V3 – Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas – January 1, 2012

Behold, the third draft of my sermon. Quite a few changes. My brain is utterly worn out at the moment. All I can say is that I had no idea how hard this would be. To all of you who have been so gracious to give me your responses and suggestions, I can’t thank you enough. I hope this shows you all that you can trust to give me your honest thoughts. I am willing to submit myself for molding and shaping by the word, and by all of you who serve it. It doesn’t not hurt, but this is the path that I’ve been called to, and the challenge that I’m finding myself being pulled toward.

In your responses, I find support and care. I just pray that I’m getting closer to at least a mediocre diagnosis, so that I don’t do a complete disservice to the Gospel. I hope my education will continue, because this really is hard stuff. There’s just no way to grow without your help. I know this lays out my shortcomings, but I hope it helps you to know where to find me and they ways I need to be shown toward.

Oh, one note – I’m just including the scripture reading here in my blog for reference, while reading my sermon.

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. Let’s take a word, and see what comes to mind. How about “waiting”? What does “waiting” make us think about? We’ve all sat in a doctor’s office, waiting for an appointment, and time stretches… on… and… on… Or we wait to renew our license at the BMV, and it’s like they just called number 3, but we’re number 99. Sometimes waiting is all about something inevitable – not something we dream about, but we don’t really have a choice in it.

How about… waiting for a phone call when the kids or spouse head off on a trip and get to where they’re going? Seems like they should be there by now…. We wait for acceptance letters and approvals. We take job interviews. We watch elections. We have bloodwork done. Things stretch out and get tense, because we wish so hard for what will fix everything, fix our lives, and fix everyone around us. Surely we dread this kind of waiting. What if we don’t get our wish? Many children know this on Christmas morning. It’s almost impossible to sleep with all those surprises waiting under the tree. But will we get what we wished for?

Now, how about… waiting on a pizza in the oven, or for fresh bread, or for apple pie with lots of cinnamon? We probably like that *much* better. It’s still another kind of waiting. But there’s something fabulous in the oven and you can just taste what it will be like. The timer may slowly tick away, but the promise of deliciousness bears us up.

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

Today’s Gospel is a story of waiting. Simeon and Anna have been waiting. We don’t know a lot about them, aside from their waiting. What were they waiting for? What was it like for them? It helps to think about Jewish identity – exodus, captivity, exile, rebuilding. This becomes our story. Let’s imagine ourselves in Simeon and Anna’s world. We’re Palestinian Jews. We’re living under Roman rule, but with a Jewish leader exercising control in the name of Rome. Herod. Except, he’s not even a full-blooded Jew. How insulting is that? And his family is brutal – so brutal that Rome replaces one of the sons with a Roman governor (someone very familiar – Pontius Pilate). These are rough times. We can lose hope, or cling to the hope passed down to us for Messiah to come and bring freedom from all of this.

So now, we’ve got Simeon, a righteous man living in Jerusalem. We also have something else – the Holy Spirit resting on him, revealing to him that he would not die until he sees the Messiah. In the middle of our despair, we have this living, captivating promise that we just know waits for us, that will answer everything. But, we wait. And wait. We will not die until we see it – who knows when that will be? It’s safe to say that Simeon must have waited for a long time, and surely with some fear. Who? What? When? Will we know it when we see it? Yes, Simeon is a very good Jew, striving to stand under the law of Moses, his only measure of righteousness. But, is it really enough for God to keep His promise?

We also have Anna. Somehow it’s easy to miss her story. It’s very interesting that Anna is a prophet of great age. If we 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 experienced some captivating promises as she waited. It’s also very interesting that Anna has been a widow for a very long time. So, for her, it’s not just her story of being a Jew, but also her story of loss. She has been waiting on her own for so very long. Scripture tells us that she never left the temple, but worshiped there day and night, with fasting and prayer. This is so hard to conceive. How do we relate to it at all? What would drive someone to that kind of intense worship?

We really have a lot in common with both Simeon and Anna. In our toughest waiting, we know how it can feel for our wishes to sit in front of us, taunting us. Will this waiting go on forever? But good things happen to good people, right? So we try to be the nicest, best person we can be. Maybe we’ll earn our karma points. Simeon was good at keeping rules, he was righteous, his prayers were answered, it seems pretty straightforward. And Anna worshiped like a pro. So, maybe we go to church more, pray more, help out more. That will make God happy, right? We try to hedge our bets. And we might just get through this trial of waiting, more or less in-tact, and feel gladder than anything. But then, there’s the next time, and the next time. Or maybe we just lower our expectations, and skip the drama. But that’s pretty hard to do, and what does that really leave us with, in the end? Lowering our expectations becomes a lifetime challenge that we just can’t seem to master.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves where these wishes come from. What do they mean? Why do they keep rising to the surface? A clue comes by way of 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. Fear of the unknown, fear of danger, fear for our own survival, or fear for those we love. Stuck in an endless cycle between waiting for our wishes to come true, and getting through it all, something about us is revealed.  We fear our lack of control over the future. But, despite our best intentions, they do not bring us relief. We fear that God has abandoned us. We find it hard to trust in God, when our best efforts seem to fail us. Do we really trust in God, since this just keeps happening to us? Ultimately, our recurring, deep-seated fears show us that we are unable to trust God.

But, today’s Gospel shows us God’s answer to our lack of trust. Behold, Christ Jesus, presented to the world! Suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s the day, time, and place. But something seems a little off. We’re expecting Messiah, but receive a baby? How could Messiah be a baby? He’s not a king like David, or a high priest like Melchizedek. How did Simeon and Anna recognize that God answered their waiting? Think about Joseph and Mary, who were amazed at all of this. Are Simeon and Anna just plain crazy? God had been faithful, in a totally unexpected and unforeseen way, and somehow Simeon and Anna knew it. This baby would give his life on a cross, to fufill the very law that Simeon had struggled to uphold his entire life. Jesus is like the unraveling of everything Simeon stands for. How could he possibly proclaim that his prayers had been answered?

By faith, Simeon and Anna have waited, and have recognized our Messiah. Simeon, with the Holy Spirit resting on him. Anna, a prophet, filled with compelling visions. The eyes of their faith cause them to see what no one else sees. Simeon’s faith leads him to proclaim “my eyes have seen your salvation.” 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 be freed from our wishes and our fear, to rest in faithful waiting on God, knowing that God keeps his promises in unexpected ways. Our eyes see the very same salvation, and we are filled with a faith that tells us God keeps his word. Today, salvation comes to us, through God’s Son who has come before us and given his life for us, to free us from the law that would convict us for our inability to trust God. We can rejoice to hear the entire story – God has released us from our prison, under the law that compels us, but that we ourselves cannot fufill.

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. Filled with the same faith that filled Simeon and Anna, God will open our eyes, and we will see answers to our own waiting. We need not wish in fear, because God will bring us the answer we could neither expect nor anticipate nor wish for. The eyes of our faith will see it, and proclaim it. God is our promise-keeper, and we see the same salvation that Simeon had seen. And each day, we die and rise with the Messiah that Simeon held in his arms. The Messiah that Anna proclaims as redemption, for them and for us.

And now, today, we dedicate ourselves to wait through faith. Yet, our faith will help us see that we have no need to wish, or to fear, for the sake of our future. Soon we’ll dine at the Lord’s table with bread and wine, broken and poured out for us. As we prepare the table, together we will proclaim 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, and as unexpected as a baby Messiah. And now, we share our waiting with Simeon and Anna, and with each other, living in the already but not yet, and we can confidently say “our eyes have seen your salvation.” This is good news. Amen.

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