to come and bring freedom.

So now, we’ve got Simeon, a righteous man living in Jerusalem. We also have something else – the Holy Spirit resting on him. The Holy Spirit revealed that he would not die until he sees the Messiah. In the middle of your despair, you have this living, captivating promise that you just know waits for you, that will answer everything. But, you wait. And wait. Because you will not die until you see it – who knows when that will be? It’s safe to say that Simeon must have waited with hope for a long time.

We also have Anna. Somehow it’s easy to miss her story. A prophet, of great age. A widow for a very long time. So, for her, it’s not just her story of being a Jew, but also her loss. Scripture tells us that she never left the temple, but worshiped there day and night, with fasting and prayer. Her story is so extreme that I confess I just can’t relate to it. But her devotion is so incredible. What would drive someone to that kind of intense worship? If you think about all the prophets, one thing that’s always the same is that they’re captivated by promises. They see fantastic visions. They proclaim them. For scripture to call her a prophet, Anna must have been waiting with a captivating promise for a long time.

Two people waiting in hope. And behold, this day that changes everything, that answers everything you’ve dreamed about. Though something seems a little off. You expect Messiah, but receive a baby. How could Messiah be a baby? We don’t know how they knew, but we know a little about how it must have been for Joseph and Mary, who were amazed at all of this. And we know how that moment could have been for Simeon and Anna – when they somehow recognized that their long waiting had been answered. God had been faithful, and in a totally unexpected way.

We really have a lot in common with Simeon. Not his righteousness – we can’t manufacture that. And we don’t really want to compare our own devotion to his. He himself is broken – just as we are broken. Observing the Laws of Moses was his only measure of righteousness, and it was a struggle to stand under such harsh judgement. This goes way beyond observing kosher. Like him, we surely know how we struggle to stand, and yet, we don’t even have a leg to stand on. In the turning of a new year, we can remember arguments, anger, inpatience, blind eyes turned to need that surrounds us. And don’t we love to dwell in that story of brokenness? We just can’t let go. And so, did you make your new year resolution? Did you swear to be a better person? To lose that weight? Change this. Change that. But, isn’t that the same thing that we did last time? Last January? History repeats itself.

Now, again, listen to Simeon. “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Like him, our eyes have seen God’s salvation through Jesus, who came as one of us, presented in the Temple today. Salvation is a big word, but Simeon unpacks it for us. Salvation is the hope that God keeps his promises. Salvation is the knowledge of God’s faithfulness beyond anything we can imagine. Salvation is our life, here and now, when we can rest in our faithful waiting on God. His Son has come before us and gave his life for us, to free us from that law that would convict us. God delivered on that promise to Simeon, and we can cling to that very deliverance now. Henri Nouwen wrote that it was only when he was willing to let go of wishes, that something really new, something beyond his own expectations, could happen to him in his waiting.

In our midst, we have this font of water. In our baptism, those waters were poured upon us, and we were marked with the cross of Christ, for life with the Holy Spirit. And since that day, each day, we die and rise with that promised Messiah that Simeon held in his arms. The Messiah that Anna proclaims as redemption, for them and for us. The living Word blesses us with the opportunity to put ourselves in their midst, to imagine the fulfillment that surprised them, that exceeded their expectations, that filled them with joy. Today, we are blessed to be able to receive that same joy, to behold Christ our Messiah, before us and among us.

And now, today, we consecrate ourselves to wait. In this new year, we continue living day by day. Struggles and joys like we’ve seen before. But, carry Simeon and Anna with you. Let their stories become your stories, to inspire your own waiting, to let go of your own expections and be filled with hope that bears your fears. Soon we’ll dine at the Lord’s table with bread and wine, broken and poured out for us. As we prepare the table, and take our places as guests, we will proclaim together the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, until He comes in glory. A day that we cannot predict. Like a thief in the night, as unexpected as a baby Messiah. We continue to share our waiting with each other – our living in the already but not yet.  Time passes slowly. And yet, like Simeon and Anna we see our salvation now, that fills our waiting with hope. And this is good news. Amen.

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